by Anne Galloway vtdigger.org State Senator Randy Brock (Franklin-Grand Isle), the Republican candidate for governor, wants the Shumlin administration to renegotiate a deal it made with Gaz Metro last week on the $21 million for windfall.Brock says he wants the the Department of Public Service to reopen the memorandum of understanding with the Montreal-based company, which owns Green Mountain Power and is in the middle of seeking state approval for the purchase of CVPS, the stateâ s largest electric utility. If the Public Service Board approves the deal next month as expected, Gaz Metro will own power distribution networks for 78 percent of Vermontâ s ratepayers.â The methods being proposed for this money donâ t necessarily inure to the benefit of all the individual ratepayers and indeed since some of them are means tested, many ratepayers will see nothing at all,’Brock said. â A relatively few will see significant benefit, but many who are aged will see nothing. We believe the ratepayers have the right to be reimbursed appropriately.âAs part of the deal with the state Gaz Metro is obliged to ensure that $21 million of the proceeds go toward a payback to ratepayers who bailed out CVPS in the 1990s when the company nearly went bankrupt as a result of exposure to high-priced Hydro-Quebec power. Green Mountain Power also on the brink of insolvency at that time sought help from the state. The Public Service Board approved the bailout with the caveat that if the companies were ever sold they would be required to compensate ratepayers. In 2006, when Gaz Metro bought Green Mountain Power, AARP sued over the windfall from the sale and settled on a low income bill assistance pilot program.Since the CVPS merger deal was announced, advocates for the poor have been torn over bailout issue ‘and the benefits that go with it. AARP wants the money to be paid back in cash; community action councils want the money to shore up weatherization programs.Green Mountain power would recover the $21 million in weatherization and efficiency investments efficiencies through rates. The money for the projects are included in the â rate base.âBrock says he doesnâ t like the stateâ s agreement to allow the utility to pay back ratepayers through efficiencies and weatherization. Under the deal, he says ratepayers will subsidize efficiency investments without necessarily seeing the benefits in lower rates.Several Republicans, Sen. Kevin Mullin, Sen. Joe Benning and Rep. Oliver Olsen, and two Progressives, Sens. Tim Ashe and Anthony Pollina, stood with Brock during the announcement. Olsen, in particular, has been vocal about what he says is â shell game’in which Green Mountain Power says it will offer efficiencies to CVPS ratepayers on the one hand and use rates on the other hand to pay for the program. Read the story by Alan Panebaker.The senator, however, doesnâ t want the Legislature to intervene in the case, instead he says he wants the Shumlin administration to â do the right thing.’He doesnâ t support an amendment penned by Rep. Cynthia Browning that would require the Public Service Board to return the $21 million to ratepayers as a condition of the merger review, or a proposed resolution from Rep. Tony Klein that would mirror Browningâ s proposal.The agreement between the state and Green Mountain Power is very similar to the 2007 windfall sharing mechanism that was put in place shortly after Gaz Metro purchased the stateâ s second-largest utility in 2006. It includes an incremental investment in energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that would â provide system benefits through the saving of electricity that flow to all customers, so that even if a customer is not a direct beneficiary, he/she would still receive a benefit,’according to Docket 7213. That deal, approved by the Public Service Board, mirrors the proposal now under consideration. Then, as now, the investments in efficiencies would be included in the rate base.Brock says just because the state made such an agreement in the past, â two wrongs donâ t make a right.âThe commissioner of the Department of Public Service said in a statement on Tuesday that the agreement it reached with Green Mountain Power over the CVPS payback last week will be beneficial to ratepayers.â Last week the Department of Public Service won major concessions from Green Mountain Power, reaching an agreement that, if approved by the Board, would result in hundreds of millions of savings for Vermonters,’Miller said. â The agreement reached includes significantly expanded ratepayer savings of hundreds of millions of dollars and more than $21 million in weatherization benefits for CVPS customers. In addition to these significant savings, the concessions will save at least 50 Vermont jobs, create further employment opportunities, and save Vermonters thousands of dollars on their heating bills. This agreement has tremendous benefits for Vermonters and the Department is confident in the Public Service Board and their ability to do what is best for Vermont ratepayers.âThe merger deal is worth $702 million. Of that total, $470 million would go to shareholders. About $230 million would be used to pay off CVPS debt. Gaz Metro is also obliged to pay $19.5 million in â break up’and â transaction’fees to Fortis, a rival Canadian utility company that first bid on CVPS and then was edged out by Gaz Metro. CVPS executives who donâ t stay on with Green Mountain Power after the merger deal goes through could receive as much as $24 million in compensation. Bob Young, the former CEO of CVPS, would make $8 million.Read the VTDigger story about the Fortis deal and details of how the money would be divided up between stockholders and debt obligations.Read the VTDigger story about CVPS executive compensation.The sale agreement provides significant benefits for customers, communities, employees and shareholders, including $144 million in customer savings over 10 years, benefits for low-income customers, and the establishment of the Headquarters for Operations and Energy Innovation in Rutland. April 3, 2012 vtdigger.org
US Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) announced Monday that the National Weather Service’s Forecast Office in Burlington, Vt., now has an upgraded Doppler radar serving the state with a new life-saving technology. Dual polarization (’dual pol’) radar provides meteorologists with enhanced information about the atmosphere so they can more accurately track, assess and warn the public of approaching high-impact weather. Burlington is the half-way mark in the nationwide dual-pol upgrade. The upgrade to dual-pol is the most significant enhancement ever made to the nation’s NEXRAD radar network since Doppler radar was first installed in the early 1990s. The upgrade includes new software and a hardware attachment to the radar dish allowing it to send and receive both horizontal and vertical pulses, providing a much more informative two-dimensional picture about the size and shape of the objects detected. This provides meteorologists with the ability to determine the kind of object — whether rain, snow, hail or birds. Conventional Doppler could only provide information about the intensity of precipitation. Leahy said, ‘Today, one year after Irene began to sweep through our state, we vividly remember how, one by one, riverside towns throughout Vermont, like Waterbury, Wilmington, Rochester and many others, were inundated by unanticipated rising waters. The new radar technology will help NOAA’s National Weather Service keep a sharper eye on the sky, leading to better forecasts and warnings for Vermonters. This truly is news we all can use — news we need to know in our daily lives on our farms, for our vital recreation and tourism activities, and in maintaining and maximizing our transportation network. In an event like Irene, forecasters will be able to provide better information about the amount of rain coming down and issue more accurate and timely warnings to the public.’ Another important benefit: Dual-pol can also see small bits of debris kicked up by a tornado which gives forecasters the ability to confirm a tornado even in the dark. The new technology also will help detect hazards to aircraft such as icing conditions and birds. The Burlington forecast office serves 810,000 people in 12 counties in Vermont and four counties across northern New York. Because of Vermont’s mountainous terrain, flash flooding is a significant weather threat and in an average year causes more damage and deaths than any other kind of severe weather. ‘The new radar technology has many benefits including better rainfall estimates which will help us to make better decisions about when to issue a flash flood warning,’said Andy Nash, meteorologist-in-charge of the Burlington forecast office. ‘In the winter, the radar will help us pinpoint where rain turns to snow, sleet or freezing rain, subsequently improving short-term forecasts. Fine-tuned winter forecasts will be beneficial to state and local emergency managers as well as motorists.’ Businesses in Vermont will also benefit from the enhanced information dual-pol brings. Farmers, utility companies, the ski industry and others that rely on weather forecasts will have a clearer picture of current weather conditions and better information to protect their lives and livelihoods. The nationwide upgrade to dual-pol is part of NOAA’s efforts to build a Weather-Ready Nation. Dual-pol radars also could save the nation about 700 million dollars annually by reducing weather-related damages. For more about the new weather radar, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tX6LH_l3P3Y(link is external). Leahy continued, ‘Timely and accurate weather information can mean the difference between life and death. When a storm devastated Vermont in 1927, the fact that it came without warning compounded the toll in lives and property. Today’s weather forecasts give us more precious time to harvest crops ahead of a flood, or move valuable equipment to higher ground. Every second counts, and this upgraded technology will allow forecasters to more accurately track and assess storms and to warn the public of dangerous weather conditions, whether it is an ice storm in Alburgh or a flash flood in Lincoln. Better weather forecasts will widen the lead time for warnings and enable greater precision in determining the impact area, thereby saving lives and protecting property. It is as simple as that.’He concluded, ‘On the Appropriations Committee, as we put together the annual budget bill for NOAA and the National Weather Service we are keenly aware of the incalculable value of this service to the American people and the American economy, and to Vermont’s economy. We thank our National Weather Service team here in Vermont, and their counterparts across the nation, for their skilled and vital service.’ BURLINGTON, Vt. (MONDAY, Aug. 27, 2012)
by John McClaughry Finally alarmed by voter resentment at high school property taxes, the Vermont Legislature is hot on the trail of some kind of “solution.” It’s not likely to be productive unless legislators crawl out of the box that confines their thinking. One obvious (non) ”solution” is to ship more money from the General Fund to the Education Fund. The GF already sends $300 million a year to the EF. Increasing that transfer would reduce the homestead school property tax. Great!But not so fast. The General Fund is $100 million in deficit, largely because of Medicaid expansions. This “solution” can’t happen.Another obvious (non) “solution”: Raise new taxes for education. Governor Shumlin’s proposed new payroll tax will if enacted go toward financing government health care, not education. An increased income tax? Sales tax? The VPIRG carbon tax? The sugary beverage tax? Not a prayer.A more likely “solution” is “enforced frugality.” The state Agency of Education would command the school districts to increase pupil/staff ratios, shut down small schools, cap salaries, and implement whatever other cost-cutting steps Montpelier might mandate. This could bend education spending downward, but only by creating “One Big School System.” Vermonters will not like this.Then there’s the “governance reform” solution. This requires consolidation of school districts into Regional Education Districts, similar to multi-town waste management districts. The REDs would then have to do the dirty work of enforcing frugality to the State’s satisfaction. This model may achieve some cost savings, but they are likely to be eaten up by adding deputy and assistant superintendents and incurring higher transportation costs. Even the backers of “governance reform” are very careful about claiming any significant spending savings.All of these solutions and non-solutions are founded on the idea of maintaining our very costly near-monopoly public school system, in which school districts send their budgets to the Education Fund for payment. Is there an alternative?The problems with our traditional form of public education have been getting more obvious over the past half century – let’s say from 1971, when the Vermont Education Association converted itself from a professional association of educators into the Vermont-NEA labor union. Now many Vermont parents have become disenchanted with having the government assign their children to the centrally-controlled, union-dominated state-financed educational system. They view it as having an intellectually fatuous and/or morally deficient culture and curriculum. They see public schools as all too often catering more to the desires of those employed in the system, instead of the consumers.Understandably, the parents want to send their children to their choice of public or independent schools whose culture, values and curricula are more responsive to the parents’ aspirations for their children.Vermont pioneered parental choice as far back as 1869 by allowing towns without their own high schools to tuition students to public and independent schools chosen by parents. Now in the 21st century the time seems to be ripe for expanding that choice program to more towns, more schools, more children and more diverse opportunities. Choice makes the consumer king, not the provider, and the competition will invigorate, not destroy, public schools.But will giving all parents choice for their kids drive down K-12 spending? Quite possibly, yes. With empowered choice, many parents – probably thousands of them – will opt for independent schools and programs that cost much less than the public schools. This will clearly reduce education costs while increasing parental satisfaction.How to do that without giving independent schools an incentive to increase their tuitions to claim the voucher payments is an important issue. Another is preserving opportunities and parental choices for special education students, for which Florida’s MacKay scholarships have been a highly successful model. Yet another is relaxing state mandates to encourage public schools to compete effectively for tuition dollars.Representatives Vickie Strong (R-Albany) and Mike Hebert (R-Vernon) are about to introduce a bill to expand parental choice in a way designed to hold down education costs and thus school property taxes, better serve the needs of students, and put parents in the driver’s seat.Their bill will attract lots of attention – especially from the Vermont-NEA and other invested “stakeholders” of the state’s Education Establishment. They view competition for student vouchers as a threat to their security and tranquility. Now is the time for parents and taxpayers to have their say. They are the true “stakeholders.”John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org(link is external)).
