Progressives counter Shumlin budget with $50 million of taxes on companies and the rich

February 14, 2013; Nat Rudarakanchana; VTDigger

A handful of progressive lawmakers countered planned Shumlin administration cuts to the poor with $50 million in taxes on companies, banks and the rich at a Statehouse press conference on Wednesday.

It’s the first time legislators have presented an alternative to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget address last month, which redirects $16.7 million in tax credits for the poor towards child-care subsidies, and limits family welfare benefits through the Reach Up program.

Shumlin’s budget proposals have been panned repeatedly by advocates for the poor and have faced a lukewarm reception among legislators from both major parties.

The newly unveiled Progressive package includes an estimated $20 million in revenue through raising income taxes for those earning $500,000 or more, $11 million by fully taxing capital gains (investment) income, and $5 million via a corporate income or franchise tax on banks.

The message from Progressive lawmakers, led by Rep. Chris Pearson, P-Burlington, came out as a pitch for fairness: Asking the wealthiest half of Vermonters to pay for state services for the poorer half.

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Lawmakers ask state to divest from fossil fuel companies

February 12, 2013; Nat Rudarakanchana; VTDigger

Two House lawmakers from Burlington, Rep. Chris Pearson and Rep. Kesha Ram, will introduce legislation later this week that would require the state to stop investing in the fossil fuel industry over a number of years.

Pearson, a Progressive, told VTDigger that the bill instructs a board which handles the state’s retirement savings investments, to devise a plan to divest from fossil fuel companies over three years. The bill requires the board to draft the plan within a year.

“We spend a lot of money as a state combating the impacts of climate change,” said Pearson, who pointed to Tropical Storm Irene and record-high Lake Champlain levels in 2011 as examples of climate-related destruction.

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to put a lot of pressure on our budget from climate change, at the same time as we’re investing in the businesses that are perpetuating climate change,” he said.

The bill, which has about a dozen co-sponsors, is likely to be introduced on Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Hoffer lines up first few audits

February 6, 2013; Nat Rudarakanchana; VTDigger

State Auditor Doug Hoffer is sharpening up his pencil to review transportation, corrections, and state cell phone contracts, he announced early Wednesday, listing details about his office’s priorities. Hoffer, a Democrat, was sworn in to his new job Jan. 10.

Several of the contracts Hoffer is targeting involve large amounts of state dollars. Hoffer said he will audit the Correct Care Solutions contract at the Corrections Department, a personal services contract under which a private firm provides health care for inmates.

The point of the performance audit is to see if there’s effective oversight of the firm’s performance; the contract is valued at $53 million over three years.

Hoffer said the previous firm which handled the contract, Prison Health Services, had problems, with an inmate dying in August 2009 after medication was withheld.

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Vermont pushed as potential video game mecca

January 31, 2013; David Taube; Times Argus

MONTPELIER — Some Champlain College gaming design and development majors say many of their gaming industry peers would like to stay in Vermont after graduation, but the industry in the state lacks the job opportunities that Montreal, Boston and New York City offer.

To change that, a group of legislators wants to find $75,000 in the budget to help grow the video game development industry in Vermont in a way that’s similar to how ski resorts are marketed and supported.

“We want to help grow and, in fact, jump-start this industry,” Sen. Anthony Pollina, a Progressive, Democrat and Working Families Party legislator from Washington County, said Wednesday at a news conference at the Statehouse.

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Shumlin’s budget gets mixed reviews

January 25, 2013; Peter Hirschfeld; Times Argus

Rep. Chris Pearson, a Burlington Progressive and leader of his party’s House caucus, said he remains excited about Shumlin’s call for $17 million in new child care subsidies for low-income parents. He said he remains bewildered by Shumlin’s continued insistence on reducing the earned income tax credit — a program that benefits about 40,000 of the lowest-wage earners in Vermont — to fund it.

“We have a governor with Progressive priorities and Tea Party funding schemes,” Pearson said.

Pearson said he’s pleased to see the governor “at least acknowledge” the need for new revenue. In addition to raising millions by cutting tax exemptions for the poor, Shumlin’s budget included a proposed new tax on “tear-off” lotto tickets — a largely unregulated game of chance commonly found in private clubs and bars.

That money would be used to fund home-weatherization programs and renewable-energy subsidies. But Pearson said he’s discouraged that the governor has already dismissed out of hand a proposal to increase tax rates on filers in the top income bracket.

“I don’t understand his desire to go after a program that impacts 40,000 low-income Vermonters and to protect 4,000 of the wealthiest,” Pearson said.

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In Budget Address, Shumlin "Breaks Open" New Funding Schemes

January 25, 2013; Paul Heintz; Seven Days

The Progressive reaction to Shumlin's proposals was cutting.

"To give people the impression that too many Vermonters are on welfare is, I think, inappropriate," said Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington). "We're always willing to ask low-income people to do more, but we're never willing to ask wealthy people to do more."

Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), who chairs the House Progressive Caucus, agreed.

"Shumlin calls it his state budget. I call it a path to poverty," Pearson said, accusing the governor of funding his budget with "Tea Party schemes."

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