Collins Aerospace,United Technologies Corp (NYSE: UTX) today announced it has completed its acquisition of Goodrich Corporation, with a plant in Vergennes, Vermont, marking a major milestone for the company and strengthening its position in the commercial aerospace industry. Goodrich will be combined with Hamilton Sundstrand to create the new UTC Aerospace Systems business unit, headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.The increased scale, financial strength and complementary products resulting from the Goodrich acquisition significantly advance United Technologies’aerospace leadership at a time when the commercial aerospace industry is poised for growth.‘Throughout the history of our company, we have made many acquisitions, but Goodrich is among the few that stand out as truly transformational,’said UTC Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Louis ChÃªnevert. ‘Adding the talented people, great technology and culture of innovation that has defined Goodrich truly positions us to better serve our aerospace customers with more advanced, integrated solutions for the next generation aircraft.‘The addition of Goodrich, along with our recent acquisition of a majority share in International Aero Engines, greatly advances our strategy of focusing on our core businesses and strengthens our position in the growing commercial aerospace market,’he continued.UTC also announced that Marshall Larsen, formerly Goodrich’s chairman and chief executive officer, is slated to join the United Technologies Board of Directors. Larsen is expected to be formally elected at the next scheduled meeting of UTC’s board on Sept. 12, 2012.‘Marshall’s global business experience and remarkable record of accomplishment while leading Goodrich will make him a valuable addition to UTC’s Board of Directors,’ChÃªnevert said. ‘I look forward to continuing to work with him and to welcoming him to our board.’In addition, effective immediately, Alain Bellemare is appointed President & Chief Executive Officer of UTC Propulsion & Aerospace Systems. Bellemare will have leadership responsibility for Pratt & Whitney and for the newly created UTC Aerospace Systems. The presidents of Pratt & Whitney and of UTC Aerospace System’s two businesses ‘Aircraft Systems and Power, Controls & Sensing Systems ‘will report to him.‘Alain’s strong customer relationships, deep knowledge of the global aerospace markets, and proven leadership capabilities ‘most recently demonstrated during Goodrich integration planning ‘will serve him well and enable UTC Propulsion & Aerospace Systems to deliver unmatched value to customers and shareholders,’ChÃªnevert said.United Technologies Corp., based in Hartford, Connecticut, is a diversified company providing high technology products and services to the building and aerospace industries. Visit the new UTC Aerospace Systems website at www.utcaerospacesystems.com(link is external).United Technologies Corp (NYSE: UTX) 7.26.2012
Community and Economic Development Office (CEDO) Director Peter Owens today announced the opening of a two-month-long request for concepts (RFC) period for the Waterfront Public Investment Action Plan (PIAP), approved by the City Council at its January 28, 2013 meeting. The PIAP is a public process for identifying projects for which the City will make tens of millions of dollars of waterfront and downtown public infrastructure tax increment financing (TIF) investments in the coming years without impacting property tax rates. ‘ I hope the process will stimulate innovative and creative ideas for public investment that will move the Waterfront forward,’ said Owens. ‘ The Public Investment Action Plan is the right public process to achieve so many of the goals of our past planning efforts. The simple RFC form is designed to be open and accessible to all, from ad hoc community groups to major developers. All you need to get started is a project title, a sentence-long project description, and a point of contact.’ Received concepts will be posted online for public comment and ultimately will be reviewed by a Public Investment Team of individuals with backgrounds in planning, finance, and development. In the summer, finalists will be invited to submit more detailed proposals for another review process, ultimately culminating in a public vote on a slate of investments in spring 2014. A similar process for downtown investments will follow the waterfront effort.To participate in the PIAP process, please register your project idea at www.burlingtonvt.gov/CEDO/Public-Investment-Action-Plan/(link is external) or by contacting Nathan Wildfire, CEDO’ s Assistant Director for Economic Development, at the contact information listed above. CEDO 2.4.2013
