Local legislator grilled at Town Meeting
by Mike Eldred
Mar 07, 2013 | 1848 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Rep. John Moran makes a point during Dover Town Meeting.
Rep. John Moran makes a point during Dover Town Meeting.
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DOVER- Voters grilled Rep. John Moran after his legislative update Tuesday, but thanked him for coming to their Town Meeting before sending him away with a round of applause.

“Someday I’d love to be able to come here and say we have lots of money and we need your help to figure out a way to spend it,” he said. “But that’s not going to happen this year, and with the sequester, we’re going to have even less money.”

Moran said federal budget cuts under the sequester would include a 20% cut in employment and wages for 500 nonmilitary National Guard employees in the state. “The federal government is also going to be giving (Vermont) less money to deal with the things we need to deal with,” he said.

Moran said he voted no on a recent measure to raise the statewide property tax 5 cents for residential property and 6 cents for nonresidential property. “I also will continue to support taking things out of the education fund that don’t belong in the education fund, like the current use program. And the general fund has shorted the education fund, and it’s about time we started paying that back.” Moran referred to the annual transfer of money from the general fund to the education fund, based on Act 68.

But Moran said it would be difficult to do if the state is to maintain its transportation infrastructure in the face of falling road tax revenues. “We have a real need to fund bridges and roads,” he said, “but because of our good driving habits and fuel efficient vehicles, we have less (fuel tax) revenue. We’re using about 40 million fewer gallons of fuel, and losing about $8 million in transportation fund revenue. We have to find a way to fund transportation that doesn’t put a burden on the property tax.”

Moran also told Dover voters that he wouldn’t support any new gun regulations in Vermont. “Guns are not a problem in Vermont.”

Selectboard member William “Buzzy” Buswell complained that the Legislature hasn’t responded to Dover’s education funding study and a legislative study committee with any changes in education policy. “I got enthused when (KSE Partners, Dover’s lobbying group) said we were going to get this (study) commission and they were going to address what a quality education is in the state of Vermont. Well, damn it, they didn’t do it. They’re making faulty decisions up there because they don’t know what a quality education is in Vermont, and how they’re going to address that.”

Moran said he would fight a proposed “attack” on the state’s small schools grant. “That’s one of the bills out there now. I have, and will continue to work to make sure we don’t raid the education fund for anything else.”

Referring to a conversation during the Dover School District meeting regarding the district’s desire to switch supervisory unions or form their own, Moran said he would support legislation to look at reforming supervisory unions. School board member Laura Sibilia asked him to clarify his stand on supervisory union consolidation.

“Would you support legislation for mandatory consolidation of supervisory unions?”

“I would be open to that,” he said.

Randy Capitani asked Moran about his stance on any of three bills he said would affect how towns with school choice pay tuition for students attending independent schools. “Given the discussion we had (during the school district meeting), I hope you wouldn’t support any of the three.”

Moran said he wouldn’t support the bills, but he asked residents to email him when there are legislative issues they would like him to follow.

“There are 14 committees and a lot of things going on, so please email me as a reminder, but the bill you’re talking about I would not support.”

Capitani also asked Moran about his support of a bill that would tie the minimum wage to a “living wage.” Capitani asked Moran to explain his vote. “The impact and number of jobs that (bill) could drive out of the state could be devastating,” Capitani said.

Moran said there needed to be more balance in the distribution of income in the state, and it could be achieved through legislation like the living wage bill, or by providing assistance to people who don’t make a living wage.

“The livable wage is something we’ll be subsidizing until we can bring people up to a real living wage,” he said, “whether it’s through LIHEAP (heating fuel assistance), EIC (the earned income credit) or other programs. We need to raise the level of wages for people who are struggling to make ends meet.”

Dover, Moran said, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the area, and some Dover residents struggle to meet their needs. “If we’re not bringing people up to a living wage, then we have to have businesses be supportive of the programs that subsidize their employees. We have to do it one way or another. We have people working one or two jobs and struggling to support their families.”

Selectboard member Randy Terk said the effort was doomed to fail because business owners would have to hire fewer people. He asked that the Legislature target people who are paying people who should be hourly employees as “subcontractors.” “I don’t see any increase in auditing,” he said. “Why not hire more auditors to find people issuing 1099s to employees, who are not contributing to the (unemployment) fund.”

“We’re looking into that,” Moran said.

Linda Anelli said there is a “fundamental flaw” in efforts such as the livable wage legislation. “Nobody talks to the business community,” she said. “Nobody defines what a livable wage is. Nobody talks to businesses in a resort community where the needs are hugely different than a business in Burlington. The Legislature continues forth with wonderful, noble, pontificating, ivory tower ideas that have no support and no future for this town and the state. We’re already noncompetitors with our neighbors.”

Dover Zoning Administrator Dave Cerchio said the livable wage isn’t “doable,” and complained that some Vermonters were getting more money from the state in their Act 68 income sensitivity “rebate” than they had paid in. “That doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “Why not look at something like that to save money rather than raising our taxes.”

“They’re looking into that right now,” said Moran,

“That is a typical politician’s answer,” Cerchio blurted out. “‘Looking into it!’ Jesus Christ!”

Moran explained that the rebate is based on the current year’s assessment, and the next year’s income. “It’s a rare instance that someone gets more than they’ve paid,” he said, “but there is a committee looking at it.”

“(Vermont) is the fourth- or fifth-highest taxed state,” Cerchio said, “and the people in the Legislature are bound to get us to number one.”
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