writing for print and web

5-cent education property tax increase needed

801 words / VTDigger.org

Statewide base property tax rates might increase again — by a nickel in 2015 — to meet the rising cost of education. But in recommending the rate bump, Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson also suggests looking for a way to get schools to curb spending.

Unfunded health care obligations threaten teacher pensions

916 words / VTDigger.org

State Treasurer Beth Pearce might soon run out of metaphors for the chronic funding shortfall in Vermont’s teacher retirement system.

It’s a “monster,” she told the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. “It’s at a tipping point,” she said. It’s like a credit card that charges 18 percent interest, when a 2 percent deal sits idle on your desk. “It’s taking the wind out of the sails of (the pension system’s) recovery.”

State announces ‘open data’ pilot project

1220 words / VTDigger.org

As Vermont’s state government takes its first baby step into the giant world of open data, the state’s civic hackers are lining up to help.

Harry Bell of Vermont’s Department of Information and Innovation announced Tuesday that the state would be stepping out of its website shell and into the “open data” movement — a growing international trend toward making government data more available to the public.

A post-mortem of Menck Windows’ Northeast Kingdom EB-5 Project

Business feature reporting the cancellation of a $20 million immigrant-funded development in Newport, Vt. / 1420 words / VTDigger.org

More than a year in the making, plans to bring German window manufacturer Menck to Newport, Vt., have fallen through.

Developer Bill Stenger said the parent company’s new equipment requirements would cut into the plant’s job creation projections. It turns out slow sales projections and facility constraints also played a role.

Menck still is moving forward to establish itself in North America: but not in Vermont, and not with funding from federal “EB-5” immigrant investments.

Job creation and generally boosting economic activity is the program’s stated goal — and also, in Menck’s case, the hitch.

Unemployment Trust Fund tapped for fraction of potential relief

2276 words / VTDigger.org

Vermont legislators agreed in May to offer up to $8.67 million in refunds and discounts to businesses that laid off workers in the wake of 2011′s disastrous floods.

But only 75 employers, among the untold eligible businesses hailing from every county in the state, applied for the unemployment insurance relief. Instead of giving breaks for a “worst-case” scenario of 11,247 layoffs, the state forgave at least partial charges on just 299.

On their July 1 unemployment insurance bills, 54 businesses accepted $264,178.53 in refunds.

“Really, that’s all? Wow,” said Steve Moyer, CFO of Woodstock Farmers’ Market.

Federal reforms pushing flood insurance rates ever higher

1199 words / VTDigger.org

When it comes to flood insurance in Vermont, it’s federal reforms that worry Susan Donegan.

“You can debate global warming,” Donegan said, “but you can’t deny that we’re having more severe and more frequent severe storms.” Known as BW-12, the Biggert-Watters Act was crafted to address that reality and shore up federal flood insurance in its wake.

Donegan doesn’t argue the intention, but she’s concerned about what its drastic changes will mean for Vermont property owners.

Leahy proposal would alter EB-5 job creation formula

946 words / VTDigger.org

Proposed changes to the controversial EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program would tweak the job creation requirement. Full-time employment defined as one person working at least 35 hours per week would be replaced by the equivalent of a full-time job, “regardless of how many employees fill the position.”

Aviation and aerospace industries land in Vermont

947 words / VTDigger.org

When Adam Truso returned to Vermont after flying Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, he wanted to transition to civilian employment.

But most of what he found in the want ads were jobs as nurses and Walmart greeters, Truso said. Wasn’t he surprised when a contact from the Vermont Department of Labor introduced him to Liquid Measurement Systems in Georgia.

Truso now works in the sales and marketing division for LMS — a company considered an anchor in Vermont’s $2 billion aviation and aeronautics industry.