‘ Legal counsel will be contracted out to experienced EB-5 counsel, if issues arise that require their services,’ Mooney said.Mooney says Brent Raymond, who heads Vermont’ s EB-5 Regional Center, knowingly signed off on the USMS Team, LLC, as a placeholder substitute for DreamLife’ s more complex legal arrangements.‘ We have in-house legal counsel now, and will add legal counsel as demand requires,’ he said. ‘ And we will have specialized legal counsel if we need it. That arrangement was made very clear.’The state’ s cancellation letter also cites inquiries regarding trade professionals on materials American Dream ‘ used to market its EB-5 project.’ The company named architect Tom Leytham and engineers Carl Childs and Edward Pearson, as project participants on their website although neither knew they’ d been listed, nor given their consent.In an interview, Raymond said this could be seen as ‘ false marketing.’Mooney said he’ d spoken to Leytham on March 28, and that Leytham ‘ categorically denies’ he told the state he objected to being included on DreamLife’ s website.‘ He’ s been receiving money from us. He’ s been involved all along, and had no objection whatsoever,’ Mooney said of Leytham.Leytham couldn’ t be reached for comment.Mooney is preparing letters from people who are reiterating they have no objection to being associated with DreamLife, adding: ‘ This is common practice in our industry, that you list your subcontractors in your project.’‘ This list has been around for two years,’ said Mooney. ‘ All of the people on the list were more than happy to be on the list.’Pearson, whose firm is supposed to handle DreamLife’ s electrical, mechanical and geothermal engineering, said he met with company officials once, in Stowe in 2011, and he hasn’ t done any work for them.Childs, an engineer from Williston, last heard from DreamLife principals almost two years, at a June 2011 meeting in Stowe.‘ I don’ t know if it’ s active or not,’ Childs said.Childs is listed as the structural engineer for DreamLife, and his resume was posted on DreamLife’ s website in an undated document that compiled the resumes of the entire construction team.Although Childs hasn’ t performed any paid work for DreamLife, he doesn’ t object to being linked to the development.‘ As far as I was concerned, the project was dead a year and a half ago,’ said Childs. ‘ To me there is no project, there is no connection there. If they want to put that stuff up there, I suppose I should object. On the other hand, I don’ t see anything bad coming out of it.’Mooney isn’ t sure when the list was last updated, saying it could be four or six months ago.On Friday, the list of contractors disappeared from the American Dream website.A questionable videoWhile on a trip to China with Mooney earlier this month, Raymond received an anonymous email complaint about DreamLife promoting Vermont as a great place to host projects.The anonymous complaint alleged that DreamLife’ s website violated Securities and Exchange Commission laws about how securities can be marketed.Within hours, according to Mooney, securities lawyers advised him the website was already in compliance with federal regulations. But they encouraged him to ‘ tweak’ some ‘ legalese’ in their disclaimer.Alarmed, Raymond ordered DreamLife to take down an online video in which he and the state endorse the project, until they had received legal advice clarifying their website met all SEC regulations. The video, which featured a text scroll that Raymond had not approved, has since been taken down.Susan Donegan, commissioner of the state’ s Department of Financial Regulation which regulates securities, explained to VTDigger anybody marketing securities must not mislead investors with marketing materials that tout the ‘ merits of the possible future success of the project’ while failing to disclose major risks.‘ Nothing is to be sold or solicited in a way that is to mislead investors,’ said Donegan. ‘ You want there to be full disclosure about the risks of an investment.’She said a website notifying investors of the existence of an EB-5 project is generally acceptable, though disclosing too much detailed financial information before vetting potential investors is generally prohibited.Donegan declined to comment on DreamLife’ s website.‘ We don’ t, here at the department, opine on those kinds of things. I have no opinion,’ Donegan said. ‘ Someone must file a complaint to trigger our investigatory requirements.’Lack of property investment raises questionsDespite actively searching for sites in Vermont for at least two years and seeking foreign investors, the DreamLife development project owns no land and holds no options on any property.Jeffrey Carr, an economist who has produced hundreds of job projection reports for EB-5 projects nationally, said that a project that lacks ownership or control of land while still actively seeking investors is an odd combination.Jeffrey Carr Lawrence Miller, the current secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, cancelled the agreement with American Dream in September and then reinstated the memorandum of understanding (MOU) in November after he and other state officials were