Vermont DPS wins key concessions in GMP-CVPS merger

first_imgby Alan Panebaker vtdigger.org The state of Vermont and its two largest utilities are one step closer to an agreement that could seal the deal for an historic merger.The Vermont Department of Public Service, Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service released a memorandum of understanding Tuesday that could serve as the framework for the certificate of public good the utilities need to receive before they can become one company.The proposal addresses many of the lingering issues that continue to cause concerns in the proposed merger of the state’s two largest utilities under one parent company ‘ Gaz Metro of Quebec.The proposed agreement would allow the Department of Public Service to appoint three members of the 13-member board of directors of the Vermont Electric Power Co. (VELCO), which manages the transmission system across the state. It would also require the utilities to invest $21 million in an efficiency fund as a result of a windfall requirement on CVPS to return money to ratepayers.The department issued a press release Tuesday stating it had ‘won major concessions’ from the utilities that would yield more customer savings, fund efficiency and weatherization and increase public interest governance of VELCO.One concession, said Dorothy Schnure, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power, is that more money in savings will go to ratepayers sooner.‘Customers are getting more savings earlier,’ Schnure said.In pre-filed testimony, the department pressed the utilities on their proposed financing that would allow the utilities to keep the lion’s share of savings in the early years after the merger.The utilities say the merger would result in $144 million in savings to ratepayers in the first 10 years after the deal goes through. The memorandum of understanding requires the utilities to provide $2.5 million to ratepayers in year one, starting Oct. 1, $5 million in year two, $8 million in year three, half the savings in years four to eight, and all of it in years nine and 10.Another sticking point for the utilities and the state has been the makeup of VELCO. The transmission utility manages the state’s physical electrical grid, Transco. The board is made up of utilities based on their market share of the retail electricity market. Currently CVPS and Green Mountain Power have a combined six seats on the board.The MOU would leave the new Green Mountain Power with four seats. Representatives from a low-income trust would hold three seats. The department would appoint these directors from government agencies, policy groups, low-income advocates and public power utilities. The utilities would also transfer about a third of the voting shares of VELCO to the trust, which the utilities claim will produce $1 million per year in dividends.‘There was a lot of talk around makeup of VELCO board,’ Schnure said. ‘I think what we’ve come up with is something people are agreeing satisfies a lot of the concerns.’The board’s makeup has created controversy among utilities and in the state Legislature.Three senators have pushed for a study of state ownership, and at least one utility, Washington Electric Cooperative, says someone should look into the idea of public ownership.Representatives for VELCO have said public involvement would disrupt the company’s governance and emphasized that the company is not for sale.Kerrick Johnson, vice president of external affairs for VELCO, said it was too soon to say what the utility’s position is on the proposal.‘We’ve just gotten the proposed agreement,’ he said. ‘We are reviewing it and will be in discussions with our other owners as part of our process to arrive at an informed opinion and decision on the proposal.’In a media statement, DPS Commissioner Elizabeth Miller said, ‘The concessions we have achieved here assure public direction in the governance of our electric transmission company, VELCO, and require a merger savings plan far more favorable to customers than had been originally proposed by the companies.’Sen. Vince Illuzzi, an intervenor in the docket, was at first highly critical of the department’s position and asked for independent counsel based on a conflict of interest in that Miller’s husband works for the law firm that represents Green Mountain Power.Illuzzi later backed off, and then pushed for legislation that would fund a study to determine the merits of state ownership of up to 51 percent of VELCO.Illuzzi said he could not comment substantively on the proposal Tuesday, but he said, ‘The highlights indicate positive movements in the direction I thought would be best for ratepayers and state of Vermont.’Illuzzi has also supported the idea of funding low-income weatherization programs in the state through the windfall money.Under the proposed MOU, Green Mountain Power would partner with community action agencies to invest $6 million in Vermont’s Weatherization Program before Dec. 1 with another $4 million before Dec. 1, 2013.Other ‘windfall’ money would be invested in efficiency and clean energy programs. The Community Energy and Efficiency Development Fund would be based on a similar fund developed when Gaz Metro purchased Green Mountain Power.The compromise, which meant the industry would invest an additional $21 million pursuant to a previous board order, appeased the department. But Greg Marchildon, executive director of AARP Vermont, said the move is ‘audacious.’AARP has pushed for a direct cash payback to CVPS customers throughout the proceeding.Marchildon says the proposal is a double whammy. Ratepayers had to bail out the utilities in the 1990s when they entered into imprudent contracts with Hydro-Quebec. Now, Marchildon said, the utilities are taking ratepayer money and investing it in causes they should be pursuing anyway.Marchildon said the investment in efficiency is a means of circumventing the legislative process to avoid raising taxes to pay for things like weatherization.The AARP continues a media campaign targeting Gov. Peter Shumlin to ensure ratepayers get cash back.‘One of the things we know the MOU does is it clearly states the governor has decided to side with the power companies as opposed to the people,’ he said.The MOU is a persuasive document for the Public Service Board, which will ultimately determine whether the proposed merger is in the public interest.March 27, 2012 vtdigger.orglast_img read more

Why is Bruce Lisman spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ‘start a conversation’?

