Douglas resumes effort for permit reform

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says the recent job cuts at IBM underscore the need for Vermont to improve its business climate. The governor proposed on Thursday a six-point plan to improve the state’s economy. He also urged the Legislature to act quickly to overhaul the environmental permit process.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Governor Douglas promised state and federal assistance to help the 500 workers laid off from IBM find new work. But he says the state must also do more to help companies create jobs. His plan includes lower electric rates for business, a new highway in Chittenden County, reduced costs for workers compensation insurance, and more competition for health insurance.

But at the top of his list is an item left over from the last legislative session.

(Douglas) “First we need to finish permit reform now, and get it out of the way so we can focus on other issues in the upcoming session. If we fail to address this issue before the Legislature returns in January, the current system will remain an obstacle to job creation, and an obstacle to our efforts to address Vermont’s other competitive disadvantages.”

(Dillon) IBM said earlier this week that the job cuts were due to a downturn in the global market for computer chips. But Douglas suggests that an unfavorable business environment led IBM several years ago to expand operations in Fishkill, New York instead of in Vermont. He says the recent job cuts hit the Vermont plant much harder than other IBM sites.

The governor says the Environmental Board has started to change some of the rules for Act 250, the state’s main development control law. But he says only the Legislature can consolidate appeals of environmental permits – which he says is the main problem with the permit process.

(Douglas) “That’s the major focus of the permit reform bill I recommended. So I urge the conferees to get back to the table. This is critical, I believe, to the improvement in the economic climate in the state so we can create more jobs. I’ve said it before: I will call a one day special session if the conferees can agree to a proposal. And I urge them to do so.”

(Dillon) It’s not likely that the governor will get a bill this summer. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch (D-Windsor County) says permit reform will probably be dealt with in the first weeks of the legislative session next January.

(Welch) “Permit reform is very important, and we’re going to do it. But it is not, as the governor is suggesting, the explanation for why IBM is cutting jobs. What we see at IBM is the impact of the global economy and the frankly the Bush administration economic policies that are very bad for manufacturing. And I think it is misleading and wrong for the governor to suggest that permit reform is going to solve the global crisis in telecommunications and the chip making industry.”

(Dillon) Governor Douglas says the 500 IBM workers laid off this week will qualify for federal job training programs. He says the state will also make sure that the 3,000 workers who must take a week without pay next month receive unemployment compensation.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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