People’s United Bank,Vermont Business Magazine The People’s United Community Foundation, the philanthropic arm of People’s United Bank, announced today that it has awarded $5,000 to Cathedral Square Corporation for accessibility improvements at Kelley’s Field. Cathedral Square, created in 1977, develops and operates communities for seniors and individuals with special needs. Modifications to Kelley’s Field – a subsidized, 24-unit senior development in the heart of Hinesburg – began this spring, when Cathedral Square and Housing Vermont collaborated to rehabilitate the 1979 property. Improvements included increased accessibility, greater energy efficiency and water conservation measures, and preserved affordability.”We appreciate People’s United Community Foundation’s support of our work and specifically the accessibility features these funds will provide for our residents. Accessible entrances make a huge difference in the lives of the residents at Kelley’s Field.” said Kim Fitzgerald, CEO, Cathedral Square.“We are pleased to once again partner with Cathedral Square on this important housing project in Hinesburg,” said Michael Seaver, Officer People’s United Community Foundation and President of People’s United Bank Vermont Division. “The over-65 population is now the fastest-growing age group in our state, so the services that Cathedral Square offers here are critical.”Established in 2007, People’s United Community Foundation was formed to help support programs and activities that enhance the quality of life for citizens in the communities that People’s United Bank serves. People’s United Bank is a subsidiary of People’s United Financial, Inc., a diversified financial services company with $37 billion in assets. People’s United Bank, founded in 1842, is a premier, community-based, regional bank in the Northeast offering commercial and retail banking, as well as wealth management services through a network of over 400 retail locations in Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.
Vermont Business Magazine Use of alcohol among Vermont high school students decreased significantly in the past two years, according to the newly released 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey. In 2013, nearly 60 percent of high school students reported ever drinking alcohol. In 2015, that figure dropped to 56 percent. The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is administered at school every other year to students in grades six through 12, and details the prevalence of a wide range of behaviors that affect health – from smoking, drinking and drug use, to physical activity, nutrition and weight, to violence and mental health status. The survey is conducted by the Vermont Department of Health and Agency of Education. More than 21,000 high school students (grades 9-12), and 13,600 middle school students (grades 6-8) participated in the latest survey, conducted during February and March 2015.High risk alcohol use, or binge drinking, decreased among high schoolers. Likewise, fewer students smoked in 2015. The survey also found that the percentage of middle schoolers who are physically active is up, and fewer high schoolers are overweight or drinking sugar-sweetened beverages.“There is a lot of good news here. The data tells us that in many areas, young Vermonters are making increasingly good and healthy life choices for themselves,” said Health Commissioner Harry Chen, MD. “We’re seeing trends that indicate our efforts are continuing to bend the curve in favor of the number of young people who are not engaging in risky and unsafe behaviors.”MIDDLE SCHOOLHIGH SCHOOL(The very top graph shows High School drinking trend)Chen said the report also provides important data that the Health Department uses to determine critical areas that require increased focus, such as the use of e-cigarettes and marijuana.In the 2015 survey, students were asked for the first time about the use of vapor tobacco products and flavored tobacco products: 30 percent of high school students reported ever smoking e-cigarettes, and 24 percent have used flavored tobacco products at some point in their lifetime.And now, more high school students used marijuana (22%) in the past 30 days than smoked cigarettes (11%).Survey data shows significantly fewer middle and high school students think someone their age is at great risk of harm from smoking marijuana. Significantly fewer middle school students believe their parents would think it’s wrong for them to use marijuana, and fewer think they risk harm from having five or more drinks on a weekend.“Certain risky behaviors are trending down, but fewer students think there is potential harm in using marijuana, smoking cigarettes, and in high risk drinking,” said Dr. Chen. “This is a worry to me, especially for middle schoolers, who will have more opportunities for experimentation as they get older, but who might not fully understand the consequences.”Health officials also cited mental health issues, especially related to suicide, as a significant concern. The percentage of both high school and middle school students who report feeling sad or hopeless, and those who have thought seriously about or even attempted suicide has increased since the last survey.Said Dr. Chen: “The Youth Risk Behavior Survey is one of our most important tools. Not just for the Health Department, but also for starting discussions in schools and at home with students and families, and informing our communities about the very real issues and pressures our youth face. With this data, we can all be partners in helping students better understand their own behaviors, so they can make the right choices for themselves and live long, healthy lives.”The 2015 Vermont Youth Risk Behavior Survey full report, statewide highlights, and related data are available at: http://healthvermont.gov/research/yrbs/2015(link is external)Selected Highlights ––––Alcohol – Fewer students