assured that Mooney would lead the company and that a new escrow account had been secured.The state’ s latest decision to cancel its agreement with American Dream, based on the aforementioned ‘ material misrepresentations,’ comes on the heels of accusations that the company may have violated Securities and Exchange Commission rules with regard to marketing to investors.Agency Secretary Miller said it’ s unlikely the state will reinstate the American Dream MOU. In the cancellation letter, he wrote: ‘ Based on the nature and significance of the examples of material breach, we do not foresee American Dream Life Fund I being able to cure them or remedy the broken trust.’State officials say the Vermont EB-5 Center, which so far has a 100 percent success rate, must maintain its stellar reputation in order to continue to attract investors.John Kessler, general counsel for the commerce agency, said as the No. 1 ranked regional center in the country, the Vermont EB-5 Center is under scrutiny from the nation’ s biggest media outlets. The Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, he said, ‘ come to us.’‘ We’ re kind of in a bull’ s-eye of a target for a lot of things, and we’ ve done really well,’ Kessler said. ‘ Our approvals at the adjudication centers are the best in the country, and so what it comes down to for us is a matter of confidence.’Confidence, Kessler said, is crucial for the success of the center and the state’ s other 14 projects. ‘ We’ ve worked hard for 16-plus years to get where we are with this regional center, and we do have unparalleled success, and our reputation is important so if our confidence level is shaken, and if we read about things and ask ourselves how confident are we, that’ s a very important factor,’ he said.David North, a fellow with the Center for Immigration Studies and a vocal critic of the EB-5 program, said he’ s ‘ never heard of a regional center doing something like this.’‘ Vermont is the only one in the country that is an arm of the government, as opposed to Chamber of Commerce regional center,’ North said. ‘ It’ s perfectly possible that the Vermont entity has a different agenda and a higher standard than other folks.’One national expert on EB-5 projects, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of losing clients, told VTDigger that making a ‘ material misrepresentation’ is a ‘ bad thing to do, if you’ re trying to get a project done.’The state and other developers in Vermont have a lot at stake. In December,Bill Stenger, an owner of Jay Peak Resort, proposed a sweeping $600 million megadevelopment in the Northeast Kingdom that would be financed by the EB-5 visa program and generate as many as 10,000 jobs. The projects include a new conference center, improvements to two ski areas, regional airport improvements, the construction of a biotech research firm and a window manufacturing plant. It has been hailed as the largest investment in economic development in the state’ s history and a game changer for Vermont’ s most remote rural area. Half of the state’ s 14 EB-5 projects are associated with Stenger’ s Northeast Kingdom developments.Gov. Peter Shumlin and the three members of Vermont’ s congressional delegation ‘ Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch ‘ have been vocal supporters of Stenger’ s project. Shumlin was criticized in the press for helping to sell the project to investors at a meeting in Miami earlier this year.Bill Stenger, owner of Jay Peak and Burke Mountain resorts, shows lawmakers plans for development in the Northeast Kingdom on Feb. 5, 2013, at Jay Peak. File photo by Nat Rudarakanchana EB-5 and the stateThe questions about American Dream highlight issues confronting the federal visa program used to attract foreign investors to projects. The EB-5 visa program is designed to infuse capital into risky projects and offer foreigners an opportunity to obtain a green card for two years with the possibility of gaining permanent residency if the projects create jobs. Investors, who must make at least $500,000 in cash available to participate in the program, are not guaranteed a return on investment, nor is there any promise that their investments will be held harmless.Investors are eligible for permanent residency if the company they invest in generates 10 new jobs that last for at least a 24-month period. In the case of DreamLife, each of the six resorts ‘ at a cost of $24 million ‘ is projected to create 153 direct jobs and generate work for 205 additional people, Mooney said.The federal EB-5 visa program has been championed as an effective tool for job growth in America, and last August, Sen. Leahy pushed hard for a three-year extension.Vermont has a long history with the federal program. Former Gov. Howard Dean, a Democrat, was a proponent of EB-5, and in 1997 helped to develop Vermont’ s program. The center was authorized by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service in 2007 and was approved for EB-5 visa investments in 2009.Vermont’ s center is unique because it is the only state-run EB-5 program in the country that certifies and approves businesses, and it currently maintains 14 different projects. Most centers are for-profit and are directly tied to individual projects, state officials say.Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. Photo by Vincent Gallegos by Nat Rudarakanchana April 3, 2013 vtdigger.org A development company that hoped to build high-end assisted living facilities for retirees in Vermont has lost approval from the state’ s EB-5 center.The company, DreamLife Retirement Resorts, LLC, with representatives in Quebec, Ontario, Vermont and Florida, hoped to build six well-appointed, 160-apartment unit projects.The plans for the assisted living facilities include spas, salons, libraries and movie theaters. In February, the company was negotiating purchases of sites selected in Bennington, Rutland and Montpelier, documents show. DreamLife planned construction at two of the sites within the year.In order to make that plan a reality, the company, doing business as EB-5 American Dream Fund I, Inc., needed to raise more than $144 million and attract more than 300 foreign investors who, under a federal program known as EB-5, receive green cards in exchange for cash investments, according to the company website and state documents.Officials with the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development cancelled the agreement with American Dream on March 27 because of ‘ material misrepresentations.’ Three of the four individuals who represent the company cited themselves as attorneys for the project; none of the men identified are licensed to practice law in Florida, where the law firm cited in the agreement, USMS Team, is registered.Nearly three years have passed since American Dream first received permission from the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center to seek foreign investors for two apartment buildings, and in the intervening period, the DreamLife developers have not purchased land or obtained options on properties, nor have they attracted a single foreign investor. Though it’ s not uncommon for a project to take three years to attract adequate funding, officials and experts say, it’ s difficult to bring on investors if a site hasn’ t been secured.In addition, American Dream listed a DreamLife construction team on its website that state officials determined were not notified that they had been identified as contractors for the project. Several said they did not have contracts with the company.American Dream has 14 days to respond to the state’ s notice of cancellation. Phil Mooney, the managing director of DreamLife and a former CEO and president of the nonprofit Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council, told VTDigger the company would resolve the issue with the state in a few days. As of April 3, there was no update from the company.‘ We can refute and justify everything,’ Mooney said. ‘ We have 14 days to provide a remedy, and we believe we can absolutely do that. Not even in 14 days, in just one or two. We disagree completely with the letter and are busy preparing a response which will see us continue as an EB-5 project under the [Vermont] Regional Center.’It’ s not the first time the state has lost confidence in American Dream. In September, the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center cancelled its memorandum of understanding with the company when officials discovered that American Dream had changed its development plans and neglected to send an economic assessment to the state. Originally, DreamLife proposed two retirement resorts; in 2011, the developers decided to expand the number to six without formally notifying the Vermont center, according to the state.Over the last 20 years, Parenteau has created and dissolved more than two dozen companies in Florida and Vermont, some of which list his sons Marc-Andre and Richard Jr. as business associates, according to information from state websites. Five of the entities bear the DreamLife name, including an insurance company, a real estate firm and a finance company, all three of which are now inactive.Last spring, state officials became aware that a key participant in the project recently stepped down from a leadership role in the company. Richard Parenteau, the founder of DreamLife, who state officials say is now a ‘ background investor,’ was convicted of perjury in Quebec last summer, according to court documents, after a decade-long dispute over a will. State officials say as a result of the conviction, Parenteau, a former Rock Forest (Quebec) chief of police, is no longer able to cross the border for meetings in Vermont. Parenteau has also been accused of violating labor rules in Quebec, according to court documents.Parenteau declined, through Mooney, to be interviewed for this story.Mooney defended his longtime business partner and friend.