Starr: “Legislators Got Into it Good”

NEWPORT CITY – Legislators continue to face the public even though the 2012 session ended Saturday. Healthcare and energy were some of the topics of discussion during Northeastern Vermont Development Association’s Legislative Breakfast, held at the East Side Restaurant Monday morning.Gov. Peter Shumlin has a blind eye on the cost of the proposed healthcare system, said Chet Greenwood of Derby. He said a qualified accountant determined the system would cost Vermont taxpayers $2 billion over the next five years and the total general budget for this year was $5 billion. The Green Mountain Board, appointed by Shumlin, will determine the system, said Greenwood, who wanted to know if the legislature or governor has an exit strategy if the plan doesn't work.Sen. Robert Starr of North Troy said that, so far, there is no indication where the money would come from to support a new healthcare system. State lawmakers were told the federal government would send money if they move forward, Starr said.“Are they or aren’t they? What’s the ruling going to be in June,” said Starr, referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision on whether the federal health care plan is constitutional. “There’s many unknowns. If everything works the way the governor thinks it’s going to work, basically I think we’re going to have pretty cheap insurance.”However, Starr said he has not seen anything that would guarantee that.Rep. Mark Higley of Lowell said he’s heard it won’t save as much money as originally indicated and has not heard anything about a back out strategy.There is no alternative, if "Obama Care" doesn’t come to fruition, said Rep. Lynn Batchelor of Derby.Not only is there no alternative plan, lawmakers are not making progress on where they are currently going, Rep. Vicki Strong of Albany said.Bob Walker of Brownington expressed concerns about energy, particularly a wind tower development in Lowell. He said Don and Shirley Nelson’s appeal will take a year before it comes up. The Nelsons own property adjacent to the window farm site and have a property line dispute going with the owner of the property on which the wind tours are being built.By then, said Walker, the towers will be up and running and the only thing the Nelsons might get is financial compensation, but it will not shut down the wind farm.Lawmakers “got into it good” when it came to talking about energy, said Starr. He said for years Vermonters kept the land in good condition, and then people from the outside came in and got permits without proper review.“They’ve totally taken advantage of the system,” said Starr. “I don’t want them taking advantage of us, our forefathers, our children and their children into the future. I feel we’ve been misused, mistreated and taken advantage of.”When the power from the wind towers goes into the grid, utility rates will go up, Starr predicated.“Years ago we couldn’t get tree-looking cell towers because of environmental degradation, but we can blast our mountain tops away,” said Rep. Duncan Kilmartin of Newport City said people are “creating highways on our mountain ranges to take our rate payments and taxes to benefit the Quebec Government’s pension fund.”The money given to property owners might sound good at first, said Kilmartin, who wonders who is putting the money in the developer’s pocket to make the bribes.“You and me,” answered Kilmartin. “That’s the way the system is rigged.”There was a process and, whether right or wrong, said Higley, he would support how his town voted, which was to support having the wind towers. He also said it’s important that each community member gets involved and makes sure he or she is heard.Canadians are upset about wind tower development in Derby Line, said Rep. Lynn Batchelor. She said Canadians were told they weren’t noticed about the development in time to intervene in the public service board hearings, but developers said otherwise. Batchelor said a project official said they didn’t have to tell the Canadians because it’s a foreign country. However, others have said otherwise. Sam Young of Glover said that, while coming off Lowell Mountain Day on Earth Day, he wondered why the environment is being destroyed so people can be green.The conversation briefly turned to the merger between Green Mountain Power and Central Vermont Public Service. The House Committee on Commerce took testimony on the merger. Marcotte said it was the first time in six years the commerce committee was allowed to look at electric energy policy in the state. Before that, the natural resources and energy committee looked at the policies. That committee’s basic view is looking at what is best to protect the environment and what’s best for the state.“Trying to balance that with commerce and economics of the state doesn’t work and I think that’s what we’re seeing,” said Marcotte. “There needs to be a balance in protecting the environmental state and what’s good for commerce in Vermont.”Higley said he didn’t vote for the energy bill and understands that larger manufacturers need reliable inexpensive power.