first_imgby Taylor Dobbs vtdigger.org Campaign for Vermont became a player on the political scene in Vermont late last year ‘thanks to the largesse of a single wealthy individual and an aggressive local media advertising blitz.But eight months since a group of prominent conservatives founded the 501(c)(4) organization, its purpose remains unclear.What is Campaign for Vermont, and more to the point, what is the group trying to accomplish?Photo of Bruce Lisman by VTD/Josh LarkinThe founder of Campaign for Vermont, Bruce Lisman, says the organization doesnâ t adhere to a political point of view, but the group has pushed for fiscally conservative ideas outside the traditional Republican Party construct.Campaign for Vermont, through hyperlocal radio advertising, has indirectly criticized â Montpelier,’a.k.a. Democrats who hold the governorâ s office and the Statehouse, for â out-of-control’state spending. It has also chastised the executive and legislative branches for not being transparent enough about the way taxpayer dollars are used by state government.In a recent email missive to supporters, Lisman wrote that â Campaign for Vermont believes that higher property taxes, increased electric rates and a risky health care scheme will strangle a vibrant economy.âLisman, a native of Burlingtonâ s North End, and a former executive with Bear Stearns and J.P. Morgan, says he is trying to draw attention to the stateâ s financial future through a â campaign for a prosperous economy.âListen closely to GOP candidates such as Randy Brock, who is running for governor, and Wendy Wilton, who is making a bid for state treasurer, and familiar Campaign for Vermont themes emerge.After months of Campaign for Vermontâ s focus on â prosperity,’Brockâ s media consultant Robert Wickers said in a statement that â [a]s Vermonters learn more about Randy, and hear his positive message of economic growth and prosperity, this race will tighten.’Brock and Campaign for Vermont have also criticized the growth of the budget this year (an overall rate of 6.3 percent).In the groupâ s first radio advertisement, Lisman said, â Itâ s time to use modern technology to make Vermont state government totally transparent and accountable to every citizen.âIn the groupâ s first radio advertisement, Lisman said, â Itâ s time to use modern technology to make Vermont state government totally transparent and accountable to every citizen.âWilton, at her campaign launch for treasurer, echoed that sentiment: â Information is key, but itâ s the ease of that information thatâ s really important too. Because itâ s got to be readily available, youâ ve got to be able to see it and understand it, and it canâ t be in some really arcane spot within the stateâ s website where youâ d never find it even if you put it in a search function. Itâ s got to be somewhere where people can see it easily.âJake Perkinson, chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, suggests that Campaign for Vermont might be a â launching pad’for a political candidate ‘most likely Lisman himself. Though he is the face of the organization ‘his portrait is on email messages and the website ‘Lisman has said repeatedly that he has no interest in running for office.Kevin Ellis, a communications strategist with KSE Partners and a supporter of Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin, says Campaign for Vermont is the Vermont GOPâ s ad hoc messaging machine, laying the electoral groundwork for Republican Party candidates this election cycle.Bruce Lisman, right, and Mary Alice McKenzie, at a daylong conference called “Crunch Time,” at Vermont Tiger’s fourth annual symposium in May 2010. VTD file photo/Anne GallowayHe also speculates that Lisman wants to be a kingmaker. Ellis says Campaign for Vermontâ s ubiquitous advertising could be a potential prelude to financing candidates in 2014 ‘in the event that Vermontâ s campaign finance limits are knocked down in the courts.â Sure, he may give money to candidates,’Ellis said. â But I think he is a millionaire from Wall Street who came to Vermont and wanted to be a player. Spending this money is the best and fastest way to do that. Spending this money makes him a political player, scares the heck out of Democrats and makes him the toast of the Burlington cocktail party circuit among Republicans. But that is a long, long way from playing on the varsity team against pros like Peter Shumlin, Bernie Sanders and Pat Leahy. To steal a phrase from David Plouffe, those guys play chess. Lisman is still playing checkers.âHitting the airwavesLisman, 65, is the mind and the money behind Campaign for Vermont, which has launched 19 radio, print and web advertising campaigns since Nov. 23, 2011 ‘all of which were paid for out of his own pocket. As of April 25, he had spent $194,343 on advertising alone, according to a lobbyist filing with the Secretary of Stateâ s office.With nearly ubiquitous radio spots playing up to six times per day on more than 10 stations statewide, the advertising blitz has drawn attention to Lisman from his detractors and supporters alike.Until Jan. 1 of this year, Campaign for Vermontâ s advertisements advocated broadly for transparency, â defining prosperity’and a vibrant economy. One ad series, for example, encouraged Vermonters to donate to the United Way during the holiday season. Though Campaign for Vermontâ s website, which included specific talking points was online at that point, the messages the radio ads promoted were not topical.As the legislative session began, so did the assaults on Democratic initiatives for alternative energy, Vermontâ s health care exchange plan, and the state budget. Campaign for Vermont launched two new radio ads, one criticizing Vermontâ s health care exchange ‘â Vermontâ s Act 48 will create an exchange with only one or two [health insurance] carriers. Thatâ s not choice,’Lisman says in the advertisement ‘and another calling for accurate and realistic analysis of renewable energy and its costs before the state moves forward.Lismanâ s biggest issue is the economy, especially with regard to state taxes and spending priorities, shortly followed by transparency. The former Wall Street executive wants the Legislature to give taxpayers estimates for proposed programs, so lawmakers and citizens alike can make decisions based on real cost analyses.Advertisements like this ‘most of which advocate for conservative economic policies ‘ran throughout the session. Eventually, Vermonters learned where Campaign for Vermont stood on specific topics: against the cloud computing tax, against the health care exchange and against the potential impact of high costs associated with renewable energy on consumers and businesses.Lismanâ s biggest issue is the economy, especially with regard to state taxes and spending priorities, shortly followed by transparency. The former Wall Street executive wants the Legislature to give taxpayers estimates for proposed programs, so lawmakers and citizens alike can make decisions based on real cost analyses.In an ad launched Feb. 7, Lisman encouraged Vermonters to ask four questions of their legislators on Town Meeting Day: â Are the policies they are considering based on facts and common sense? Will the policy lead to shared prosperity? Is the policy being developed in a non-partisan manner? And lastly, are they listening to you?’In a run of newspaper advertisements in 26 weeklies across the state the campaign reiterated the same message the week before Town Meeting Day.A screenshot of the Campaign for Vermont webpage where Lisman lays out the “Lisman Perspective.”Campaign for Vermont, Lisman says, is based on principles all Vermonters can agree on.â Can you tell me if there is something wrong with building a vibrant economy?’Lisman said in an interview. â Honestly?âThe answer, presumably, is no. But Lisman, his past and the views he promotes have made some Vermont politicos uneasy.A scrape with the DemocratsCampaign for Vermont came under fire from the Vermont Democratic Party after launching a Feb. 6 radio advertisement which they claimed was an attack ad advocating against the re-election of Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin ‘a candidate in an upcoming election.In a Feb. 21 letter to Attorney General William Sorrell, Jesse Bragg, then the executive director of the Vermont Democratic Party, alleged that Campaign for Vermont had spent more than $500 on the ad and hadnâ t registered with the Secretary of State as a political committee. Bragg claimed the advertisement â can only be viewed as furthering the purpose of opposing [Shumlinâ s] candidacy and/or influencing the outcome of the governorâ s election.