Statehouse Headliners: Trump tax cut rebate extends to customers of VT Gas, VELCO; ICE raids hotel in Colchester

By Guy Page

Three big for-profit energy corporations will return 100 percent of their Trump corporate tax cut to their Vermont customers, company spokespeople and state regulators confirmed this week.

The federal tax reform adopted in December cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent. Although no-one knows how much “green” Vermont consumers will see from the 14 percent cut, one expert said “it’s going to be in the millions.” These are big companies. Green Mountain Power sells about 80 percent of Vermont’s electricity. In one recent year, it netted $69 million income on revenue of $652 million. Vermont Gas Systems sells natural gas to over 50,000 customers. Vermont Electric Company (VELCO) operates the state’s electricity transmission system for the state’s utilities. All three are state of Vermont “regulated” for-profit companies that, in return for exclusive rights in their service areas, must return unexpected profits to their customers.

It’s not known when the rebates will reduce customers’ monthly bills. But state regulators told Headliners this week they will be retroactive to Jan. 1.

Headliners hasn’t heard if Vermont’s biggest unregulated corporations plan to convert their Trump tax cut into Vermont jobs, employee raises and bonuses, and customer savings. But one business journalist has heard that “what many companies are doing (banks for instance, Citizens and People’s United) are giving their employees year-end 2017 bonuses and contributing to their Foundations.” He added, “it’s a good story.”

ICE raids Colchester hotel, detains 14 suspected immigrants-in-U.S.-illegally

Last Thursday, federal Immigration Control and Enforcement (ICE) agents detained 14 suspected illegal immigrants-in-U.S.-illegally at a Colchester hotel, the first such sweep in Vermont,” VT Digger reported. ICE is doing more than just detaining immigrants-in-U.S.-illegally. ICE reported last Thursday it arrested a New Hampshire man allegedly producing child pornography with photos obtained under false pretenses from three Canadian girls ages 12-14.

Senate will push for commercial pot next year

The legalization of personal possession hasn’t stopped the powerful legislative push for regulated commercial sale of marijuana, only temporarily delayed it. Headliners asked Senate Judiciary Chair Richard Sears Thursday if he plans to push regulated sale this year. “No,” he said. “Next year, I hope.”

Builder/lawmaker: home-improvement registry unnecessary, will hurt small businesses

A builder and legislator opposes a state recommendation to require home improvement tradesmen to register with the State of Vermont.

“We say we want to support small business in Vermont but we continue to over-regulate,” Rep. Mark Higley, R-Lowell, said in a Jan. 14 email. “I believe this will not only increase the cost to do business here, but will increase the cost to the consumer.”

The Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation (OPR) recently told a legislative committee it wants to protect homeowners from rip-offs with mandatory registration ($100) and voluntary certification (cost unknown) for home-improvement providers. The OPR request may find its way into legislation this year. OPR regulates more than 50 professions.

Higley says young, would-be tradesmen would be discouraged by registration fees and the signup process. He also said most complaints about “consumer rip-offs” that prompted the call for registration/certification could be handled in small claims court. He advises consumers looking for a skilled, reputable contractor: “Go to or call the Consumer Assistance Program and ask about or search out, ‘How to Avoid Home Improvement Rip-Offs.’ Here is the phone number (800) 649-2424 and the link to the Consumer Assistance Program, or CAP.”

Vermont National Guard recruitment down as soldiers/flyers get better deal elsewhere

To maintain its current strength, the Vermont National Guard needs 475 new members every year, spokesperson at the Statehouse said Friday, Jan. 19. Having significantly missed this target three years in a row, the Vermont National Guard (Army and Air combined) says it needs H.72 to give Guard members college tuition benefits like neighboring state do. Many Vermonters now commute to part-time jobs in the New York, New Hampshire and Massachusetts Guard for the better benefits. Some Vermont Guards members – used to service-related deployments – have even moved permanently out of state for this reason.

Without nuclear plants, frozen New England burns through two years’ worth of oil in two weeks

During the late December – early January cold snap, oil-fired electricity kept the lights on in New England – including Vermont. With natural gas and nuclear power in short supply, “From December 25 until January 9, New England power generators burned close to two million barrels of oil, which is more than they burned during the rest of 2017 and all of 2016 combined,” the Jan. 16 “Commonwealth” news magazine reported.

