Lobbyists’ Spending Reports Issued

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(Host) Vermont’s legislative session has entered its fourth month and the work for the dozens of lobbyists has become more intense. The most recent lobbyist spending reports show that business groups and the state’s largest health insurance company are the top spenders this year.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont want support for a bill that would allow it to set up a for-profit subsidiary that could sell stock to outside investors. The proposal is controversial and the state insurance department is lukewarm on the idea. A consumer advocate has questioned whether it makes sense to add the profit motive to health care delivery.

To make sure its story gets told, Blue Cross is using fifteen lobbyists to work the halls of the Statehouse, including a former state insurance commissioner whose company helped draft the legislation. Blue Cross has spent the most so far this year– about $40,400 through the end of February. The final total for the session will be available later this summer. Company spokesman Leigh Tofferi says the bill is needed for Blue Cross to improve its financial situation:

(Tofferi) “Due to the importance of this …bill, we’ve added a couple of other firms to help us in drafting the legislation and doing the necessary research to make sure we have a well reasoned, and well thought-out approach to the problems that we’re facing.”

(Dillon) The Vermont Public Interest Research Group is studying the Blue Cross bill. VPIRG Director Paul Burns says he’s concerned about the scale of the company’s lobbying effort:

(Burns) “Vermont’s a small state and I think a red flag naturally goes up whenever you see a single company or even an industry group retain 14 or 15 different paid lobbyists at a time. From a good government perspective, we’re concerned about the overwhelming influence that that many lobbyists can have in the Legislature. They may in fact drown out the legitimate questions raised by others.”

(Dillon) Two business groups from Chittenden County are also big spenders in the Statehouse this year. The Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation want the Legislature to rewrite a law regulating stormwater pollution. Former Water Resources Board Chairman Dale Rocheleau was hired to draft the legislation.

The bill has already passed the House. It overturns a state Water Resources Board decision that the business community says is a barrier to development. Last week the federal Environmental Protection Agency said the bill conflicts with federal law. Chamber lobbyist Sherri Larson cites the stormwater bill as this year’s top priority:

(Larson) “Stormwater – because it’s a very, very technical issue – is a more expensive issue to cover. We’ve had to retain a lawyer and hire outside expertise.”

(Dillon) Larson says the Chamber is also working very hard on technical education issues as well as funding for a highway project in Chittenden County.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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