âLisman argued the Campaign for Vermont was not a political committee, and the Vermont Attorney Generalâ s Office ultimately ruled in his favor, determining that the advertisement was compliant with all relevant laws. â The Attorney Generalâ s Office concluded that the ad addressed a policy issue that is currently pending in the Vermont Legislature and did not demonstrate that its purpose was to support or oppose a candidate for Vermont office,’Sorrellâ s office announced in a press release.Lisman argued the Campaign for Vermont was not a political committee, and the Vermont Attorney Generalâ s Office ultimately ruled in his favor, determining that the advertisement was compliant with all relevant laws.The issue was settled, but Lismanâ s group whose stated purpose was to put â progress ahead of partisanship’had driven a wedge between Republicans and Democrats.Jack Lindley, chairman of the Vermont Republican Party, said the complaint was â part of the arrogance of single-party power,’and called the charge â frivolous.’He commended Campaign for Vermont for its work.â Their thinking is pretty clear and their activities with regard to bringing in a better Vermont are well-intentioned and directly to the point,’Lindley said.Perkinson, the Vermont Democratic Party chair, had other thoughts about the groupâ s obligations under its 501(c)(4) IRS status.â They should be able to make those arguments,’he said, â but I donâ t think they should be able to cloak those in the name of education and social welfare for the common person when theyâ re anything but.âThe Democrats fear something bigger from Lisman et al. down the line. Perkinson says he thinks Campaign for Vermont is in the early stages of becoming a vehicle for electing Republican candidates.â In my estimation, either a stalking horse or â ¦ a launching pad for someone who wants to be involved in politics going forward,’he said.Such a move would be possible, depending on the outcome of a case pending in Vermont District Court, where the Vermont Right to Life Committee is suing Attorney General Sorrell over the criteria defining a political committee. Right to Life argues the financial reporting requirements triggered by spending $500 or more on ads relating to an election are too burdensome. The organizationâ s hope is to skirt the triggers as long as most of its spending is not on such ads.If the Vermont Right to Life Committee, which is represented by James Bopp, an attorney who has made fighting campaign finance limits in states across the country his personal quest, according to Seven Days, wins the case, the state would have to allow unlimited ‘and untraceable ‘spending by groups like Lismanâ s and KSEâ s Vermont Priorities.Eve Jacobs-Carnahan, the assistant attorney general defending the stateâ s interests, says itâ s possible the Vermont Right to Life decision would allow groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on election-based advertising as long as such ad expenditures were not the groupâ s â major purpose.âUnder IRS rules, a 501(c)(4) is a â social welfare organization,’but according to the IRS â [s]eeking legislation germane to the organizationâ s programs is a permissible means of attaining social welfare purposes. Thus, a section 501(c)(4) social welfare organization may further its exempt purposes through lobbying as its primary activity without jeopardizing its exempt status.’Launching ads for or against a candidate does not qualify as social welfare spending, but 501(c)(4)s are permitted to engage in political activity, â so long as that is not its primary activity.âIf the organizationâ s â major purpose’(Carnahan says that would likely be a function of where funds are dedicated) is not ads seeking to influence a Vermont state election, it would not be required to register with the Secretary of State as a political committee, even if it spent over the current $500 limit.â There wouldnâ t be any transparency, the public wouldnâ t know where the funds were coming from,’Carnahan said.Unlimited spending rules in North Carolina allowed a wealthy businessman, Art Pope, to finance a conservative takeover of the state legislature in 2010. (http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/10/10/111010fa_fact_mayer(link is external))When asked whether he intended to cause a similar political sea change in Vermont, Lisman said no. He wants Campaign for Vermont to foster debate ‘not financially back candidates.â Is what weâ re doing for somebodyâ s personal gain, or is there something bigger, more important, to discuss?’Lisman said. â And I think itâ s the latter, and I think that because ‘and let me just be clear ‘I think this is a worthy effort that we should dedicate, in my case some money and time, and try to capture peopleâ s attention on some issues weâ re discussing.âThe spending spree on local advertisingMoney indeed. An April 25 filing with the Secretary of Stateâ s office gave the figure: $212,343. Lisman confirmed that all the money came from him, with $15,000 paid to lobbying firm Capital Connections, $3,000 in â other expenses,’and $194,343 paid out in advertising (Disclosure: Campaign for Vermont paid $5,382 for a sponsorship placement with VTDigger.org in March 2012, and Lisman personally gave two $5,000 donations to the Vermont Journalism Trust in 2011.)In an effort to track the groupâ s spending across the state, VTDigger went to the offices of WDEV, WORK, WWFY, WSNO and WVMT where the stations disclosed advertisement spending by Campaign for Vermont. All radio advertisements were billed to Marianne Campbell, media director ofMcLaughlin & Associates, a New York firm that features on its website a Washington Times quote dubbing it one of the best Republican polling outfits.In a separate trip to WVTK in Middlebury, the station declined to give the information. When VTDigger asked Lisman to disclose the groupâ s spending on advertising with WVTK, he declined.Though the group has advocated heavily for transparency in its advertising, Lisman said its April 25 filing of lobbyist disclosure forms with the Secretary of State was enough. The forms report spending by and payments to lobbyists by category including advertising, telemarketing and other expenses.â Weâ ve disclosed the important things so that the public can see what weâ re doing, and the law didnâ t require us to do it,’he said.â These questions are of interest,’Lisman said, â but we choose not to disclose it, and itâ s for the radio stations to decide.âNeither Campaign for Vermont nor the radio stations it advertises with are legally required to disclose the ad spending information, and Campaign for Vermont, Lisman says, was not required to file lobbyist disclosure forms with the Secretary of State. The group filed, Lisman said in a press release, because â Campaign for Vermont believes in transparency and is disclosing, as promised to the public, our expenditures related to direct and indirect lobbying for the period January 1 to March 31, 2012.âLisman said he refused to disclose specific spending with certain radio stations because the â realm of detail’for such spending was too specific.â These questions are of interest,’Lisman said, â but we choose not to disclose it, and itâ s for the radio stations to decide.âAt WVMT, a conservative talk radio station where Campaign for Vermont spent $25,380, the group received roughly $2,000 in free advertising. Station owner and manager Paul Goldman said he donated the free advertising because of how much Campaign for Vermont had spent.From Willard Street to Wall StreetLisman was born and raised in Burlington, where he lived with his brother and their parents, Irving and Lily Lisman, on North Willard Street. Lisman fondly remembers his fatherâ s refrain about his home neighborhood: â My father always said â the best thing about the North End is leaving,’and we did,’Lisman said. When Lisman was still in elementary school, the family moved to the South End.Lisman graduated from Burlington High School and went on to UVM, where his mother worked as a secretary to earn discounted tuition for him and his brother.After graduation, Lisman moved to New York City and got a job as a file clerk at the financial firm Bear Stearns.