The Word in the House - 2/21/2013 - The Transportation Challenge

We are now six weeks into the legislative session.  Governor Shumlin delivered his budget priorities,  the legislature passed a Budget Adjustment Bill that brought last year’s budget, based on projected revenues, in line with revenues actually realized, and now the work to come up with a budget for the 2014 fiscal year is being addressed. 

Separate from the general state budget is the Transportation Budget.  Vermont's transportation system has faced some extraordinary challenges in recent years, with four federally declared disasters in 2011, including spring floods followed by Tropical Storm Irene.  This year we face different transportation challenges, one more immediate and another reaching far into the future, that have an impact on the Transportation Fund.

The Long Term challenge: As Vermonters drive less and shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, state revenues from gas taxes have steadily declined. These state fund reductions are combined with federal uncertainties such as highway trust funding and possible federal transportation reauthorization reduction. With this in mind, one can begin to see that Vermont's long-term transportation funding stability is seriously at risk.  A summer funding study committee worked to determine the annual gap between available state transportation revenue and the cost to meet basic transportation needs. They have reported the Vermont gap is estimated at more than $240 million per year, each and every year. The needs estimate includes the cost to preserve the state's existing transportation system in a state of good repair. It assumes that preserving the functionality of the road network is fundamental to meeting basic travel needs of people and goods. It does not include major roadway expansion beyond projects already in the pipeline.
The Short term challenge:  The $657 million, FY2014 transportation budget presented by the Governor assumes the Legislature is able to identify a revenue package that enables Vermont to maximize all of its available federal funds. Federal formula funds require a state dollar match. If Vermont is unable to provide this match, then federal formula funds must be returned and projects would be delayed and/or suspended. The additional funding needed to fully fund the proposed FY2014 transportation budget program is $36.53 million in state funds. Without action, we place at risk our ability to match all the available federal transportation dollars which would require cutting $123 million dollars in projects from this coming year’s budget.
The Proposed Solutions: The Agency of Transportation has proposed the following steps to achieve the immediate funding gap:
·    Utilize transportation Infrastructure bonds providing yielding $8.3 million after issuance costs and debt reserves;
·   Decrease the current per gallon gas tax by 4.7 cents, from 19 cents to 14.3 cents per gallon. This reduces the transportation fund by $15.32 million;
·   Index per gallon gas tax to inflation (revenue neutral first year). This action assists in a small way with the long-term structural funding problems mentioned earlier.
·   Sustain gas tax revenues by adding a 4% assessment on retail sales price, yielding $43.56 million.  This assumes $10.89 million for each one percent based on $3.79/gallon price estimate.
Combining all the recommended funding options obtains the $36.54 million needed to fully access and maximize Vermont's federal funds. They are a starting point, and the House Transportation Committee is in the process of discussing, hearing testimony and evaluating all options.
I am indebted to Rep. Diane Lanphere (D-Vergennes) for the information in this article.  I have heard from many of you on a variety of topics and continue to welcome your input. If you would like to get in touch with me about this issue or any other issue before the legislature, you can email me at or call me at 425-3960.

Interview with Vermont Treasurer Beth Pearce

Click here to view the interview
State Representative Mike Yantachka (D-Charlotte) interviewed Vermont State Treasurer Beth Pearce on the Chittenden County Democrats Show on February 4, 2013.  Video is compliments of CCTV , channel 17, Burlington, VT.

Are You Missing Money?
The State Treasurer’s Office has more than $57 million in unclaimed property.  Could some of this be yours?  Financial property becomes “unclaimed” after a business or non-profit entity loses contact with a customer for a period of years. Unclaimed property may include cash, checks, security deposits, refunds, stocks, bonds, bank accounts and estates. There is no charge to claim funds through the State Treasurer’s Office. Search at or call (802) 828-2407

The Word in the House 2/7/2013 - Seeking Firearm Safety

You can’t turn on the TV news, open a newspaper, or visit a news website without hearing of incidents of gun violence on a near daily basis.  Senator Leahy’s Judiciary Committee is holding hearings on reinstituting an assault weapons ban.  Wayne Lapierre, president of the National Rifle Association, calls for armed guards in all of our schools.  State Senator Philip Baruth introduces a bill to ban assault weapons in Vermont and quickly retracts it after a flurry of opposition by Vermont gun enthusiasts.  The political climate in Vermont touching all things guns is a “third rail” that all politicians fear not only because of the long traditions of hunting and sport shooting, but because of the visceral reaction any talk of regulation illicits among gun owners.

However, despite this fear of reprisal, some members of the Vermont House, including myself, have dared to introduce a bill, H.124, that seeks to improve the safety of the citizens of Vermont while respecting the right of responsible citizens to own a firearm.  The introduction of H.124 has not unexpectedly drawn a flurry of emails and phone calls to the sponsors from across the state opposing the bill.  In this article I will explain the provisions of the bill and the reasons for them.