drank alcohol in 2015 than in 2013. Binge drinking is down, but fewer perceive risk of harm from alcohol.6% of middle school students drank alcohol in the past 30 days; 6% drank before age 1130% of high schoolers drank alcohol in the past 30 days, down from 33% in 201316% of high school students reported binge drinking in the past 30 days, down from 19% in 201388% of middle schoolers believe it is wrong to drink alcohol48% of middle school students think kids their age risk great harm from having five or more drinks once or twice each weekend, a significant decrease from 51%Smoking and Tobacco – Fewer students smoked, and fewer were exposed to secondhand smoke. Use of e-cigarettes is higher than regular cigarette use.9% of middle school students have ever tried cigarette smoking, same as in 201311% of high school students currently smoke, a decrease from 13% in 20137% of middle school students have tried an electronic vapor product30% of high school students have tried an electronic vapor product, 15% in the past 30 days52% of high school students usually saw advertisements for tobacco products at a convenience store, supermarket, or gas stationMarijuana and Other Drugs – Marijuana use remained essentially unchanged, but perception of harm is down. Prescription drug misuse has declined.7% of middle school and 37% of high school students have ever used marijuana4% of middle school and 22% of high school students used marijuana in the past 30 days59% of middle school and 27% of high school students think someone their age is at great risk of harm from smoking marijuana, significantly down from 64% and 31% in 201311% of high school students have ever misused a prescription drug, a decrease from 13% in 2013Mental Health and Suicide – More students felt sad or hopeless for significant stretches of time. The percentage of students who made a suicide plan or attempted suicide increased.20% of middle school and 24% of high school students were so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that they stopped usual activities, up from 18% and 21% in 201318% of middle school students seriously considered suicide and 12% made a suicide plan12% of high school students made a suicide plan, a significant increase from 11% in 2013 and 9% in 20116% of both middle school and high school students have attempted suicide in their lifetime, a significant increase from 5% in 2013Nutrition and Physical Activity – Fewer students are overweight, and consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is down.39% of middle school students participated in daily physical activity breaks14% of high school students are overweight, significantly down from 16% in 201352% of middle and 40% of high school students are eating breakfast every day23% of high school students were physically active for at least 60 minutes a day, down from 25% in 2013
Vermont Business Magazine Lyndon State College’s Center for Rural Entrepreneurship has created a Hospitality and Tourism Business Management Certification Program. The program is designed to meet the workforce needs related to the hospitality, tourism, and recreation industries that are important drivers of the area’s rural economy. The new certification program aims to close the divide between employer expectations and motivated employees looking to move to the next level. The program offers the opportunity to upgrade hospitality and tourism skills without the commitment or expense of a full degree program through certification trainings online, on-site with employers, or in LSC’s state-of-the-art classrooms.Sugarbush North. VBM file photo“The College is very excited about the new professional certification program. With it the workforce will be able to meet the needs of employers in the Vermont and New Hampshire tourism industries. And employees will be able to advance their careers,” said Lyndon State College President Joe Bertolino. “We look forward to expanding certifications to other professions.”Of particular interest to potential students and employers:• The program partners with industry leader American Hotel and Lodging Association to offer nationally recognized credentials;• The local trainers are industry experts and professional educators familiar with the unique needs of the region;• The program is competitively priced; and• Trainings are flexible in duration and available to suit every schedule.The program’s development came in response to discussions with industry leaders. It quickly became evident that Vermont and New Hampshire employers understand the competitive advantage of having a highly skilled workforce, yet struggles to find and advance qualified employees.The tourism and hospitality industry is crucial for the state of Vermont, attracting millions of tourists and visitors each year. According to the Benchmark Study of the Impact of Visitor Expenditures on the Vermont Economy: 2013 prepared by the Vermont Department of Tourism & Marketing in December 2014, Visitors made an estimated 12.8 million person trips to Vermont for leisure, business or personal travel with direct spending by visitors for goods and services totaling $1.82 billion. Visitor spending supports an estimated 30,000 jobs for Vermonters or approximately 8.0% of all Vermont jobs. Similarly, travel and tourism is New Hampshire’s second largest industry in terms of jobs supported by dollars from out of state according to the New Hampshire Department of Resources and Economic Development.The program has been made possible through a generous grant awarded by the Northern Border Regional Commission. The two core outcomes of this initiative include local opportunities for training new and incumbent hospitality workers to meet the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AH&LA) certification requirements valued by area employers and the creation of a local Bachelor–level Mountain Resort Management degree attainable now from Lyndon State College.