â I didnâ t start in a management position or in a senior position,’Lisman said. â I started as a basic clerk, which is filing different colored pieces of paper from different-colored files. And the guy who transitioned me, which took probably less than 90 seconds to train me, I think he hung out for 10 minutes, said, â Try not to think too much, because when you do that, youâ re going to put the reds in the pink, and theyâ re really gonna get pissed at you.â âLisman climbed up through the ranks of the company, from clerk to trading assistant to junior analyst to analyst to director of research, and finally he became co-head of Global Equities.Bear Stearns folded as a result of the 2008 financial collapse, and its leadership faced criticism for reckless trading practices, but Lisman says the criticisms are baseless.â As the crisis took hold, you could see clearly it wasnâ t one company or one type of transaction or even one country that you could assign a central locus of where the crisis began,’Lisman said. â Thatâ s an absurd, simplistic, and probably ideologically oriented point of view. Thereâ s nothing out there that says that. People who say that are making a great leap. We were, as I look at it, a canary in the mineshaft.âLisman says his division had no part in the problems that brought Bear Stearns down.â Our business had nothing to do with the failure of the world,’he said. â It was, I wouldnâ t say plain vanilla, but we were large and profitable almost to the very end.âThe economic crash of 2008, as Lisman sees it, was the result of the world becoming too used to an extended period of financial growth.â It was wretched excess at the end of a very long economic cycle that made people too comfortable,’he said. â Public policy people comfortable that they could continue on, and banks and lenders thinking that things are great and theyâ re smarter than the next guy pursuing policies that had some wretched excess attached to it, too much greed, could still work. It didnâ t.âVermont in the new worldThe 2008 collapse changed the world, Lisman said, in ways many leaders are still failing to grasp. The new world Vermonters live in needs a renewed focus on economic prosperity, he says. In his return to Vermont, Lisman aims to give his home state a nudge in the right direction.After he left Bear Stearns, Lisman became head of global equities at J.P. Morgan before retiring in 2009 and coming back to Vermont full time. Lisman felt the need to reconnect with the state, so he spent 18 months touring Vermont, going to peopleâ s homes and talking to them about the issues they found important.â I had a set of rules. One is, I had a map and Iâ d mark every road I went on, but more importantly Iâ d visit people I didnâ t know,’he said. At the end of each meeting, Lisman says he asked his hosts who else would be interesting to talk with. â So I met with businesspeople, small entrepreneurs, doctors, lawyers, college presidents, people who ran restaurants, you name it. In all maybe 400 people in a period of 18 months.âOn his marathon meet and greet, Lisman came across Tom Pelham, retired deputy secretary of administration under Republican Gov. Jim Douglas and head of the Department of Finance and Management for Democrat Gov. Howard Dean. Campaign for Vermont, Lisman says, was born out of his first meeting with Pelham.â He gave me a tour of his house and only when we were sitting staring at each other across the living room did he say â So what do you want?’and I gave him my ideas and we shook hands and he became my first partner in Campaign for Vermont,’Lisman said.The group is based on Lismanâ s premise that the world has changed, and its leaders havenâ t caught up.â I thought, around us Washington wasnâ t getting it,’Lisman said. â I mean after the crisis, they werenâ t figuring out that something had changed, Europe certainly still hasnâ t gotten it â ¦ and I didnâ t think many of the states were getting it. Our state in particular wasnâ t getting it. They were marching to the same tune they had been. Maybe thatâ s right, but I thought we oughta find out if itâ s right.âCampaign for Vermont was incorporated Sept. 22, 2011, with Lisman, Pelham and Mary Alice McKenzie listed as officers.With over $200,000 in expenditures by April 25, some wonder how far Lisman will reach into his deep pockets to fund the campaign.Eric Davis, professor emeritus of political science at Middlebury College, says that based on how much he has spent so far, Lisman is on course to spend $1 million by the time elections roll around in November.Davis says he thinks that as much as Lisman preaches non-partisanship, Campaign for Vermont aligns with the right.â I would say that while Campaign for Vermont is not formally or organizationally affiliated with the Republican Party, but in terms of the issues,’the two groups see eye to eye.â [Lisman] would like to see Randy Brock elected for governor, but he cannot say in his commercials â vote for Brock’or â vote against Shumlin,â ‘because such an ad would trigger campaign finance laws.With the session over and Campaign for Vermontâ s three to six ads per month seeming to slow down, the groupâ s future seems unclear, even to Lisman.â Iâ ll be interested to see whether the group continues in the 2014 election cycle,’Davis says, â if Shumlin is re-elected and the Democrats still have a majority.âLisman says he put more money into Campaign for Vermont initially to gain recognition and make the group known, but making predictions based on those numbers would be a mistake.â I understand limitations, but remember we had to start bigger. Iâ m not sure you should extrapolate those kind of numbers anyway,’he said.One thing Lisman seems sure of is that Campaign for Vermont is here to stay.How we fund it or how we shape ourselves is largely a function of how we do, how successful we are,’Lisman said. â We could finish tomorrow if everybody agreed our themes are the themes to grab onto for the betterment of our citizens and considering the world around us.ââ We started last Thanksgiving,’he said. â Weâ re still here, and I anticipate this Thanksgiving weâ ll still be here and the Thanksgiving after that, I think weâ ll still be here. How we fund it or how we shape ourselves is largely a function of how we do, how successful we are. We could finish tomorrow if everybody agreed our themes are the themes to grab onto for the betterment of our citizens and considering the world around us.âLisman says he doesnâ t see that happening, so he plans on sticking with Campaign for Vermont. Funding is a different question, one he admittedly has no answer for.â How we do it from here Iâ m not prepared to say and Iâ m not sure I know, but weâ ll still be here,’Lisman said.Though those words were about Campaign for Vermont, they may resonate with many of the groupâ s critics who say Lisman has pointed to a lot of problems without naming solutions. Lisman says such criticism plays a vital role in democracy.â My heroes on a personal level,’Lisman said, â would be people who see something wrong and either raise their hand or say something. The first line of defense in a democracy are people ‘whether theyâ re sane or not ‘whoâ ll see something thatâ s wrong and do something about it. Unlike other places where things are grand injustices and no one is brave enough to stand up.âCampaign for Vermont is not necessarily saying the state is approaching these issues the wrong way, Lisman says, just that citizens and lawmakers alike should be aware of the costs and successes of all programs, and keep a critical eye out for failures.â We should at least start by saying â This doesnâ t look right.’This may ultimately be the best weâ ve got, but letâ s have a robust debate about it,’Lisman said.The ultimate goal, Lisman says, is to get people talking about Campaign for Vermontâ s central issues, all of which revolve around the stateâ s prosperity.â If there were a robust two-party system, I guess, they might have this debate and we wouldnâ t do this,’Lisman said. â But thereâ s no debate on big issues.âMay 30, 2012 vtdigger.orglast_img read more

