2008 Legislature

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(HOST) Commentator John McClaughry is president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization. And he has considerable praise for the legislative session that has just ended.

(McCLAUGHRY) The Vermont legislature has finished its work and adjourned for the last time. And let it be said, given the circumstances, it did a very creditable job.

First, the legislature adjourned on May 2, the earliest date in13 years. That’s especially important, because the longer any legislature stays in session, the more its members have time to engage in last minute foolishness.

Second, when the legislative leadership and Gov. Douglas learned that revenues for fiscal year two thousand nine were likely to take a $25 million dollar nosedive, they did something responsible. They started looking for things not to spend money on – and they didn’t look for taxes to raise. As veteran Democratic representative Michael Obuchowksi told his caucus, "The thing that binds us together [in difficult times] is to balance the budget and ensure the fiscal integrity of the state." The result was a balanced budget, at least if everything works according to current projections.

Third, despite all the early enthusiasm for intrusive green police state measures, nothing of any consequence made it through. After the excitement of global warming rallies with people marching about the statehouse in polar bear suits, cooler heads prevailed – notable among them Democrat Robert Dostis of Waterbury, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and his Republican vice chair Joyce Errecart of Shelburne. Thanks to them, and to some sensible Democratic senators, the sweeping Senate bill promoted by the Vermont Public Interest Research Group shrank and shrank. When the House sent the stripped down remains back to the Senate, the Senate capitulated without a fight.

Fourth, a bill to relax Act 250 regulations in designated village centers to encourage new housing creation – originally the subject of bitter conflict – made it through to passage, and the contestants who fought among themselves for five months actually had a group picture taken to celebrate the moment. Senator Vince Illuzzi deserves much of the credit for finding a path through a tangle of conflicting interests.

And finally, despite great pressure from the teachers union, Senate Leader Peter Shumlin kept his agreement with the Governor not to allow repeal of Act 82, the split vote on education budgets enacted last year. That doesn’t mean another desperate attempt to derail Act 82 won’t occur next January, but for now Vermonters in high spending towns will have another tool to control costs when they vote on their 2009 school budgets.

So there is much credit to go around. The Vermont legislature remains admirably responsive to the people, and admirably responsible when tough times require cutting back on grand visions. Other states should be as favored.

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