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Douglas veto

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Chalk one up for the governor. He successfully killed the Legislature’s session-long effort to pass legislation that would have helped Vermont residents reduce their dependence on foreign oil, save money on their fuel bills, and reduce the state’s carbon dioxide emissions that are accelerating global warming. He did it by threatening to veto progressive legislation the Democrats proposed throughout the session, and only offering a half-baked counter proposal after the session ended. Worse, during the past several weeks when legislators were scrambling to craft a compromise with the governor and save the best initiatives of the bill, he refused to budge.

Those points are critical to understand when viewing the special meeting Wednesday in an attempt to override the governor’s veto of the climate control bill and another initiative on campaign finance reform. Headlines are apt to frame the session as one in which the Democrats “failed” to override the governor’s vetos, rather than the fact that the governor killed two important initiatives that would have benefited the vast majority of Vermonters and that polls say the vast majority of Vermonters favor. The Legislature did not quite have the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor, but most Vermonters can read the numbers and know that the vast majority of their representatives and senators think the governor is wrong.

Vermonters must ask why the governor would kill such progressive initiatives and reject any meaningful compromise. Then they must ask if the governor represents the public’s best interests, or the vested interests of others.

To put those questions in perspective, residents might want to review some of the initiatives H.520 proposed. In general, the bill would have:

• promoted solar energy by providing tax credits for homeowners;

• allowed “group net-metering,” which would have helped jumpstart larger hydro, wind and solar projects;

• established a statewide program under Efficiency Vermont (known nationally for its successful programs to help Vermonters cut their use of electricity and thus reduce residential utility costs) that would have allowed Vermont residents who use fuel as a heating source to reap personal savings at their homes valued in the tens of millions of dollars.

• reduced air pollution and Vermont’s contribution to global warming.

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Gov. Douglas and others said they were opposed to the tax on Vermont Yankee. Douglas called it unfair, and he also objected to the manner in which Senate Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin brought the issue to the fore. (Legitimately so, and next session it’s essential the Democratic leadership has a thoroughly vetted discussion of its proposals rather than the underhanded manner in which Shumlin handled it this year.) Nonetheless, the legislation was solid and the Democrats agreed to cut the tax on Vermont Yankee and seek other sources of funding as a good faith effort to work with the governor. But once that obstacle was off the table, Douglas then tried to pin his objection on the myth that the legislation would add to the state bureaucracy — as if the very mention of that “buzz” word in conservative circles would give him cover. Efficiency Vermont, however, is one of the more cost-efficient operations the state has, and is about as far from a government bureaucracy as the state transportation agency (one of Douglas’ favorites) is to an efficiently run and transparent business.

So what was Douglas’ motive? Perhaps it was the prospect that Democrats were pushing the agenda and would reap the credit. Or perhaps it was the possibility that the initiative might require the state’s cooperation and some funding down the road. Or perhaps the governor was protecting his campaign contributors in big business (his veto of a very reasonable campaign finance overhaul missed being overturned by just a single vote with 97 legislators voting for the override and just 50 Republicans willing to stand by the governor. The Senate vote was an overwhelming 24-5.)

What we do know is that the governor’s response to the Democrat’s initiative is far too little, too late. His initiatives call for a lot of meaningless studies (see related story on Page 1A), and delay tactics that postpone progress under the guise of rhetorical support.

Nor does his lack of leadership on the issue make economic sense under his own job-creation initiatives.

If the governor wants to establish Vermont as the “green valley” of alternative energy endeavors, the state will have to step up to the plate and help lay the groundwork for those initiatives. And it is a great idea. Vermont has much to build on already. But other states are surging ahead in this field and it won’t take much for Vermont to lose its early edge if the governor opposes legislative initiatives that establish the state as a national leader, and if the governor refuses to think creatively about ways to spend a little revenue now to attract highly successful businesses that would generate good paying jobs for our children and a steady stream of tax revenues for years to come.

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What’s encouraging is that voters are starting to recognize the governor’s obstinacy on this issue and also of those who stuck with him to sustain his bare minority opinion. The House, after all, voted 86-61 in favor of the override — 12 votes shy of the two-thirds needed (and almost entirely along party lines), and there were about 500 residents who rallied at the Statehouse on Wednesday in support of the override effort.

That grass root effort should only build from now until the next session this coming January, pressuring Douglas and his Republican colleagues to come to the table with meaningful alternatives or face defeat in the 2008 election.

Angelo S. Lynn ?

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