Soldiers’ Angels from Williston receives $10,000 from Walmart

first_imgOn the sixth day of its “12 Days of Giving” holiday campaign, Walmart is awarding $110,000 to 11 nonprofits that are making an extraordinary effort to support troops, military families and veterans in their local communities.The Soldiers’ Angels from Williston received $10,000 in this round of giving.Over twelve consecutive days, Walmart will award a total of $1.5 million to 140 organizations across the country that are providing basic needs and services such as food, shelter, clothing and medical care. Organizations receiving grants today are featured on Walmart’s Live Better tab on Facebook. The organizations serve communities in: District of Columbia, Delaware, California, New York, Florida, Oregon,Texas, Washington, Oklahoma, North Carolina and Vermont.”We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to those who serve or have served in our country’s military, as well as to the families of those individuals.” said Sylvia Mathews Burwell, president of the Walmart Foundation. “Whether protecting our freedoms in foreign fields or making contributions here at home, the value these men and women bring to the American workforce and our way of life is beyond measure. We are truly honored to provide grants this holiday season to local organizations that support our military and veterans.”Walmart’s November call for submissions resulted in more than 21,677 nominations from Facebook users who submitted descriptions of each nonprofit’s impact in its local community. Submissions were initially reviewed by Walmart associates from across the company and then a panel from the Walmart Foundation selected the winning organizations.One of the winning organizations, Operation Homefront Oklahoma/Arkansas, serves its community by providing food and financial assistance to military families and wounded warriors.  The organization also works to prevent homelessness among young military families and combat veterans. The organizations being spotlighted today for “Supporting Our Military and Veterans” include:Nonprofit NameCityStateGrant AmountA Soldier’s SmileMiamiFL$10,000Delaware Center for Homeless Veterans, Inc.WilmingtonDE$10,000Homefront AmericaSan Juan CapistranoCA$10,000Intrepid Fallen Heroes FundNew YorkNY$10,000National Veterans Homeless Support, Inc.MimsFL$10,000Operation Homefront OregonPortlandOR$10,000Operation Homefront TexasSan AntonioTX$10,000Operation Homefront WashingtonSeattleWA$10,000Operation Homefront Oklahoma/ArkansasLawtonOK$10,000Purple Heart HomesStatesvilleNC$10,000Soldiers’ AngelsWillistonVT$10,000 About Philanthropy at Walmart  Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are committed to helping people live better through philanthropic efforts. By operating globally and giving back locally, Walmart is uniquely positioned to address the needs of the communities it serves and make a significant social impact within its core areas of giving: Hunger Relief and Nutrition, Sustainability, Workforce Opportunity and Women’s Economic Empowerment. Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are leading the fight against hunger in the United States with a $2 billion commitment through 2015. To date, Walmart has donated more than 1 billion pounds of food to those in need across the country. To learn more about Walmart’s giving, visithttp://foundation.walmart.com/(link is external).SOURCE BENTONVILLE, Ark., Dec. 15, 2012 /PRNewswire/ — Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.last_img read more