‘ I understand that certain individuals have raised questions about past and present developments,’ Mooney wrote in an email. ‘ My belief is that as soon as we begin operations, and better yet, as we deliver on our promises, these stories will be seen to be irrelevant.’Mooney described Parenteau as a generous person who is a ‘ typical entrepreneur.’‘ He gets really big ideas, and he’ s not afraid to invest in them,’ Mooney said. ‘ People like that who get ideas ‘ sometimes they don’ t all work out.’State officials, including the former head of the Vermont EB-5 Center, and Kevin Dorn, the former secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development who signed the original agreement with Parenteau in 2010, apparently knew little about the businessman’ s past. It wasn’ t until last spring that state officials were alerted to Parenteau’ s legal difficulties.Lawrence Miller, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, speaks at a press conference with Gov. Peter Shumlin. File photo by Taylor Dobbs There are approximately 160 centers nationwide, according to Jeffrey Carr, an EB-5 analyst who also serves as an independent economist for the Shumlin administration.American Dream was one of the state’ s first projects. It sought approval in July 2009 and entered into an agreement with the state a year later. In all, the state has 14 projects, including seven associated with Jay Peak and Stenger’ s megaproposal, Sugarbush Resort, Trapp Family Lodge, DR Power Equipment and Country Home Products.In May of last year, Brent Raymond, who had just become the head of the Vermont EB-5 Center, started getting phone calls from the former head of the project. He learned at that time that DreamLife’ s economic study had changed significantly from just two buildings to six. In September, the state pulled the agreement with American Dream.‘ That combined with their not being active for a couple of years, we weren’ t comfortable with the MOU they were working under as being current because the economic impact study is very material to our decision-making as well as to USCIS,’ Raymond said.After the developers made a concerted effort to document their progress and changes with DreamLife project and were able to show they had a bank escrow account, the state signed a second memorandum of understanding with American Dream in November.American Dream, like all projects through the Vermont center, is required to file quarterly reports with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Officials provided VTDigger with the two agreements and other documents, including the cancellation notices, but at press time, the progress reports were not available.Once the DreamLife project was reinstated by the state in November,Mooney and his team traveled with Raymond to attract investors from China and Vietnam.It appeared that DreamLife might have secured tens of millions in funding early this winter after visits to Asia, but the situation was complicated by news that broke last month about a scandal involving the EB-5 center associated with the Chicago Convention Center. More than $145 million in securities were fraudulently sold and about 250 largely Chinese investors lost $11 million in administrative fees for the Chicago project before the Securities and Exchange Commission froze the project assets and shut down the center.Even though the Chicago project is unrelated to DreamLife, the scandal didn’ t help the Vermont American Dream project, or any other EB-5 program for that matter, in its quest for investors.According to the LexisNexis Corporate and Securities Law Blog, the SEC prosecution has been widely reported by China Central Television, the largest TV network in China, and the Chinese government has warned investors about fraud in the EB-5 program.‘ It is very rare for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs to make such a bold comment,’ the authors, Mona Shah and Yi Long, wrote. ‘ The important issue that should not be forgotten is that the joint action of USCIS and the SEC actually prevented the investment funds from being dissipated.’American Dream runs afoul of state officialsIn the cancellation letter sent to American Dream on March 27, state officials said project leaders falsely claimed to have retained licensed attorneys and listed people as project partners without their knowledge or consent.Mooney denies that American Dream is responsible for these claims, which the state labeled ‘ material misrepresentations.’The letter from the state contends that American Dream’ s legal counsel, USMS Team, LLC, consists of Richard Parenteau, Richard Beaupre and David Gervais, all of whom are involved in the DreamLife project, and none of whom are licensed to practice law in Florida where USMS Team is registered. Gervais, the project’ s chief operating officer, practices law in Quebec and New York state.DreamLife contends this should not present a problem.Phil Mooney. Canadian