Douglas: "Vermont is the best place to live"

SOUTH BURLINGTON When Gov. Jim Douglas opened his speech at the first Legislative breakfast of 2008 on Monday, Jan. 7, he summed up the baseline for his hopes and plans for this years legislative session with these words: Vermont is the best place to live because Vermonters care for one another. I want to keep it that way. The governor traditionally is the first speaker of the year for the breakfasts sponsored by the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce and Greater Burlington Industrial Corporation and typically the speech is a recap of the plans outlined in the State of the State speech to the Legislature. This year a quirk of the calendar put the breakfast before the opening of the legislature, and Gov. Douglas admitted he would have to avoid giving away the details of his plans, but he did say he would aim for economic security with more better paying jobs, improved access to quality health care at an affordable cost, and relief for the property tax burden. When the audience of about 350 legislators and members of the business community had the opportunity to ask questions, they focused on a wide range of concerns: Spiraling costs and the high cost of living -- Gov. Douglas said he intends to ask for a tight budget as he doesnt want to increase the high cost of living. He specifically mentioned transportation costs and said that the state should avoid planning projects far in the future without a plan for paying for them. Circumferential highway -- If I had anything to say about it, you bet Id hope to present the case to the court to make it happen. High workers compensation rates -- The legislature is looking at lowering rates for farmers and I hope its a springboard for other reductions. Its on the agenda. School district consolidation -- This has been an important discussion, but Im reluctant to impose a solution. The local school is key in its community. The legislature has looked at incentives. Consolidation of governance with fewer boards could be a step in the right direction. Climate change issues -- We have the lowest electric rates in New England, and natural beauty that we must do whatever is necessary to maintain. We recommend the creation of a green board of carbon credit trading, and also collaboration with UVM on climate change issues and supporting sustainable forestry and sugaring. Shortage of modest-priced housing -- We havent done as much as we should for middle income people, and the lack of action on affordable homes is disappointing. The New Neighborhoods Plan offers exemption from some regulatory burdens, and towns have the incentive of keeping tax income from the housing projects. Catamount Health -- This plan is designed to help people who need it, and has to be sustainable within the states budget because the federal government has refused to amend the Medicare Waiver. Work Force Training Funding -- This program is meeting a need for new and upgrading employees. Slow down in revenue -- We expect a slower rate of growth and Ive asked the state to reduce its workforce. Impact of the specialty food industry -- The Vermont brand is so strong and were happy that the specialty food businesses are developing partnerships and promoting their products and the state around the country. The proposed efficiency utility -- I support the idea of an all fuels efficiency program. We should be focused on helping middle income people with plans to improve the efficiency of their homes. Maine and New Brunswick have no interest and low interest loans to enable individuals to tighten up. Telecommunications Authority -- This is an important step for enhancing the economy. We are providing public leveraging opportunity to give incentive to private enterprise to build out the telecommunications infrastructure, and also promise regulatory relief. My goal is universal access to cell phone service by 2010.

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