First, let me point out that I support the 2nd Amendment and gun ownership by law-abiding citizens.  The bill does not take away or infringe on that right. It is primarily focused on firearms safety, both to insure that firearms do not get into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, and that those who do own them use them responsibly.  The bill:

  1. Proposes to prohibit large capacity magazines (holding more than 10 rounds). This is the most controversial section but it is a legitimate question to ask whether or not these magazines pose a public safety hazard.  On behalf of the many Vermonters who are outraged at the unprecedented number of mass killings in 2012 (and we are off to a rousing start in 2013), we need to ask the question and do our due diligence in investigating this issue.
  2. Requires background checks on firearms purchased at gun shows.  IF it is true that “guns don’t kill people, people do,” then we need to do all we can to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people like criminals.  Vermonters are generally responsible gun owners.  But a criminal from NY City or Boston or even Montreal can come to Vermont to buy guns when they would legally be prohibited from doing so otherwise.  Vermont is not an island.
  3. Puts into state statute the federal prohibitions on firearms possession.  This includes: felons, persons dishonorably discharged from the armed forces, domestic violence offenders, and persons legally judged to be a danger to themselves or others.  Our state and local law enforcement officers have no authority under state law to confiscate firearms prohibited by federal law. They can hold a person but need to call the federal authorities like the ATF or FBI in order to further detain and/or charge the offender.
  4. Requires a course on safe procedures for carrying a concealed firearm.  Just as we require a test to obtain a driver’s license to demonstrate the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle, we want to ensure that anyone carrying a gun in public areas knows how and when to use it without endangering others.
  5. Requires the Vermont Department of Mental Health to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NCIC) System persons legally judged to be a danger to themselves or others.  This would prevent them from purchasing a firearm outside of Vermont.
  6. Repeals the prohibition on sale or use of gun silencers (suppressors.) Vermont is 1 of 7 states that does not allow silencers. This proposal is consistent with firearms safety.  Silencers or suppressors not only protect hearing, they also help prevent injuries to other parts of the face and neck. This provision may also help abate noise from firing ranges. It does not prevent the state from issuing rules prohibiting the use of silencers while hunting.

Like any other bill, this one will be vetted in committee and will probably undergo some changes.  Some provisions may not survive in the final version. In my opinion, these are reasonable requirements that enhance public safety without infringing on the 2nd Amendment.  All of these provisions have passed the test of constitutionality in other jurisdictions.  In spite of that, H.125 has aroused vocal opposition.  I hope this article will lead to civil and respectful discussion in our community and will prompt supporters of the bill as well as opponents to contact me or their own Representative with their opinion.  As a society we should not fear to discuss ways in which we can lessen the opportunities for gun violence that claims more than 11,000 victims each year in the United States.

Related: WCAX Investigates: Guns and Drugs

Legislative Report 1/31/2013 - The Vermont Health Insurance Exchange

Rising health care costs and lack of access to affordable health care for millions of Americans have been a target of health care reform efforts for decades.  The passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), a.k.a. “Obamacare”, and the recent Supreme Court ruling that it is indeed constitutional addressed the problem on a national level.  Vermont’s own plans for its Green Mountain Care universal health care system will not be implemented until 2017, so compliance with the ACA required Vermont to take the interim step of implementing a Healthcare Insurance Exchange by 2014. Vermont is one of several states that decided to set up its own exchange instead of leaving it up to the federal government.   In this article I will explain what the Exchange is and what the practical implications are for Vermonters.

The ACA requires that starting on January 1, 2014, all individuals must be covered by health insurance, and businesses with 50 or more full-time equivalent employees must offer health insurance coverage to their full-time employees.  Federal tax credits are available both for small businesses (less than 50 employees) and for individuals to meet these requirements. 

If a person is not covered by an employer-sponsored plan or by a government-sponsored plan like Medicare or Medicaid, he or she will have to purchase their insurance on the open market or through the Exchange.  Only insurance purchased through the Exchange is eligible for federal tax credits or subsidies.  The Exchange is a list of approved health insurance options that provide standardized health care coverage at various levels of cost.  There are four benefit levels:
  • Bronze – 60% payment of covered medical expenses
  • Silver – 70% payment
  • Gold – 80% payment
  • Platinum – 90% payment.

Annual out-of-pocket payment of expenses cannot exceed $5,950 for individual coverage and $11,900 for family coverage at all four benefit levels.  Insurance premiums will vary by insurance provider, amount of deductibles and co-pays, and benefit level.

Households with income from 133% to 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL) will be eligible for subsidized premiums.  Households with incomes less than 133% FPL will be covered by Medicaid.  The federal poverty level (FPL) varies with household size:  for an individual it is an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $11,496; for a household of 2, $15,516; for a household of 4, $23,556; and so on.  133% is 1.33 times those amounts and 400% is 4 times those amounts.  So, a family of 4 with household income between $30,657 and $92,220 will be eligible for premium assistance. The premium subsidy (paid directly to the insurance provider on behalf of the buyer) will vary with income level and for 2014 will be based on the 2012 tax return that is due on April 15th of this year.   Adjustments for changes in a household’s financial circumstances can be made on a monthly basis.

The penalty for not carrying health insurance will be assessed on tax returns starting in 2014 and increasing each year through 2016.  For 2014 the penalty is the larger of 1% of household income or $95 per individual household member without coverage up to a maximum of $285.

Vermont’s implementation of the Health Insurance Exchange is called “Vermont Health Connect”. Vermonters will be able to enroll in one of several plans offered through the Exchange starting on October 1, 2013.  More detailed information on Vermont Health Connect can be found at