Shumlin opposes pipeline transport of tar sands oil; governor is lukewarm about state regulation

first_imgby Andrew Stein February 20, 2013 vtdigger.org Governor Peter Shumlin says he doesn’ t want oil from Canadian tar sands pumped through Vermont, but he is hesitant to support a bill that would give the state certain regulatory power over such a proposal.‘ I don’ t want to see tar sands pumped through Vermont,’ he said on Wednesday at his weekly press conference.The governor’ s comments come a week after Larry Wilson, CEO of the Portland Pipe Line Corp., told the House Fish and Wildlife Committee that he is ‘ aggressively’ seeking opportunities to pipe oil from Alberta’ s tar sands through Vermont.Wilson’ s company owns the Portland-Montreal pipeline, which cuts through the northeast corner of the state. If an oil company wanted to pipe a petroleum product from the tar sands region to Portland for export, it would need to use that line.To ensure that the state has regulatory authority over a proposal of this nature, Democratic Rep. David Deen, who chairs the House Fish and Wildlife Committee, and Sen. Ginny Lyons, D-Chittenden, introduced bills that would require such an application to undergo review by an Act 250 commission. Act 250 is the state’ s governing land-use law that controls most commercial development in Vermont.While Wilson opposes any additional regulations on his company’ s pipeline, environmental groups say the state already has that authority, and they have asked the Northeast Kingdom’ s Act 250 commission to verify whether it has jurisdiction over potential changes to the pipeline.‘ Right now the district commission is considering a jurisdictional question ‘¦ about the pipeline,’ Shumlin said. ‘ I’ m always hesitant to weigh in with legislation when you have a process under current law that is being debated and considered.‘ I think the Legislature is doing good work and asking the right question,’ he said. ‘ Let’ s see where that goes.’last_img read more

NAMI Report: State Medicaid expansions will strengthen mental health care

first_imgUp to 30 percent of currently insured adults who would receive health care coverage through state Medicaid expansions are individuals living with mental illness, the National Alliance on Mental Illness ( NAMI ), a national advocacy organization, reported today. Vermont is one of several states that is expanding its Medicaid program.See report: www.nami.org/medicaidexpansion(link is external) .”Today more than ever before, Americans recognize that the mental health care system is in crisis,” said NAMI Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick.”Unfortunately, despite increased public concern for greater mental health care, 14 states have shut the door this year to helping this vulnerable population by rejecting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.””Besides abandoning people in need, states that reject Medicaid expansion lose an opportunity for federal funds that would help strengthen the overall mental health care system.  States that are still considering expansion need to carefully focus on mental health implications for everyone.””When mental illness isn’t treated, major costs get shifted elsewhere — to emergency rooms, police, jails and broken families,” Fitzpatrick said.Nationwide, 2.7 million currently uninsured individuals living with mental illness would become eligible for health care under Medicaid expansion.In the report Medicaid Expansion and Mental Health Care , NAMI lists 21 states in which the proportion of uninsured persons who would benefit from Medicaid expansion and are living with mental illness totals 20 to 30 percent.Of those 21 states, seven have approved Medicaid expansion: Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Vermont. Five have rejected it: Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin.In both Minnesota and Nebraska, 30 percent of currently uninsured persons live with mental illness and would benefit from Medicaid expansion. Minnesota has adopted expansion, but Nebraska has rejected it.Within the 20 percent range, states in which Medicaid expansion is still — at least technically — an open question:Ohio — 24 percent *Indiana — 23 percentVirginia — 22 percentWest Virginia — 22 percentMaine — 21 percentSouth Carolina — 21 percentTennessee — 20 percentUtah — 20 percentMichigan — 20 percentOf the remaining 29 states and the District of Columbia, the proportion ranges from 10 to 19 percent, with the exception of Maryland (8 percent) and Massachusetts (6 percent).  In that range, 15 states have approved Medicaid expansion.  Eight have rejected it.Five states in the lower tier have the following proportions of currently uninsured adults living with mental illness who would benefit from expansion:Montana — 17 percentNew Hampshire — 15 percentKansas — 13 percentArizona — 12 percent*Texas — 11 percentOver 10 years from 2013 through 2022, states in which Medicaid expansion is still pending stand to lose a total of $255 billion in federal funds if they reject itTexas, Ohio and Tennessee stand to lose the most.Texas —  $66 billionOhio — $53 billionTennessee — $23 billionMichigan — $18 billionIndiana — $17 billionSouth Carolina — $16 billionVirginia — $15 billionArizona — $10 billionWest Virginia — $9 billionKansas — $5 billionUtah — $5 billionMaine — $3 billionMontana — $2 billionNew Hampshire — $2 billion* As NAMI prepared to release the report on May 30, 2013, legislative votes on Medicaid expansion were considered imminent in Arizona and Ohio. Because of publication deadlines, late developments may not be reflected in the report. For example, Iowa is listed as “pending” in Appendix V of the report, but has since adopted expansionAbout NAMINAMI is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. NAMI advocates for access to services, treatment, supports and research and is steadfast in its commitment to raising awareness and building a community of hope.twitter.com/namicommunicate facebook.com/officialNAMISOURCE ARLINGTON, Va., May 30, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — National Alliance on Mental Illnesslast_img read more