by Nick Wallace The middle class is shrinking, but Vermont is the highest ranking state in the East for the “Middle Class.” According to a 2015 analysis by Pew Research, for the first time in recent history less than half of American households are part of the middle class, with greater numbers of households moving into the upper and lower classes. Likewise, while middle-income Americans used to earn more than 60 percent of total US income, today their combined paychecks add up to just 43 percent of the whole pie. Vermont overall was eighth, as the Northeast and South generally ranked low.In some parts of the country, however, the middle class has not been shrinking so rapidly, if at all. Indeed, in 18 states, the number of middle-class jobs has increased by more than 10% since the year 2000. On the other hand, in 14 states, the total number of such jobs has actually declined over the past 15 years.MethodologyTo find the best states for middle-class families and workers, SmartAsset collected data on income, jobs, taxes and housing costs across all 50 states. We looked at the following eight metrics to gauge the size, strength and financial prospects of the middle class in each state:Percentage of households in the middle class. The percentage of households with a household income between $35,000 and $100,000 per year, approximately 2/3rds to two times the median U.S. income of $53,482.Percentage of households that are low income. This is the percentage of households with total household income of less than $35,000.Total middle class job growth. The total increase in employment from 2000 to 2014 in jobs that earn a median annual income between $30,000 and $70,000 in 2014 dollars.Percentage middle class job growth. Using the same definition, the increase in middle class jobs as a percentage of the total number of middle class jobs in 2000.Tax fairness. A measure calculated by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy(link is external) that compares the tax burden (including all types of taxes) of the middle 60% of earners to the top 1%.Effective income tax rate. The effective state income tax rate for a four-person household earning the U.S. median household income of $53,482. Calculated using SmartAsset’s income tax calculator(link is external).Average effective property tax rate. The median annual property tax paid by homeowners as a percentage of median home value.Median home value.We ranked all 50 states according to those eight metrics. We then averaged those rankings, giving double weight to the percentage of households in the middle class, the median home value and tax fairness, and single weight to all other metrics. Finally, we applied an index score from 0 to 100 according to those average rankings.Key FindingsBest for middle class? Upper Midwest. Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota all rank among the top six states for the middle class. The middle class in these states is larger than in most other states.The Northeast is losing middle class jobs. Northeastern states account for five of the bottom eight states in our analysis. These states have all lost middle class jobs since the year 2000.1. NebraskaWith 47.7% of households earning between $35,000 and $100,000, Nebraska has the fourth-largest middle class of any state in the country. In fact, it rates as better-than-average on all but one of the metrics SmartAsset considered.The state has had strong middle-class job growth over the past 15 years, adding more than 51,000 jobs that earn a median income of between $30,000 and $70,000 (in 2014 dollars). That represents an increase of 14%. Middle class families should also find Nebraska’s housing market to be reasonably affordable. The median home value in the state was $133,800 on average during 2014.The only metric for which Nebraska is worse than the average state? Property taxes. The state’s average effective property tax rate of more than 1.8%(link is external) is among the 10 highest in the U.S.2. UtahNo state has a larger middle class than Utah, where half of all households earn between $35,000 and $100,000 annually. The Beehive State has had some of the strongest middle class job growth over the past 15 years of any state in the U.S., adding more than 116,000 such jobs. That represents an increase of 27%, seventh highest in the nation.3. IdahoA number of the most important industries in Idaho are those that have historically provided stable middle class jobs. Manufacturing is becoming an increasingly important part of the Gem State’s economy, while agriculture and tourism both continue to play a large role.In addition to having the nation’s eighth-largest middle class (in percentage terms), Idaho also has one of the fairest tax structures for middle class taxpayers according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy . It has a statewide sales tax of 6% and a progressive income tax of up to 7.4%. In all, the system rates as the fifth-most-equitable when comparing middle class tax burdens to tax burdens on the top 1% of earners.4. IowaLike many of the top states on this list, Iowa has an unemployment rate that is well below the national average. The unemployment rate was just 3.7% as of February, tenth lowest in the U.S. That is good for middle class workers, who can be less concerned about losing their job. Iowa has the third largest middle class in the U.S., with 47.9% of households earning between $35,000 and $100,000 annually.5. MinnesotaMinnesota’s tax system relies on a progressive income tax for a significant portion of its revenue. While the top marginal rate is 9.85%, one of the highest in the country, that rate only applies to high earners(link is external). Most middle class families face a top rate of 5.35% or 7.05%. That is a large reason that Minnesota’s tax system rates as the seventh most equitable in the country.Middle class families in Minnesota also benefit from the state’s healthcare system. It ranks among the best in the country for its high rates of insurance coverage and on other measures of access.(link is external)6. North DakotaThanks in part to a boom in oil product in recent years, North Dakota has added middle class jobs at a faster rate than any other state since the year 2000. The state added more than 113,000 middle class jobs over that time, an increase of 95%. That’s the highest percentage growth in middle class jobs of any state.Today, although the oil boom is cooling off by many measures, North Dakota’s job market remains one of the strongest in the nation. The state’s unemployment rate was 2.9% as of February 2016, third lowest in the U.S.7. NevadaNevada has the fifth-largest middle class of any state, with 47.7% of households earning between $35,000 and $100,000. Fifteen years ago, that may not have been true. The number of middle class jobs in Nevada has grown by 29% since the year 2000, far outpacing job growth in the rest of the country.8. VermontThe top-ranked eastern state for the middle class, Vermont ranks among the top 10 states for both the size of its middle class and the fairness of its tax system. 