The following is a response to a letter by Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation Exec. Director Tim Smith that appeared in the Saint Albans Messenger last weekend skewering me for my critique of the Water Caucus proposal to gut the VHCB to fund Lake Champlain Cleanup. The bizarre thing is that Mr. Smith’s wife Denise Smith is the Exec. Director of the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain.
Tim Smith and I have had a few political conversations in the years that I’ve known him. We have different points of view, but we share a commitment to improved water quality. I was somewhat shocked last week by his letter responding to my earlier comments on the question of how to support the Clean Water Fund in H.35 that is making its way through the Statehouse.
Mr. Smith said that he didn’t understand why I would ridicule Representatives Parent and Dickinson for looking for ways to fund water quality efforts other than new revenue. My critique was that they narrowly focus on large cuts to one program, the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board. They continue the pretense that this idea might actually succeed after it has failed to gain any traction after 3 months. This is political cover, not a sincere attempt to fund water quality efforts from an existing source.
I agree that we need to look to existing funds before we ask Vermonters to fork over new revenue. However, in the current budget climate those of us who support water quality efforts have to realize that if we want Vermont, not the EPA to decide how to best clean up our waterways then we may have to dedicate new revenue to the effort. I summarized some of the ideas that have been suggested, but I don’t endorse all of them as Mr. Smith suggests.
I disagree with Mr. Smith that the GOP members of the Water Caucus should be commended for their one, paltry effort to find an existing program to cut in favor of cleaning up Lake Champlain. If they are really making an effort, and not just playing politics with the Lake, there should have been some other suggestions after 3 months- a virtual eternity in legislative time.
The VHCB is an effective and popular program that supports land conservation and affordable housing throughout the state. It’s unrealistic that those of us who live along lakes could ask the legislators and citizens of the rest of Vermont to gut a program overnight and give us the money because our priorities have finally turned to the lake we live on. I wonder if Mr. Smith would be so supportive if the proposed cuts had been to other important and effective programs, like the Regional Development Corporation he leads on behalf of Franklin County.
Mr. Smith may not agree with me, but let’s be clear about what I was originally trying to say: Our legislators better find a way to fund lake cleanup efforts that make sense for Vermont in H.35. How embarrassing would it be if legislators from other parts of the state support funding for Lake Champlain while those of us who live in the most polluted part of the watershed fail to support it? I look forward to the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain board meeting on Monday and I hope to hear commitments of support for H.35 from our Franklin County delegation.