Vermont receives $1 million from USDOT for emergency repairs following spring floods

first_imgUS Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), US Representative Peter Welch (D-Vermont), and Governor Peter Shumlin (D-Vermont) announced Friday that the US Department of Transportation is releasing $1 million from the Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief (ER) Program to repair roads and bridges damaged in a series of strong storms that struck Vermont earlier this year. US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx called members of the Vermont congressional delegation this morning with the news.  In a joint statement Leahy, Sanders, Welch and Shumlin said:  ‘This is a much-needed infusion of federal funds to help towns throughout Vermont repair roads washed out by several storms this year.  We appreciate Secretary Foxx and the US Department of Transportation for responding so promptly to Vermont’s urgent request.’   Beginning in May and continuing into July, a succession of storms brought heavy rainfall and flash flooding that resulted in numerous road closures throughout Vermont.  Some 30 separate road segments, of both state and local roads, were closed due to damage from the storms.  In particular, a shoulder section of I-89 southbound in Williston was damaged, causing the closure of one lane and leading to severe backups.  A section of Manhattan Drive in the City of Burlington was washed out, and a section of Vermont Route 15 in the Town of Essex experienced slope failure.  The following counties were affected by these storms:  Caledonia, Chittenden, Essex, Lamoille, Orange, Orleans, Rutland, Washington, and Windsor. The federal ER program provides funds for the repair or reconstruction of federal-aid roads and bridges damaged by natural disasters or catastrophic events.  These funds are awarded to a state after the president or a governor issues a formal emergency declaration and the state files a request for ER help for the cost of damages to its eligible highways.  Eligible repair work includes emergency repairs needed to restore essential traffic, to minimize the extent of damage, or to protect the remaining facilities, as well as permanent repairs necessary to restore the highway to its pre-disaster condition. Also on Friday, Leahy, Sanders and Welch wrote to President Obama, supporting Governor Shumlin’s request for disaster assistance for flood damage sustained during the period of June 25 through July 11. Their letter is posted on the Leahy, Sanders and Welch websites.WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, July 26, 2013) ‘Vermont congressional delegationlast_img read more

Important tips for consumers to identify legitimate debt collection activity in Vermont

first_imgIn response to recent news reports about debt collection scams, the New England Collectors Association offers the following tips for consumers to identify legitimate collection activities:’ ‘ ‘Unscrupulous scams hurt Vermont consumers and unnecessarily impedes legitimate debt collection efforts,’ said New England Collectors Association President Jeff DiMatteo. ‘The recovery of consumer debt is vitally important to our local, state and national economies. Those who purposely violate the law to exploit Vermont consumers should be held fully accountable for their actions.’In addition to federal and state regulatory oversight of the debt collection industry and state law, the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) outlines several important items that consumers can use to discern a legitimate attempt to recover a debt.’  Generally:A debt collector may not contact a consumer at times known to be inconvenient to the consumer – assumed to be contact prior to 8 a.m. and after 9 p.m. in your time zone. Further, a debt collector may not contact a consumer at his/her place of employment if they know that such contact is prohibited by the employer or consumer. A debt collector may not communicate, in connection with the collection of the debt, with anyone other than the consumer in question or his or her attorney (or the consumer’s spouse unless prohibited by state law).For debt collection communications, a debt collector must disclose its identity to the consumer and notify the consumer that the communication is from a debt collector, and (in the initial communication) that any information obtained will be used to effect collection of the debt.A debt collector may not make false representations and may not threaten to take action (e.g., lawsuit, jail, garnishment, etc.) against a consumer if it doesn’t actually intend to seek such action. A debt collector must notify consumers of their right to dispute the validity of the debt, in part or in full, with the debt collector. The notice is required to be sent by debt collectors within five days of the initial communication with the consumer and the consumer has 30-days to request verification of the debt from the debt collector. If the consumer disputes the validity of the debt within the 30-day time period, a debt collector must cease collection of the debt until it provides verification of the debt.Vermont consumers should also take great care when giving out personal information including a credit card, bank account or Social Security number until certain of the authenticity of the other party.’  Consumers should monitor his/her credit report, as well as accounts and immediately report any suspicious or unauthorized purchases to the bank or credit card provider.’  If a consumer believes his/her identity has been stolen, [s]he should contact the local police department and visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft(link is external) for information on what to do.‘Debt collectors are not an enemy of consumers,’ DiMatteo said. ‘We are advocates for protecting consumer rights while balancing the ability to recover rightfully owed obligations that maintain America’s credit-based economy.’ For more information about working with a debt collector visit www.askdoctordebt.org(link is external).’ MONTPELIER ‘ (November 4, 2013)ssachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. It is a State Unit of ACA International (www.acainternational.org(link is external)), the comprehensive, knowledge-based resource for the credit and collection industry.’ Founded in 1939, ACA brings together nearly 5,000 members in the United States and abroad, and their more than 300,000 employees, including third-party collection agencies, asset buyers, attorneys, creditors and vendor affiliates.’  ‘last_img read more

