Philip Baruth

Philip Baruth

Now that H.926, an act relating to changes to Act 250, has been vetoed by the governor, what should the Senate do next? What reform of Vermont’s land use laws and regulations, if any, is still needed?

"That bill originally represented a hard-fought compromise: it offered streamlined or eliminated red-tape for projects in downtown areas (already mostly covered by local zoning), in exchange for some things environmentalists feel are urgently needed, like protections against forest fragmentation.

"In the final weeks, the Senate removed the downtown provisions, because they believed that ultimately they would weaken Act 250’s reach in unacceptable ways, and the whole carefully managed balance was upset. Unfortunately, that process of balancing stakeholder inputs will have to re-commence, and run its course over the next session."

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that access to the internet is now a near necessity for school and work. What can the Senate do to provide increased broadband access to rural and low-income Vermonters? 

"First, I should point out that the 2020 legislature directed about $16 million so far to improving broadband in underserved pockets of the state — that was paid for with Federal CARES Act funds.The last grants of $4 million just went out a few days ago. 

"We also created something called the Get Vermonters Connected Now Initiative (GVCNI). The GVCNI provides funding to Internet Service Providers to offset customer costs of fiber-to-the-premises installations, things like trenching and conduit installation. 

"So we’ve actually had a good amount of action on this question, and for the moment I’d be looking to more aggressively fund those efforts."

How can the state government make housing in Chittenden County, and across the state, more affordable? 

"We have floated high-value bonds over the last several years, allowing us to greatly increase the amount of money available to affordable housing efforts.  And we’ve expanded the number of TIF districts in the state, to allow affordable housing projects another leg up in terms of developing the necessary financing.

"Both approaches have been highly successful, and I’d be in favor of at least one more bond offering, although we’re reaching the ceiling on that avenue, according to Treasurer Beth Pearce."

S.54, an act that proposes a system for the regulation and sale of cannabis in Vermont, currently sits on the governor's desk awaiting approval. Did you vote, or would you have voted for the bill? Please explain. 

"I did support the Tax-and-Regulate bill —this is an effort that’s come together over about a six-year period, and it has been vetted and examined and tightened far more than most similar efforts. 

The reason for that is that we wanted to avoid mistakes made by the growing number of other states who’ve legalized adult-use cannabis.  The final bill, which the Governor agreed yesterday to let become law, has increased road-safety provisions and directs a share of the profits to afterschool programs and substance abuse prevention. 

Additionally, I’d like to see 2/3 of the tax receipts used to stabilize and fund the state college system going forward.

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