Transportation and Construction Bills Deadlocked

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(Host) As lawmakers work to resolve their differences on next year’s budget and a variety of tax issues, virtually no progress is being made on two other key bills – the capital construction bill and the transportation bill. Legislative leaders say they would rather adjourn the session without these bills than give in to the demands of the other chamber.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) In many respects, the final days of the legislative session is like a very serious poker game. The House and Senate stake out various positions in their conference committees in the hope that they can get more out of the other chamber than they have to give up. It’s not unusual for these meetings to get very testy and sometimes conferees storm out of the room to protest a lack of flexibility from the other body.

At this time, the House and Senate are locked in a major battle over two bills and they’re vowing not to pass the bills if a reasonable compromise cannot be found. The first bill is the capital construction bill. This legislation allocates roughly $50 million to local communities for school construction, sewer and water treatment projects. The House also included a provision in their bill that re-examines the idea of establishing a core ecological reserve on 12,500 acres of state land that is part of the Champion land deal in the northeast kingdom.

The Senate strongly opposes this plan and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin says he’s not going to be coerced into accepting the House’s proposal:

(Shumlin) "We can live without the capital bill so the House should understand that. The second thing that they have to know is … that we are not going to allow for commercial logging in the core area of the reserve and frankly I don’t think most Vermonters want us to commercialize that property. I mean some of these House folks it sounds to me like they want to put a McDonald’s franchise up there we’re just not going to let that kind of activity take place in the core."

(Kinzel) House Majority Leader John LaBarge says the House plans to hold firm on its position and he feels there will be a way to direct money for critical local projects if the entire bill is scuttled:

(LaBarge) "We can walk out of here without a capital bill it wouldn’t hurt the state in any way shape or form that I can see. So I have a feeling the capital bill will be the last bill to pass this session when it gets down to the brass tacks. But we’re going to hold strong on the Champion land language."

(Kinzel) The House and Senate are also deadlocked over next year’s transportation bill. The House wants to limit funds for the Champlain Flyer commuter rail project in Chittenden County because it believes the project is a waste of money. Senate members argue that the state could be forced to return $16 million to the federal government if the project does not run its full three-year schedule.

There’s talk at the Statehouse that this bill could also be scuttled if a compromise cannot be found. Governor Howard Dean is supporting the Senate position on both the transportation bill and the capital construction bill:

(Dean) "In both these areas there are very stubborn individuals on the committees who basically are insisting on doing things their way. The governor does get a vote on these bills and I don’t intend to sign off on bills that are going to be held hostage like that, so I’m willing to let them go."

(Kinzel) The House and the Senate also have strong disagreements over a reapportionment bill but observers believe these differences will be resolved before the end of the session.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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