Structures across 17 Vermont towns to benefit from Vermont Historic Preservation grants

first_imgHistoric meeting houses, churches and libraries are among a list of community buildings across 17 Vermont towns receiving preservation grants in 2014. The Vermont Division for Historic Preservation and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation recently awarded matching grants totaling $257,404 to help restore and maintain Vermont’s historic buildings.‘Vermont’s architectural heritage is important not only to understanding our past, but to the current and future economic vitality of our state,’ said Noelle MacKay, Commissioner of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. ‘Protecting and maintaining these historic buildings ensures that we honor our past as we look to the future.’ The efforts of this year’s grant recipients to preserve important civic community buildings demonstrates their commitment to a vibrant Vermont economy.’Of the 50 applications submitted, approved grant projects (SEE’ BELOW) range from roof replacements and steeple work, to structural and frame repairs, window restoration, and foundation and drainage improvements.‘This is a competitive grant program and as we do every year, we received many excellent applications for the preservation of architecturally and historically significant buildings that are essential to Vermont’s sense of place,’ said Laura Trieschmann, Vermont State Historic Preservation Officer. ‘Vermont is fortunate to have so many people committed to preserving our landmark buildings for future generations.’Established in 1986, the state-funded Historic Preservation Grant Program annually awards matching grants for building improvement projects that promote Vermont’s architectural and historical heritage. Since its inception, the program has granted nearly $4 million towards the preservation of more than 500 historic buildings. All properties are either listed in or eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.For more information, please visit: http://accd.vermont.gov/strong_communities/preservation/grants/historic_…(link is external).‘last_img read more

Vermont Department of Tourism offers hospitality training

first_imgHow well do you know your state? If you’re in the hospitality industry, it pays to know everything you can about Vermont. The Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing has created a new series of online classes for employees at Vermont lodgings and attractions. The online Ambassador Training program focuses on Vermont branding, state parks, history, heritage and more. Ambassador Training also offers valuable customer service tips, and insight into consumer trends such as agritourism and culinary travel. The training is free and geared specifically to Vermont’s travel and hospitality-related businesses.“Having well-informed employees can make a huge difference to a visitor’s experience,” said Megan Smith, Commissioner for the Vermont Department of Tourism and Marketing. “We need to make sure hospitality employees can help travelers get the most out of their visit to Vermont, whether it’s directing them to the nearest farmer’s market, pointing out the latest art exhibit, or letting them in on the town’s secret swimming hole.”To encourage participation in the Ambassador Training, the tourism department will hold a drawing for a free ad in Vermont Life magazine. Businesses will get one entry for every employee who completes the training by March 1.Source: Dept of Tourism. 1.29.2015. For more information, go to http://accd.vermont.gov/tourism_and_marketing/hospitality/ambassador(link is external)last_img read more

Grause: Health care reform is moving forward

first_imgby Bea Grause Vermont’s regulators have just about finished their annual review and approval of hospital budgets, so naturally there has been a lot of dialogue about the work hospitals are doing to create a system where everyone gets care they can afford, from the hospital and doctor of their choice. Vermont’s hospitals are doing what Vermonters have asked them to do. We’ve held spending growth to historic lows for the third consecutive year.  We are improving the delivery and coordination of care within hospitals and throughout our communities. And we are ensuring access for everyone – regardless of ability to pay.  RELATED STORY: Vermont hospital budgets up 3.5 percent for FY2016But there’s more work to do to make care, and insurance, affordable for everyone.Advancing payment reform and building community partnerships are top priorities for Vermont’s hospital leaders. They are figuring out how to change how providers are paid in order to realign our health care systems’ incentives away from intervention and toward prevention. It’s a win-win for Vermonters – better health and healthcare, and reduced costs over time.   Community-based efforts to improve health and access to primary care will help decrease the need for hospital care. Payment reform will support this work and will also ensure that our hospitals can continue to serve Vermonters whenever they are needed.  We believe this simultaneous effort is the way forward, and that it is the best way to help Vermont contain growth in health care spending to a level that is consistent with growth in the economy.As caregivers, we are pushing ahead on these reforms because we understand that Vermonters need relief from rising health care costs – now.  The complexity and magnitude of these efforts cannot be an excuse for inaction because we simply cannot afford to wait. Creating lasting improvement in the health of Vermonters begins with shared leadership in our communities – a responsibility we take seriously.  Earlier this year, the Prevention Institute, a national nonprofit focused on community health, compared healthcare delivery and payment reform efforts in Vermont communities with national case studies. In their findings, they noted that the leadership of Vermont’s hospitals is unique among states working to reform health care through community prevention efforts. “Unlike the national case studies, it is notable that Vermont hospitals frequently serve as the integrator and not merely a… participant.” We understand that addressing the unique health needs of our largely rural state will require the leadership of many health care and community leaders.  We are learning from them and want to support the work we need to do together.In Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, Northwestern Medical Center is helping to tackle obesity through a community partnership called Rise Vermont. The hospital has deployed health advocates throughout the community, leading exercise groups and helping businesses; schools and municipalities adopt healthy practices and start their own health programs. It’s just one example of how hospitals are working as community partners to improve health.Health challenges like obesity have to be tackled locally in order to reduce the incidence of other costly diseases like diabetes and heart disease.  The challenge we face as a state is that we need to bring health care costs down by getting healthier ourselves. Support for healthier choices must exist in our homes, schools, our offices and our hospitals. There’s no other way.Our approach is uniquely Vermont – everyone is at the table. We need to stay on this course over the coming months and years, as we work together to improve health, expand coverage, reduce costs, and maintain access to hospitals and doctors of choice for every Vermonter.Bea Grause, President and CEO of the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (VAHHS)last_img read more