Democrats hope for veto compromise

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(Host) Democratic leaders hope to compromise with Governor Jim Douglas over his veto of the global warming bill.

The Democrats have agreed to remove the most controversial part of the bill: a tax on the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

But the attempt at compromise may not work. The governor says his objection to the bill goes beyond the Yankee tax.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) To override the governor’s veto, Democrats need support from two-thirds of the lawmakers present. It’s a tough number to reach. The last time lawmakers overrode a gubernatorial veto was 1990.

So Democrats have offered a deal. They’ll take the $25 million Yankee tax off the table, if the governor agrees to support the rest of the bill. Senate President Peter Shumlin plans to meet with the governor on Wednesday.

(Shumlin) “We’ve put together here a proposal that we’re going to urge the governor to accept. If he can’t, then we have no bill. And that would be a tremendous tragedy for all Vermonters.”

(Dillon) The global warming bill was a top priority for Democrats. The legislation uses the tax on Vermont Yankee to greatly expand energy conservation programs. It also encourages renewable energy through tax incentives and other programs.

Shumlin said he’s willing to let go of the Yankee tax and have the legislature work on the funding piece when it returns in January.

(Shumlin) “If the governor can’t support this it suggests to me that he is totally unwilling to protect Vermont’s environment, to save Vermonters money, and to join the rest of the world in trying to do something about climate change.”

(Dillon) But Douglas said he has other problems with the legislation besides the Yankee tax.

(Douglas) “I made it very clear that there are two objections to the bill that they presented to me. One is the unfair tax on Vermont Yankee, and the second is creating an untested and extensive bureaucracy, without really understanding what its mission is and without any track record.”

(Dillon) Douglas said the state can get essentially the same results through a loan program to fund conservation work.

(Douglas) “We can accomplish our goals of energy efficiency without creating a new bureaucracy.”

(Dillon) But supporters of the bill say it builds on the successful model that Efficiency Vermont uses to cut electricity use. The Public Service Board would also oversee the new program.

And James Moore of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group says the global warming bill is about much more than energy conservation.

(Moore) “There are 46 sections to the bill, many of which deal with solar power, wind power, hydro power, farm methane systems – as well as energy efficiency, conservation and reducing Vermonters heating bills. All of them deserve to be passed.”

(Dillon) The governor and Democrats do agree on one point. They both say the veto session should be short, and that lawmakers should not attempt a wholesale re-write of the legislation.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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