Legislative leaders promise to work together

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(Host) Political leaders have started the legislative session with promises that they’ll work together.

They even share many of the same priorities.

But, as VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, they come at the issues much differently.

(Sneyd) There’s plenty of agreement in Montpelier that Vermonters face some difficult problems.

Taxpayers aren’t happy about their property tax bills… And they’re struggling to pay for aging schools.

Governor Jim Douglas has an idea to help on both counts. He wants to lease the state lottery. He’d use the roughly $50 million the state would get in the first year to reduce property taxes for a year and to help pay for school construction.

Legislative leaders, appearing on VPR’s Vermont Edition, quickly passed judgment on that idea.

(Campbell) “I think it is an absolutely terrible idea. It’s very short-sighted. Probably one of the worst ideas I’ve ever seen from a leader.”

(Sneyd) Senate Majority Leader John Campbell didn’t mince words.

His point is that Vermont would get the infusion of cash only once but would give up control of an important asset for 50 years.

He’s not alone in dismissing the idea. House Progressive leader Chris Pearson doesn’t like it, either.

(Pearson) “I’m not sure the lottery issue is going to be that divisive because it doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

(Sneyd) Senator Kevin Mullin is one of the Republican leaders in the Senate. He says his colleagues are too quick to pass judgment.

(Mullin) “If we’re serious about property tax relief, we have to at least be willing to take a look at this. Our caucus hasn’t said yes or no one way or the other that we’ve bought into the proposal. But we certainly believe it’s a meritorious proposal that deserves discussion and shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.”

(Sneyd) But Mullin’s already dubious about an idea that Pearson thinks ought to be adopted. Pearson says possession of small amounts of marijuana should be decriminalized.

(Pearson) “ I think we have to look about priorities and the reality is we have overcrowded jails and we have a very bloated corrections budget. And I think it’s very sensible to look at looking decriminalizing marijuana for that reason.”

(Mullin) “Can you tell us how many people are in jail, Chris, for possession of a joint?”

(Pearson) “It’s not about being in jail …”

(Sneyd) And so the debates have begun at the Statehouse.

Mullin agrees with Pearson that the Legislature needs to get a handle on the rising costs of state government, including in the prisons.

But decriminalizing pot? Well, that’s not his approach. Now they’ve got four months or so to figure it out.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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