Shumlin reassures Rutland business sector
By JOSH O’GORMAN
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | March 28,2014
Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photos
Thomas Donahue, right, executive vice president of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, shakes hands with Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell during a legislative visit by chamber members at the State House on Thursday.
MONTPELIER — The western rail corridor, the gas pipeline and opiate addiction were among the top issues raised by a contingent of Rutland region business people who visited the State House on Thursday.
Thirty-three people, representing 600 businesses and 20,000 employees, met with a host of state-level elected officials during an annual trip led by the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corp.
“I always love this day when Rutland comes up to try and straighten this building out because it means I’m not alone,” said Gov. Peter Shumlin to the assembled crowd, which included representatives from General Electric, Omya, Rutland Plywood and the Diamond Run Mall.
Shumlin discussed the challenges faced by residents and businesses in Rutland County, including transportation.
“When I was a kid, they drove a highway right through my town,” said Shumlin, who hails from Putney. “The western side of the state doesn’t enjoy that privilege, and therefore, we’re a little transportationally challenged.”
Shumlin touted the importance of rebuilding the western rail corridor to allow high-speed freight and passenger travel from Rutland to Burlington.
“We’re going to help commerce,” he said. “We’re going to help jobs. We’re going to get trucks off of Route 7.”
Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee, discussed an upcoming grant application that would upgrade the rails to allow high-speed travel, leaving only improvements to be made at railroad crossings.
“If we get these grants, and I’m cautiously optimistic, we could have rail from Rutland to Burlington,” said Flory, who was less optimistic about immediate prospects to extend the rail service farther north into Canada.
Shumlin also touted the importance of extending the natural gas pipeline to Rutland.
“If we can drive a natural gas pipeline into Rutland, it’s going to grow jobs,” the governor said.
“It’s going to grow economic opportunity and, despite what the critics say, we’re also doing the right thing for the climate because we’re going to move people from dirty oil to clean natural gas,” Shumlin said.
Ed Fowler, a Killington resident who said he’s seen the tax bill on his several properties rise from $2,000 a year to $17,000 a year in the last 12 years, expressed concern with the ever-inflating education fund and worried about how the governor’s health care plan might impact taxes.
“You haven’t told us how you’re going to pay for it,” Fowler said. “We don’t need to wait until after the fact in 2017. We want to know the cost.”
Shumlin defended his health care plan, saying it was more important to get the details right than to get them out quickly.
After the event, Fowler said the hefty tax bite makes it difficult to move properties in Killington.
“Nothing is selling,” he said. “We’re in a real fix here.”
Teresa Miele, human resources manager at Rutland Plywood, discussed the Rutland region’s struggle with opiate addition from the perspective of an employer.
“When we hire folks who have an addiction, they often drive up our worker’s comp rates,” Miele said. “They often have unwitnessed accidents that become work related. It isn’t business not caring about people, because we do care. I see young people in their 20s and 30s who are capable and are good. They start out hard working and they just fall apart, and we need to do something to show that we care.”
Ron Boucher, a contractor from Wallingford, asked Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, D-Windsor, if the state has a plan to deal with the “black hole” that will be created by the closure of Vermont Yankee.
“The energy that Yankee is generating and has been generating goes out of state, so that won’t affect Vermont. Power-wise, I think we’re going to be fine,” said Campbell, who also touted the proposed natural gas pipeline. “As far as the jobs go, that’s a different story.”
Campbell said the state’s Department of Labor is working with the Windham Regional Commission to assist more than 500 workers who will eventually lose their jobs.