47% of households earn between $35,000 and $100,000 per year in Vermont, the ninth-largest percentage of any state. Meanwhile, Vermont’s tax system rates as the sixth-fairest for middle class taxpayers.9. MontanaSince the year 2000, Montana has added 54,000 jobs to its workforce that have a median annual income between $30,000 and $70,000. That job growth is all the more impressive in light of Montana’s low population. Indeed, those 54,000 jobs represent a growth rate of 35% since 2000, third highest in the U.S.Montana also has one of the fairest state tax systems in the country. When comparing the tax burdens of the middle 60% of earners with the top 1%, it rates as the ninth most equitable state.10. DelawareDelaware has some of the lowest property taxes in the nation, with an average effective property tax rate of about 0.5%(link is external), lower than all but three states. That’s good news for middle class homeowners. It may also be one reason the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy rated Delaware’s tax system as the second most equitable in the nation when comparing middle class tax burdens with those of the top 1%.SourcesData on the percentage of households earning between $35,000 and $100,000 per year comes from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Communities Survey for 2014, as does data on the percentage of households earning less than $35,000. Data on average effective property tax rates and median home values also comes from that survey. Data on the growth in jobs that earn between $30,000 and $70,000 comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational employment statistics for the years 2000 and 2014.The average effective income tax rate for middle class taxpayers was calculated using SmartAsset’s income tax calculator, which was built using data from federal, state and local tax forms. Data on the fairness of state tax systems comes from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.SmartAsset April 27, 2016
Southwestern Vermont Health Care,Vermont Business Magazine The Pulmonary Rehabilitation program at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) is now accepting patients for their fall sessions. People who have trouble breathing in the heat and humidity, who get short of breath walking long distances or upstairs, and who are struggling to quit from cigarettes are encouraged to seek a referral. SVMC Pulmonary Rehabilitation started in January 2015 with seven participants. Since then the program has completed nine sessions and has helped forty three patients improve their lung function and breathe easier. The success of the program prompted an expansion to morning and afternoon classes this past January, accommodating up to sixteen patients at a time.”Many people feel a sense of panic when they can’t catch their breath, so they exercise less and, as a result, their condition worsens,” said Caitlyn Boyd, DPT. “This program gives people with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and other lung conditions the tools and confidence they need to manage their symptoms and live full and active lives. Anyone living with a chronic lung disease can benefit.”The program combines comprehensive education with supervised physical exercise twice per week for eight weeks. Boyd helps participants track their progress by measuring blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen levels, and shortness of breath. Some participants continue physical exercise at home or at a fitness facility. Several use the program’s ongoing maintenance component, which allows them to continue exercising with a group twice a week.”Most patients see a real difference in their daily lives. Plus they get the satisfaction of tracking their improvement from beginning to end,” Boyd said.Over the last year and a half, 70 percent of patients who completed SVMC’s Pulmonary Rehabilitation had a significant improvement in shortness of breath symptoms, 74 percent had significant improvement in their quality of life, and 60 percent had significant improvement in their functional ability.Participants can choose to join a morning or an afternoon session, as space permits. Both morning and afternoon sessions are held on Tuesdays and Thursdays for eight weeks. After completion, the maintenance program is offered on Wednesday and Friday afternoons for a small fee. Those interested in participating in the upcoming sessions should call Boyd at 802-447-5140 or Michael Algus, MD, of SVMC Pulmonology, at 802-442-4855 for more information, or contact their primary care provider for a referral. About SVHC:Southwestern Vermont Health Care (SVHC) is a comprehensive, preeminent health care system providing exceptional, convenient, and affordable care to the communities of Bennington and Windham Counties of Vermont, eastern Rensselaer and Washington Counties of New York, and northern Berkshire County in Massachusetts. SVHC’s providers are members of the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Putnam Physicians, a multispecialty medical group operated in partnership with Dartmouth-Hitchcock. SVHC includes the Centers for Living and Rehabilitation, a 150-bed long- and short-term care skilled nursing facility; the SVHC Foundation; and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC), a 99-bed community hospital. SVMC also includes 19 primary and specialty care practices and primary care offices in Bennington, Manchester, Pownal, West Dover, and Wilmington, VT. The hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission and is one of 31 in the world to have been recognized four consecutive times as Magnet Center for Nursing Excellence. To learn more, visit svhealthcare.org(link is external).Source: Southwestern Vermont Medical Center 9.6.2016
Vermont Business Magazine Several locations in the northwestern corner of Vermont will serve as collection sites this year for the Samaritan’s Purse project Operation Christmas Child—the world’s largest Christmas project of its kind. During National Collection Week, November 14 – 21, Residents in Chittenden, Franklin, Grand-Isle and Lamoille Counties will donate shoeboxes—filled with school supplies, hygiene items, notes of encouragement and fun toys, such as a doll or soccer ball—for Operation Christmas Child to deliver to children in need around the world. This year, residents hope to contribute more than 3,700 shoebox gifts toward the 2016 global goal of reaching 12 million children.Child in Cambodia. Samaritan’s Purse photo.“The shoebox gifts donated by the volunteers at these drop-off locations will shine a light of hope to children living in poverty overseas,” said Vermont Northwest Area volunteer Kathy Stetson, who has participated in Operation Christmas Child for ten years. “Anyone is welcome to pack a shoebox and help a child facing difficult circumstances to feel loved and not forgotten.”COLLECTION SITES SERVING CHITTENDEN, FRANKLIN, GRAND-ISLE and LAMOILLE COUNTIES IN VERMONT:Essex Junction, VT – Essex Alliance Church37 Old Stage RoadEssex Junction, VT 05452Mon Nov 14 2016: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.Tue Nov 15 2016: 3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.Wed Nov 16 2016: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.Thu Nov 17 2016: 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.Fri Nov 18 2016: 3:30 p.m. – 6 p.m.Sat Nov 19 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Sun Nov 20 2016: 1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.Mon Nov 21 2016: 8 a.m. – 4 p.m.Morrisville, VT – Lamoille Valley Grace Brethren Church14 Maple StreetMorrisville, VT 05661Mon Nov 14 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Tue Nov 15 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Wed Nov 16 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Thu Nov 17 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Fri Nov 18 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Sat Nov 19 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Sun Nov 20 2016: 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.Mon Nov 21 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Richford, VT – First Baptist Church33 School StreetRichford, VT 05476Mon Nov 14 2016: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.Tue Nov 15 2016: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.Wed Nov 16 2016: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.Thu Nov 17 2016: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.Fri Nov 18 2016: 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.Sat Nov 19 2016: 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.Sun Nov 20 