(Host) An early spring ritual is underway in the Statehouse: the legislative dance has begun over the annual capital construction bill. The legislation sets spending priorities for government building projects. But it also becomes the vehicle for lawmakers to set policy and to pursue pet projects.
VPR’s John Dillon reports.
(Dillon) Only three bills really must pass each year: the annual budget for state government, a highway funding bill and the annual capital bill.
The $40 million capital bill is supposed to fund large construction projects. But since it’s one of the few trains that has to leave the Statehouse station, it picks up a lot of legislative baggage along the way.
(Robert Wood) “The capital bill has traditionally been a vehicle that comes at the end of the session. There are many issues that have to be addressed and there is no other venue to do that.”
(Dillon) Brandon Republic Robert Wood chairs the House Institutions Committee, where the bill traditionally gets launched.
(Wood) “I think if you go back through history there’s been some people that’s been awfully glad to have a source to solve a problem, and it’s happened and it’s worked well.”
(Dillon) This year, opponents of large-scale wind projects managed to get a provision in the bill that requires the developments to go through Act 250 review. That language will probably be deleted under a compromise agreed to on Tuesday.
The House bill also has a provision that would cancel a plan to remove a hydroelectric dam in the lower Lamoille River. Wood questions why the Lamoille dam should be removed, when the state is considering buying dams on the Connecticut River.
(Wood) “Does it make any sense to you to take out a perfectly good producing dam, when we’re trying to spend money to buy more? Understand where I’m coming from?”
(Dillon) Pat Berry of the Vermont Natural Resources Council says there’s no comparison between the Connecticut River projects and the one on the Lamoille River. The Lamoille dam produces about six megawatts while the Connecticut River dams generate more than 200 megawatts. He says that the state, the utility and environmentalists all agreed the dam should be taken down in 20 years to restore the river.
Berry says the capital bill is no place to set policy.
(Berry) “These are complicated issues that affect the health of Vermont’s natural resources. And they really need to be vetted through a committee process. It’s completely inappropriate to tack these in at the last minute when there’s been really no kind of review to make sure we’re doing the right thing for the right issues.”
(Dillon) Over in the Senate, Vince Illuzzi, a Republican from Essex and Orleans, says the must-pass bills always contain policy proposals.
(Illuzzi) “So it would be unfair for me to suggest that the House is stepping out of line in putting policy in the House version of the capital bill, when it seems to be happening in all major pieces of legislation. The question is, do I disagree with what the House has done with regard to policy proposals? The answer is yes.”
(Dillon) Illuzzi does not think the Lamoille River agreement should be changed. And he’d like to get more money, for a proposed kidney dialysis center in the Northeast Kingdom. The House version set aside just $147 for the project
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.