government photo. Image was taken when Mooney was the CEO of the Immigration Consultants of Canada Regulatory Council (ICCRC). ‘ People usually have control of the land before they sink all the money into an EB-5 project,’ said Carr. ‘ The problem is that if you don’ t control the land, and then lose control of the land, then your project is done [dead], if you can’ t build the project you said you were going to build. If you know that a parcel is available and then go off and try to build an EB-5 project without actually owning the land, it’ s kind of a silly thing to do, because you could lose control of the land and then your project would be dead.’David North, a national EB-5 policy expert with the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., said if projects don’ t have even an option on the land, in which the landowner is obliged to sell the land at a specified price and time ‘ that would sort of raise some very large questions about the whole thing.’‘ They should certainly have control of the land first, if they’ re going into a specific building project,’ he continued. ‘ I’ d think that’ d be a necessary thing. Otherwise you get the money, and where are you going to build the building, if you don’ t have control of the land?’Under EB-5 program rules, funds from foreign investors cannot be used to buy land. Properties must be purchased with other funds, often from company principals who are managing the project.A USCIS spokesperson told VTDigger that the agency, which processes I-526 immigration petitions that foreign investors file for conditional green cards, has no regulations that specifically address land ownership or control.‘ Each case is looked at, in its totality and its circumstances, for compliance with our eligibility criteria,’ she said.Mooney said that it would be ‘ irresponsible’ for DreamLife to purchase land without first securing investors. He said the company is weeks away from securing its first committed investor, with about 30 investors at varying stages in the long process between initial meetings and laying down funds.‘ It would be highly irresponsible to go out and purchase land, which doesn’ t count towards EB-5 investment, before you actually have investors,’ Mooney said. ‘ We didn’ t get into this business to own land.’‘ We have done all the work to acquire land, but we won’ t put out the money or capital on the land, because once you do, you own it. And you can’ t turn around and sell it the next day,’ Mooney said.Mooney wouldn’ t disclose how they’ d finance a land purchase, but said that company principals, primarily himself, chief operating officer David Gervais, CEO Richard Beaupre, Richard Desilets, and former chief Richard Parenteau, had already invested about $500,000 in cash from their own money over the years, as well as collective time and effort worth about $1.5 million.James Candido, former director of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center from 2005 to 2012, said when the state first approved DreamLife, he repeatedly told company principals that they needed to buy land and acquire permits. ‘ I don’ t know if they internalized it or not, but they were aware of it,’ he continued.‘ There were different parcels of land that they kept trying to work on. And just each parcel didn’ t work out,’ he said. ‘ That was sort of what was hanging everything up.’‘ Frankly, the biggest issue with the project was just honestly that there was no activity from it,’ said Candido of his years working with DreamLife. ‘ There was none. As far as I could tell, they never talked to an actual investor. ‘¦ So as far as I knew, and so far as they told me, their marketing was somewhat non-existent.’Candido said the project appear to be speculative ‘ in the sense that it didn’ t own land. And if you don’ t own land, you obviously don’ t know where it’ s permitted.’ Although speculative projects across the nation tend to be less successful, Candido said, that doesn’ t mean a lack of land is a hurdle that can’ t be overcome ‘ with the right strategies.Raymond told VTDigger it’ s ‘ totally fine’ for DreamLife to market to investors despite not controlling land, so long as they disclose that up front. But he added: ‘ I honestly would not have approved the project knowing that they hadn’ t selected properties, and that there’ s potential permitting issues ‘ except that they had already been approved previously.’Raymond is now actively reviewing state standards on the question of land ownership and how far projects have progressed on land use permits. ‘ I can say that is not the only project I know of that hasn’ t had land in hand,’ in terms of EB-5 projects nationally, Raymond added.