2016: 12 p.m. – 2 p.m.Mon Nov 21 2016: 9 a.m. – 11 a.m.Saint Albans, VT – Church of the Rock1091 Fairfax RoadSaint Albans, VT 05478Mon Nov 14 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Tue Nov 15 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Wed Nov 16 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Thu Nov 17 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Fri Nov 18 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Sat Nov 19 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Sun Nov 20 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.Mon Nov 21 2016: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.For more information on how to participate in Operation Christmas Child, call 802-848-3635 or visit samaritanspurse.org/occ(link is external). By going online to give the suggested donation of $7 per shoebox gift, participants can follow their box to discover where in the world it will be delivered. They can also pack a shoebox gift online and even upload a photo and note of encouragement.Source: Enosburg Falls, VT October 28, 2016—Operation Christmas Child is a project of Samaritan’s Purse, an international Christian relief and evangelism organization headed by Franklin Graham. The mission of Operation Christmas Child is to demonstrate God’s love in a tangible way to children in need around the world, and together with the local church worldwide, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Since 1993, Operation Christmas Child has collected and delivered more than 135 million gift-filled shoeboxes to children in more than 150 countries and territories. For many of these children, the gift-filled shoebox is the first gift they have ever received.,Yes
A home-based solar installation in Poultney. VBM photo.by CB Hall Vermont Business Magazine Representatives of Vermont’s solar industry are for the most part looking to the future with cautious optimism, hoping that the established nature of the no-longer-novel industry will serve as a bulwark against policies that the administration of President Donald Trump, with its skeptical view of renewable energy, might impose.“The solar industry nationwide has garnered broad bipartisan support because of the job creation and the low-cost energy we are producing – making it very difficult to see a Republican-led rollback against our industry,” Andrew Savage, chief strategy officer at Williston’s AllEarth Renewables and a member of the national Solar Energy Industry Association’s board, told VBM.A large, 2.2 MW utility-sized AllEarth solar farm in South Burlinigton. VBM photo.AllEarth manufactures a dual-axial tracker that allows solar panels to follow the path of the sun at the angle most conducive to energy production.Among the federal policy issues that loom uncertainly on the horizon is the so-called investment tax credit available for the installation of solar systems.Under legislation enacted in December, that tax credit will remain at 30 percent for solar systems installed before 2020; it will then decline incrementally, and, in 2023, disappear completely.The extension of the credit program, established in 2005, will help keep solar installers busy, but pronouncements by President Trump suggest at least the possibility that the tax break could be rescinded.Solar industry representatives minimize that possibility, however.“It’s not changing our goals,” said Emily McManamy, spokeswoman for Waterbury’s SunCommon, the state’s largest residential-solar installer. “If anything it creates a greater sense of urgency for people to go solar now, when these incentives do exist.”“We’re used to changes in the solar industry, so we continue to innovate.”SunCommon solar canopy at Hunger Mountain Co-op with Governor Scott. SunCommon photo.After five years in business, McManamy said, SunCommon employs 70. Looking to the future, she saw promise in Governor Phil Scott’s continued commitment to ambitious renewable-energy goals. On January 9, Scott joined SunCommon for the roll-out of the company’s latest innovation, a sun canopy installed at Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op.Suitable for a carport, for example (SEE STORY), the canopy consists of a timber frame structure supporting a roof fitted with bifacial solar panels, which absorb light from both front and back. When snow covers the canopy, the underside of the panels still produces power from the sunlight reflected off the surrounding snow.At the roll-out event, the new governor stated his support for maintaining the goal, first articulated under the Shumlin administration, for using renewable sources to provide 90 percent of the state’s energy by 2050.“He recognizes that solar plays a large role in strengthening our economy and growing our workforce,” McManamy said.Crucial to an understanding of the solar energy market is its division into four more or less distinct categories: development by utilities, independent solar farms that sell to utilities, residential installations on rooftops and in backyards, and so-called community solar, meaning installations with 15 to 150 kilowatt-hours of capacity. Community solar typically serves households and small businesses that may not have the space or other prerequisites for placing solar panels on their property.Also crucial to that understanding is the concept of ownership of the renewable attributes of a given type of energy.While the electrons pulsing through the nation’s electric grid are fungible goods, the producer of each source of those electrons may claim title to their renewable characteristics, if the power generation in question is solar or wind, for example.That power can then be bought and sold with those attributes, which generally translate into a premium over the price of power coming from coal, for instance.Under the practice through 2016, solar power producers, including both solar farms and backyard and rooftop solar arrays, could send their electrons to utilities for a premium price 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour above what utilities charge their customers for the power that the companies sell – roughly, 20 cents as opposed to 15 cents.The extra pennies represented the extra value solar provided to all ratepayers – meaning, notably, a reduction in costs at times of peak usage, when the utility might otherwise have to buy power off the open market at a very high, opportunistic price.For new power sources coming on line this year and thereafter, that arithmetic will however change under a Public Service Board (PSB) interim order that is awaiting finalization as a permanent rule.The utilities will only pay producers 3 extra cents per kilowatt hour for net-metered solar, so as to acquire so-called renewable energy credits (RECs) – a commodity created by state law – which can be used to meet goals for increasing the share of renewables in the utility’s overall power mix.In lieu of getting the 3 cents, producers can retain ownership of the electricity’s renewable attributes, but they will then lose an additional 3 cents – meaning the sacrifice of 6 cents in income, all told.The RECs, of which there are many categories under the laws of multiple states, are a very marketable commodity.In an email interview, James Gibbons, director of policy and planning at the Burlington Electric Department, stated that “the price differential between RECs from various types and ages of generating units … allows for arbitrage in the regional REC market. In 2015, for example, the Burlington Electric Department sold all of the RECs from its wind-generated sources at a premium price – then bought cheaper RECs that are still, however, classed as renewable (in this case from older, small hydro units). That allowed BED to meet its goal of 100% renewable sourcing.”The Burlington utility, he added, “does not expect this type of opportunity to exist forever, but it has allowed for BED to secure long-term contracts for renewable resources, while limiting the initial rate impact.”In time, as the percentage of renewables in the energy supplied to customers increases apace with stiffer state requirements, “BED anticipates relying less and less on this form of arbitrage,” he stated.Net-metering got its start some 10 years ago with Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest electric company – and the only one which is investor-owned.GMP found that a 5- to 6-cent “solar adder” tacked on to the price of power sold to Vermont’s households was commensurate with the solar attributes’ value to the utility. The state subsequently mandated that premium for all the state’s utilities.Savage credited GMP for its “early leadership role” in Vermont’s solar industry.