Newly elected house speaker unveils stimulus plan

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(Host) The newly elected speaker of the Vermont House has unveiled a $150 million stimulus plan that’s designed to get the state’s economy moving again.

Democrat Shap Smith says the inspiration for the idea came from a Republican governor who advocated a similar proposal 25 years ago.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

Gavel .. gavel .. gavel. “Will the House please come to order! Pursuant to the provisions of the Constitution and laws of the state of Vermont, I hereby call the 70th biennial session of the House of Representatives to order."

(Dillon) In a day usually marked by ceremony, Secretary of State Deb Markowitz swung the gavel to start the legislative session.

The members quickly elected Morristown Democrat Shap Smith as speaker. And then Smith told his colleagues that it was time to get to work.

He said the goal of the session was to help restore the state’s economy. And he proposed a $150 million plan to pump money into public works and transportation projects.

(Smith) "Together, we can keep Vermonters working and strengthen our state’s public assets in the future. Additionally, I am calling for a major reinvestment in Vermont’s crumbling transportation infrastructure."

(Dillon) Smith said he’ll ask the House committees to fully develop the plan, but the broad outlines are this:

$30 million would come from borrowed money. In addition, he would use $120 million in revenue bonds that could be financed by a gas tax. This piece is similar to a proposal offered by State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding.

Revenue bonds don’t count against the state’s borrowing limit because they have a dedicated revenue source to pay back the borrowed money.

In a news conference after his speech, Smith said he wasn’t sure if a gas tax was the right approach.

(Smith) "What we recognized is that if we’re going to do that scale of bonding and not have it count against the current debt affordability cap we need to be looking at some sort of revenue bonds. The treasurer has put forth one idea. We’re willing to consider a variety of ideas. I’m not wedded to any sort of gas tax."

(Dillon) Smith said the philosophy behind his spending plan was to harness government spending to pump money into the economy. He said he drew his inspiration in part from a proposal Governor Richard Snelling advanced during an economic downturn 25 years ago.

(Smith) "And he put forward this jobs package, which you wouldn’t have expected from somebody who was a conservative Republican governor. And what he articulated in doing that was the need to do something like that in tough times, to counter the economic cycle."

(Dillon) The new Speaker indicated he didn’t want lawmakers to waste any time. He assigned representatives to committees on the opening day – something that usually doesn’t happen until the end of the week.

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

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