Douglas criticizes state subsidy extension plan

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(Host) A day after pledging to work with lawmakers on education spending, Governor Jim Douglas is strongly criticizing a legislative plan to extend a state subsidy program for dairy farmers because the proposal includes a temporary surcharge on the sale of non-residential property.

Supporters of the bill say the governor is playing politics with the future of the state’s dairy industry.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Virtually all of the members of the House Agriculture committee say it’s critical for the state to act now because Congress has failed to pass an emergency disaster relief package to address problems caused by extremely wet weather last spring.

Lawmakers and the Douglas Administration did support an $8.8 million subsidy program last summer. They hoped the program would act as a bridge to the federal money. But it now appears unlikely that Congress will act for months on the disaster plan.

The subsidy bill is financed by imposing a one quarter of one percent surcharge on the sale of non-residential property. Douglas is very critical of this approach:

(Douglas) “We had a committee vote to increase taxes. We didn’t even get out of January and they couldn’t help themselves. They voted to increase the tax burden on the people of Vermont and that’s just the wrong way to go.”

(Kinzel) Senate president pro tem Peter Shumlin says many dairy farmers are facing a financial crisis and he says the situation calls for bold leadership.

(Shumlin) “This is a major crisis. The governor cannot claim that he cares about farmers unless he’s willing to find a way to help save farmers. That’s what we’re going to do here in the Legislature because we think it’s the most important priority one of them that we’re facing.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s looking at ways to help dairy farmers within the structure of his budget but he acknowledges it won’t be easy.

(Douglas) “If an idea were passed with two or three or four million and nothing happens in Washington for a number few months, are we going to be looking for 2,3 or 4 million more and raise another tax? I just don’t know where this will lead.”

(Kinzel) The governor says “he understands the needs of Vermont’s farmers but not the Democrats desire to raise taxes.”

Shumlin says it’s clear that Democratic leaders and the governor view the current farm crisis in very different ways:

(Shumlin) “I think that the governor and we have a fundamental disagreement about the crisis that Vermont farmers are facing. Two weeks ago he said that they’re out of the woods because the milk price was a dollar or two dollar a hundredweight. What he fails to recognize is that their feed costs are higher than ever. They’re in the worst financial crisis that they’ve every faced and if we don’t act there won’t be any Vermont farms left.”

(Kinzel) The subsidy plan will now be reviewed by the House Ways and Means committee.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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