‘ In the future, if we made any changes to whether we approve projects, it wouldn’ t be necessarily about owning land. It’ d be: Do you have permits in place? Because that’ s what really takes time,’ he said.Parenteau’ s perjury conviction and role in DreamLifeState officials have raised serious concerns about DreamLife’ s founder, Richard Parenteau, who is still involved with the company on a daily basis.Parenteau was DreamLife’ s project manager from 2009 until the summer of 2012, according to Mooney. Parenteau founded the project and authored the project’ s overall vision. He also signed the first memorandum of understanding with Vermont’ s Regional Center, in July 2010, as a general partner.Now Parenteau is a senior adviser for DreamLife: He helps to structure the project’ s complex business consortium, and he selects partners and contractors, according to Mooney.In October 2010, a Quebec court convicted Parenteau of perjury, a conviction which he later unsuccessfully appealed, according to Canadian court documents. The former police officer fabricated false documents, records show.‘ I’ m aware of it [the conviction], and it gives me no concern,’ Mooney said. He encouraged people to read the actual court records and see that the conviction stemmed from forgivable and well-intentioned mistakes on Parenteau’ s part. ‘ [Richard] stands by his friends,’ he added. ‘ If he has a fault, he’ s too trusting.’ Mooney said Parenteau is free to travel in and out of the United States, despite his perjury conviction, contrary to what state sources alleged to VTDigger.Two of Parenteau’ s other businesses, Can-Am Investment Construction Job Center and Work Permits USA, have faced claims from employees that they haven’ t been properly paid. Two employees have won their court cases; in another, Parenteau prevailed.In one case from May 2008, Can-Am Investment Construction Job Center was ordered to pay $696 Canadian dollars to contractor Diane Chicoine for ‘ canvassing’ work, although Parenteau denied that Chicoine delivered tangible results, with the court agreeing that Chicoine could not produce detailed proof of the work she did.In another case from September 2011, Fair Ways Development claimed Work Permits USA, an immigration firm, owed them about $5,000 Canadian dollars in unpaid bills for web design work, and won that payment, plus interest.Mooney said that Parenteau doesn’ t handle investors’ money in DreamLife. Mooney, CEO Richard Beaupre, and chief operating officer David Gervais are now the key decision-makers, he said. Neither the three partners nor Parenteau are paid at the moment, said Mooney, partly because the company hasn’ t generated any revenue yet.Vermont EB-5 Regional Center director Brent Raymond said that Parenteau’ s background wasn’ t of material relevance when the state reinstated DreamLife’ s MOU in 2012 because Parenteau is no longer a decision-maker for the project.Yet, information that came up while he vetted the background of the entire DreamLife management team, Raymond said, ‘ caused me to question his [Parenteau’ s] business, how he operates as a business person.’Raymond said DreamLife project principals (i.e., Mooney and others) presented a different side of the story as to the perjury conviction, but also assured Raymond that Parenteau couldn’ t apply undue pressure within the project.For Raymond, a big reason for later re-approving DreamLife was that its new management team was led by Phil Mooney, instead of Richard Parenteau.‘ I didn’ t see somebody like Phil Mooney, with his excellent reputation, putting his reputation on the line for a project like this’ if there were unacceptable risks, Raymond said, citing Mooney’ s distinguished career and work with the Canadian government. ‘ With a new management team, I thought everything would be OK.’ ‘ These [new management] structures that I’ ve seen [and Mooney’ s leadership] provided me comfort that even though he [Parenteau] is involved behind the scenes, and still has an interest in the project, he is not a decision-maker,’ Raymond said.Raymond’ s predecessor, James Candido, says that in 2010 he didn’ t conduct a review of the principals at DreamLife and remained unaware of Parenteau’ s background.‘ It wasn’ t typical for us to do a personal background check, on someone coming with an EB-5 project,’ said Candido. ‘ We didn’ t do background checks. It just wasn’ t within the scope of what we approved.’‘ We would approve them on the merits of their EB-5 [project],’ said Candido. ‘ We don’ t monitor anything else. It’ s not in our jurisdiction.’ But, Candido added, if someone had come forth with evidence of problems with company directors, even outside of their limited EB-5 project arena, he would have investigated.‘ One of the ways that I describe it is that an EB-5 application is similar to a land permit,’ Candido said. ‘ You don’ t look into everything, into the background of the people necessarily for a land permit. You just look at the validity of the land permit.’Editor’ s note: Anne Galloway contributed to this report. This vtdigger.org story was supported by a grant from the Fund for Investigative Journalism.
