Legislative Leaders Say Session Will Focus On Economy

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(Host) Top legislators say the focus of the 2010 session will be on jobs, the economy and on producing a balanced budget.

The Democratic leaders of the House and the Senate say now is not the time to raise taxes or expand social programs. And they vowed to keep an open mind as the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant seeks approval to operate for another 20 years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin said they will work closely with Republican Governor Jim Douglas as the state faces projected budget deficits.  

Harmony, the legislative leaders said, would be the guiding sentiment of the upcoming session.

But above all, they promised to focus on economic issues. Peter Shumlin:

(Shumlin) "This session will be dedicated to finding ways to make job creation continue to happen in this state, to bring this fragile recovery to a much more vibrant economy, and to keep in mind at every turn everything that we can do to help our small and large businesses grow, to get Vermonters back to work."

(Dillon) Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith said they plan to hold a jobs forum with business leaders soon after the session opens.

Smith said the goal is to find out what the Legislature can do to help companies expand.

(Smith) "There are many businesses throughout the state that are poised to do even better this year than they did last year. And we need to keep that in mind and do what we can and make sure we help them with their needs."

(Dillon) The state faces a projected deficit in the next fiscal year of more than $100 million. Some Democrats have said the state needs to raise additional revenue to meet its needs. But Shumlin flatly ruled out new taxes.

(Shumlin) "We’re going to solve Vermont‘s problems not with new taxes, but with new ideas, new ways of doing things. I think we’re in a fragile economic recovery. There is not the capacity for taxes to solve the problem."

(Dillon) Besides the economy, energy issues may also dominate the legislative session. The Vermont Yankee nuclear plant needs legislative approval to operate for another 20 years. The plant’s owners want lawmakers to vote next year.

Shumlin and Smith said the vote depends on how much Yankee will charge for power sold after 2012. Yankee is supposed to reveal the price late this week.

And Smith said the question of Vermont Yankee’s future goes beyond the price of power. He wants to know when the plant will be decommissioned, and how that will be paid for.

(Smith) "So, from my perspective, until we have all that information in hand, you can’t actually make a determination about the economic value of the plant."

(Dillon) Although the leaders promised a harmonious legislative session, it will also feature election year politics. Shumlin is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, as is Lamoille Senator Susan Bartlett, and Chittenden Senator Doug Racine. Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie is a Republican candidate for governor.

At the news conference, Smith joked about the politics at play.

(Smith) "They basically all have to answer to me, so I’ll control the harmony part."

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

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