“Their diligence in showing how solar could shave the utility’s peak and thus save all ratepayers money was easily the single most important factor in igniting our state’s solar industry,” he said.GMP spokeswoman Kristin Carlson explained her company’s modus operandi thus: “Is [a solar project] cost-effective for our customers, and how will this help us reach state renewable energy goals?”GMP has been able to reduce its rates three years out of the last four, she said, and while net-metering means buying above the market price for energy, in other cases solar projects help reduce prices. Amplifying that point, she mentioned the recently completed solar installation at Essex Junction’s GlobalFoundries plant, where electricity is being generated at about 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, or half of what the utility pays for net-metered solar.“GlobalFoundries uses some of the power, while the remainder goes into the grid,” she said. (STORY) The rate-reducing impact should continue in the future, as more and more solar comes on line and adds to the power supply.GMP’s Stafford Hill solar and storage facility in Rutland. GMP photo.Solar power’s cost has already come down “dramatically,” Carlson said, now costing about a third of what it cost to produce in 2009.Among the innovations GMP has brought to market is the pairing of solar generation with battery storage. The utility pioneered that technology nationally, Carlson said, when it launched the Stafford Hill Solar project at a decommissioned landfill in Rutland in 2015.Energy at that facility is stored in batteries and then discharged to the grid during peak-usage spikes, when energy prices soar. On the hottest day of 2016, Stafford Hill saved $200,000 in costs of purchased power in a single hour – costs that otherwise would have been passed on to power consumers. “That’s the exciting promise,” Carlson said of the Stafford Hill project.GMP is intent on pushing back the limits of what the term electric utility has traditionally meant.In a December press release, the company announced the launch of a program – the first of its kind nationally, Carlson said – to sell consumers an “off-grid package.”In return for a flat monthly fee, the package covers the installation and maintenance of off-grid systems. This reduces maintenance costs of often outdated infrastructure, to say nothing of reducing demand for expensive grid power when hot weather sends droves of Vermonters to their air conditioners.The solar industry frontier encompasses not only new technological solutions, but also new business models – such as the one SunCommon embraced in January in launching what it termed a partnership with Sustainable Energy Development of Ontario, NY.In a press release, SunCommon co-founder James Moore described the collaboration as “combining the expertise of the newly-branded New York team in the commercial and utility space with the Vermont team’s expertise in the residential and Community Solar markets.““With SunCommon’s expanded reach, 800 New York households and businesses will shift to clean energy by going solar with SunCommon’s Rochester-area arrays this year,” the release stated.“As Vermont closed the door to the program, New York opened theirs – so here we come,” SunCommon co-founder Duane Peterson explained the deal’s business logic, alluding to the substantial crimp that the siting restrictions in the PSB’s new net-metering order have placed on community solar development.For AllEarth Renewables, too, places beyond Vermont’s borders beckon. Since its founding in 2008, the company has both installed solar systems in Vermont and manufactured its solar tracker for the nationwide market – and sold some 4,500 of them.As the industry has continued to grow across the country, Savage said, his company has in the last two years “focused on expansion into new markets and growing our dealer network nationally.” As the solar sector evolves, the expansion of this once very localized industry into the national sphere appears inevitable.California’s SolarCity, which employs more than 10,000 people, opened a Burlington base in 2015, and already employs 80 in Vermont, according to a SolarCity spokesman.Asked about the challenge from SolarCity, which focuses on residential installations, McManamy said, “We’re not concerned about that,” stressing what she perceived as the greater diversity of products and services that SunCommon offers.But it’s not just major players like SunCommon, GMP or SolarCity that are working on the next big thing in solar.Norwich-based Solaflect has developed an innovative solar tracker supported by cables rather than a heavier steel-truss structure. Solaflect president Bill Bender described the product as “much more material-efficient” than competing trackers.“It gets rid of a lot of steel,” he said.Norwich-based Solaflect community solar project. Solaflect photo.He noted that the tracker forms part of about half of all solar installations in Norwich, where, he said, 17 percent of all households now utilize some sort of solar power source.Solaflect is marketing the device in New Hampshire and Massachusetts as well as Vermont. Bender declined to share sales figures.Unlike others interviewed for this article, he expressed some skepticism about his industry’s immediate future in Vermont, citing several worries for solar developers.“The federal policy is very much up in the air. There’s a very strong presence of fossil fuel interests in this [Trump] administration.”“From a state perspective, there’s been a modest reduction in the incentives for residential solar,” he said, referring to the new PSB order and its 3-cent provision.Like SunCommon’s Peterson, he also decried changes to the rules on siting solar projects as a substantial hindrance.“The state policy makes it much more expensive and challenging to build” community solar, he said.Most industry representatives interviewed for this article struck a confident tone, however, that underscored the status of the solar industry:Whatever the twists and turns of government policy, no one any longer views solar as a trivial enterprise that the whims of those in high places will be able to sweep away, much as President Ronald Reagan, in 1986, ordered the removal of the solar panels that his predecessor, President Jimmy Carter, had installed on the White House roof.And Vermont has seen a disproportionately large part of the sector’s growth, with more than one solar industry job for every 500 Vermonters, a rate about three times the national ratio, according to 2015 statistics from the Solar Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit advocacy organization.Nationwide, according to the federal Energy Information Agency, solar added more new electric generating capacity in 2016 than did any other single source, such as hydroelectric or natural-gas plants.“The solar industry is not a boutique industry any more, but a major player in the production of new energy and creating local jobs,” said Savage.As McManamy put it, “The sun continues to shine.”