Work continues on a number of important bills including the Transportation Bill, also known as the “T-Bill”. We have known for years that our transportation infrastructure has been crumbling. This is not a new issue – in 2006, I wrote about the need to re-deck 1,400 bridges in ten years, while only 330 had been re-decked in the previous 10 years. In 2008, 16.5% of the bridges in Windham County were classified as structurally deficient. At the same time, a large percentage of our roads were deemed to be in “poor” or “very poor” condition. We faced, at the time, what was called a “Perfect Storm” where our infrastructure had reached the end of its life, construction costs were high, and money was short. In many cases, if we did not act to repair the roads, replacement would have been necessary at a much greater cost.
The good news is that we seem to be gaining on it. For the last several years, investments have been made to improve this situation and now, for the first time in a decade, the percentage of highway in “very poor” condition has decreased to 25%.
We need to continue to improve our transportation infrastructure. In part due to Irene, the Shumlin administration has proposed a transportation budget that seriously addresses the problem. There is $104 million proposed for paving and a record breaking $123 million for bridges. This is critically important, not only for the safety of Vermonters, but for economic development in the state. In order to have a vibrant, healthy community with prosperous businesses, we need safe, reliable roads.
In the House Fish, Wildlife, and Water Resources Committee, H.485, a bill regarding the disposal of organic waste is being worked on. Currently, tons of food scraps, food processing residue, and unrecyclable paper is going into the waste stream, which takes up valuable landfill space. H.485 would require that these materials be banned from landfills by 2017 and that it be taken to certified composting facilities. This law would not apply to individuals, but to large institutions such as hospitals, colleges, grocery stores, and restaurants.
Since composting facilities are not available everywhere in Vermont, development would be necessary. There would be a cost associated with this, but compost is a valuable commodity and at some point that investment would be paid back. There are several very successful, large scale composting facilities in the state that serve as models for the future.
The House Commerce and Economic Development Committee has been hard at work on a number of bills. They passed H.565, which is an act relating to regulating licensed lenders and mortgage loan originators. It would allow the seller of a property to hold the paper on it.
Years ago, innovative legislation was enacted that allowed for the establishment of a captive insurance industry. Captive insurance is a risk management tool that allows businesses to have more flexibility than standard insurance companies might allow. Vermont became one of the top domiciles in the world for captive insurance and increasing amounts of revenue to the state has accrued from premiums.
We may have the chance at another innovative opportunity like this. Work is being done on establishing a first-in-the-nation statute to allow and regulate insurance business transfers. While in existence for 40 years in Europe, this practice has not existed in the United States. Because Vermont has the reputation as an excellent insurance regulator, this may prove to be a great business opportunity.
The Commerce and Economic Development Committee has also heard testimony that Vermonters were being victimized by internet loan companies, and is looking at protection mechanisms. People should be very suspicious of internet offers – if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The Appropriations Committee will begin “mark up” of the 2013 Budget, or “Big Bill” next week, so all committees have been asked to weigh in on sections that pertain to them. Ways and Means is working on the Miscellaneous Tax Bill, as well as the Fee Bill, which will be broken into two bills this year due to the huge scope of work. Every three years, the fees for all agencies and departments are reviewed and assessed to see if changes need to be made. This is done on a rolling basis and this year, the Agencies of Human Services and Natural Resources, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Office of Professional Regulation are being reviewed.
Finally, the “I am Vermont Strong” license plates are on sale to benefit disaster recovery efforts and the Vermont Foodbank. Check out the website at http://www.vtstrong.vermont.gov/.