Normally, New England’s first choice for electricity-making fuel is natural gas. But during the recent deep freeze New England needed more natural gas than usual to keep people warm. When the pipelines from Pennsylvania reached their transmission limits, there wasn’t enough natural gas left to meet electricity demand. Normally the grid operators ISO-New England would have relied on emissions-free nuclear power, but a storm-damaged transmission line 25 miles away from Plymouth, MA Pilgrim Nuclear Power Station forced the plant to shut down Jan. 4-10. Vermont Yankee, of course, shut down for good in December 2014.

Its options dwindling, ISO turned to oil, a less-efficient, higher-carbon fuel than either natural gas or nuclear. At peak times oil produced 40 percent of New England’s electricity. As stocks fell quickly, replenishment by barge was hindered by ice-covered rivers. The region came dangerously close (19 percent of capacity) to running out of oil before temperatures increased, grid operator ISO-New England said Jan. 12. Even coal-to-electricity generation increased. Renewable wind power (too much wind, too much transmission congestion) and solar (too little sun) underperformed.

So did heat pumps, a Vermont fuel industry newsletter reported: “As thousands of Vermonters found out this month, they [heat pumps] do not work well when it is cold. Pipes are at risk of freezing if the homeowner does not have a central heating system. Fuel dealers report that customers who thought they could rely on electric heat pumps this winter now want to be put back on automatic delivery for oil and propane.”

Heating oil stocks were in shortest supply in the Burlington area. The weather is warmer now, but fuel dealers are still trying to catch up to demand. The State of Vermont this week extended the fuel emergency status “tired driver” rest restrictions because customers are still under-supplied.

Charles Murray/Middlebury College resolution languishes in House committee

On April 25, 2017, a House resolution praising 100 Middlebury College professors who condemned the March 2 mobbing of controversial visiting speaker Charles Murray and his host was introduced in the House. Instead of getting a quick vote like most resolutions, it was treated as a bill and sent to the House Education Committee for study.

As of today, January 19, 2018 JRH-9 is still in House Education. It does not appear on the week’s committee agenda. The seemingly forgotten resolution declares:

  • Genuine higher learning is possible only where free, reasoned, and civil speech and discussion are respected.
  • Only through the contest of clashing viewpoints do we have any hope of replacing mere opinion with knowledge.
  • The incivility and coarseness that characterize so much of American politics and culture cannot justify a response of incivility and coarseness on the college campus.
  • The impossibility of attaining a perfectly egalitarian sphere of free discourse can never justify efforts to silence speech and debate.
  • Exposure to controversial points of view does not constitute violence.

Bill to study adverse impacts of mandatory vaccination stalled in committee

A bill seeking an annual report on adverse impacts of mandatory vaccination enjoys broad tri-partisan support. But it’s bottled up in the House Health Care Committee.

H.247 would “require the Department of Health to submit an annual report to the General Assembly regarding adverse reactions reported to the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System.”

According to H.247 advocate Jennifer Stella of Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, true informed parental consent for vaccinations requires more knowledge about adverse consequences of vaccination. The annual Health Dept. study would provide context and insight into troubling raw data: an average of 23 children per year from 2010-12 were brought to the emergency room with suspected post-vaccination complications; and, on average one Vermonter per year is reported disabled after a vaccine.

Health Care Committee Chair Bill Lippert reportedly has no plans to discuss H.247. He can be contacted at wlippert@leg.state.vt.us, 751 Baldwin Rd., Hinesburg, VT 05461, or (802) 482-3528.

Ban car mufflers that are loud on purpose

H.674 (Burlington Reps. Brian Cina and Mary Sullivan, and Cindy Weed of Enosburgh) would prohibit operation or inspection of a motor vehicle equipped with a “muffler lacking interior baffle plates or other effective muffling devices, a gutted muffler, a muffler cutout, a straight pipe exhaust, or a device or modification that amplifies the noise emitted by the vehicle,” an inadequate or modified muffler or exhaust system or with an amplification device,” on penalty of $100 fine for first offense and more for the second and third. Perhaps with an eye to Thunder Road champion and Gov. Phil Scott’s veto pen, race cars are excepted.

Homeschoolers and private (non-traditional, religious, and other) schoolers are marking their calendars for January 24, for a celebration of National School Choice Week at the Vermont State House. The day will include a free luncheon, an art contest with large cash prizes, meeting with legislators, a group photo on the State House lawn, and youth-friendly tours of the State House. For more information contact Asher Crispe at ashercrispe@gmail.com.

Statehouse Headliners is intended primarily to educate, not advocate. It is e-mailed to an ever-growing list of interested Vermonters, public officials and media. Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership, Divestment Facts, the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare and the Church at Prison.

Image courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR
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