Recent comments by Franklin County legislators Rep. Lynn Dickinson and Rep. Corey Parent make it clear that they are doubling down on their plan to take funds from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board to fund lake water quality efforts. They claim that these funds, revenues from the Property Transfer Tax, should be reallocated because “lake Champlain is our new conservation priority.”
This plan was never going to get any traction, and the cynic in me says that they knew it from the start. Those of us in the Champlain Valley have heard the call loud and clear for lake cleanup efforts to be prioritized, but that doesn’t mean the legislators from other regions are going to gut a popular and effective program to do it. The only viable way to get new spending on Lake Champlain-and sustain it beyond the next fiscal year- is to raise revenue through a new, dedicated source.
If you’re going to say that water quality is a priority, you have to be willing to ask someone to pay for it. Some of these Water Caucus members are reminding me of that friend who says we just “have to order the Hong Kong Calamari”, drinks five beers, orders the most expensive entree on the menu plus dessert-then wants to go halvesies on the check.
H.35 finally takes some long-overdo steps to address small farm contributions to water nutrient pollution. It puts some water quality conditions on those enrolling in Current Use. The bill would overhaul municipal stormwater management. To do all of this work it would establish a new Clean Water Fund.
Everyone seems to agree that this is important, but no one wants to pay for it. Tom Torti and the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce don’t want Rooms surcharges or an increase in the Meals and Rooms Tax. Ag advocates can’t support a fee on fertilizer. Everyone loses when we do nothing, especially those of us who like to swim in a clear, clean Lake Champlain. I’m willing to pay an extra 5 cents for every $10 I spend at a restaurant, but that’s just me.
My prediction is that the GOP members of the Water Caucus won’t support H.35 unless it’s funded their way, by cutting VHCBs ability to fund and administer affordable housing and land conservation efforts. They might surprise me and support the bill, even with some new revenue source, but unlike a Saint Albans Bay homeowner on a hot August day- I’m not holding my breath.