NEWPORT CITY – Jobs continue to be on the minds of many Vermonters.
During Monday’s Legislative Breakfast, held at the Eastside Restaurant, former North Country Union High School Board Chair Arne Amaliksen of Derby asked guest speakers Rep. Duncan Kilmartin of Newport City and Sen. Robert Starr of North Troy what legislators were doing to create jobs for graduates.
“Economic development is a big part of what goes on in Montpelier,” replied Starr. Whether it’s the Department of Labor or the Economic Development Authority. “They all work toward programs to enhance the working lands bill.”
The problem, said Starr, is that many children aren’t growing up on farms and aren’t learning work ethic.
“When it comes to economical development, we suffer from mental constipation and verbal diarrhea,” said Kilmartin. “That’s the bottom line.”
The state has technical centers, which is important because they give a broader basis for education, said Kilmartin. He went on to say that, several years ago, Vermont had the highest average student loan debt. Starting salaries for those graduates were 37 percent than those in other states. In addition, Vermont once led the nation for exporting 25 to 45 year olds, who couldn’t make livable wages in-state.
The Jay Peak expansion could have never taken place without the immigration visa program, said Kilmartin who favors the plan because opportunities in the Northeast Kingdom are starting to emerge.
Kilmartin also spoke about the state’s energy policy, noting the House passed a three-year moratorium on fracking for natural gas and oil production. However, according to Kilmartin, the senate wants to ban it outright. He also said Quebec wants to run a natural gas line to Rutland and into New York State on VELCO land. That gas, said Kilmartin, is coming from the immediate north of Franklin County, a place that explorers, looking for natural gas 15 to 20 years ago, dug 6,000-foot holes.
“What are we doing by having a ban,” asked Kilmartin. “Shooting ourselves in the foot?”
Sticking on the topic of energy, Chet Greenwood of Derby said he’s concerned Vermonters won’t be able to afford energy. Unaffordable energy is one reason why companies are not staying in the state. Greenwood said there’s a bill, if passed, that would require electrical providers to increase their energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar. Greenwood predicts that bill would increase rates 20 to 25 percent.
“That’s okay for a family paying $10, $25 a month, they can live with that,” said Greenwood who is concerned that manufactures would just leave the state. “I know a couple of manufacturers that spend close to a million dollars a year. Don’t call their bluff; they can leave.”
Employers who can’t leave, like hospitals and ski resorts, will just pass the added costs to customers, Greenwood added.
Greenwood is also concerned about a bill that would add five cents to home heating oil. The money, he said, would go Efficiency Vermont for weatherization projects. According to Greenwood, Efficiency Vermont already gets 4.5 percent from everyone’s utility bill.
Some of the things Efficiency Vermont does are good, said Starr. However, he noted Vermont Electric Co-Op increased the rates because the company wasn’t generating enough money to keep going, because many people went to energy efficient appliances.
“My light bill is as high as it was before I bought any of that stuff,” said Starr. He said something needs to be done for the rate-payers. “We can’t just keep paying all the bills.”
President Obama and Secretary Salazar want six-dollar gas, something that Vermonters can’t afford, said Greenwood. He also said Vermonters can’t afford Chevy Volts.
“We have to drive to work; we have to buy groceries,” said Greenwood. “When you’re paying six dollars for gas, everything goes up.”
“If gas gets to six dollars, they aren’t going to be able to leave,” said Starr jokingly. As for the tax for heating oil, the discussion didn’t last long. “The votes aren’t there to do that.”