by Anne Galloway April 16, 2013 vtdigger.org Senator Jane Kitchel’ s triple-layer maple cake with boiled icing and Danville butternuts wasn’ t enough to sweeten the mood in Senate Appropriations on Monday.Kitchel, who is renowned for her confections (she was the chief cake baker for the Creamery Restaurant for many years), is also the chef de la maison in the Statehouse for the complicated recipe otherwise known as the Big Bill.Most years by the time Kitchel gets the state cake after the annual pass-off from the governor’ s office to House Appropriations to the Senate, her job often amounts to icing the layers.No such luck this session. Kitchel is ready, thanks in part to the substitutions proposed by the House, to start from scratch on some parts of the $5.2 billion state budget, and members of her committee are following her lead. Kitchel is especially critical of the administration’ s 69 new positions in the budget and she told senators on Monday that she is proceeding on the premise that none of the state jobs are necessary until they are proven otherwise.This do-over mentality in the Senate’ s most powerful committee spurred the Shumlin administration to do something out of the ordinary on Monday. Instead of simply sending Kitchel et al. a memo outlining the governor’ s position on the House version of the budget, officials came to the committee, with memos and spreadsheets in hand, to explain what can only be described as a compromise proposal.Though Gov. Peter Shumlin found not much to like in the House spending plans, especially the accompanying revenue bill that raises $27 million in new taxes next year and $32 million the following year, he has capitulated on several items that lawmakers have heavily criticized.To wit: That $17 million tax on break-open tickets that lawmakers openly ridiculed the day of the governor’ s budget address? Now reduced to $6.2 million, based on a 6 percent tax rate instead of 10 percent. (The House proposal gives pickle card tax an honorable mention and pencils in $700,000; the Joint Fiscal Office estimates for the tax were $6.5 million ‘ at the 10 percent rate.)Shumlin’ s $17 million transfer of Earned Income Tax Credit dollars for low-income Vermonters (a two-thirds cut in the program) to child-care subsidies has been reduced to $12 million. The administration has revised the calculation for EITC ‘ it will not reduce the credit for families with three or more dependents, and the rate of the the reduction for people with no dependents would be 11 percent, Spaulding said. The average cut would be about 12 percent.The message as delivered, however, was not in the spirit of compromise, but in the tone of an executive branch issuing orders.Jeb Spaulding, secretary of the Agency of Administration, chastised the House for raising new taxes that, in his view, are ‘ unwise and unnecessary.’ His evidence was anecdotal. He ‘ doesn’ t know anyone,’ he said, who is bucking for tax increases.Instead, the administration proposes to balance the budget without raising broad-based taxes, i.e., income, sales and rooms and meals by using $55 million in one-time monies (which will not be available next year, hence the projected $50 million gap for fiscal year 2015), and to pay for program expansions such as the Low Income Heating Assistance Program ($6 million) with the break-open ticket tax and child-care subsidies with EITC.Spaulding warned senators repeatedly that the governor would tolerate ‘ no new taxes,’ and said the administration rejected all of the House tax proposals, including the elimination of a sales tax exemption on soda, candy, bottled water, vending machine food, supplements and vitamins and purchases of clothing of $110 or more. Shumlin also vehemently objects to the itemized deduction cap, a 0.5 percent increase in the meals tax and an increase in tobacco taxes.There is, however, a tax increase in the governor’ s new and improved plan. Spaulding told senators the administration proposes a new tiered bank franchise tax on the state’ s five big banks ‘ Keybank, People’ s, Merchants, Citizens and TD Banknorth ‘ and that would bring in about $2.4 million and cover the cost of making the so-called ‘ cloud tax’ moratorium, a sales tax exemption on downloaded software, a permanent fixture of the state’ s tax code.The governor is wedded to his EITC proposal and will not consider any other source of funding for child-care subsidies, Spaulding said, no matter how much money is directed toward the program.The administration is also maintaining that the Legislature must also support a Reach Up cap that would go into effect Oct. 1 and save the state $4.2 million next year. Any ‘ unrealized’ savings would be absorbed by the Agency of Human Services, Spaulding said. The House booked no savings for the program in fiscal year 2014 and passed a version of the caps that opponents say are so lenient as to be practically meaningless.Repeal of the $15 million employer assessment? Forget about it. Spaulding told lawmakers they’ d need that money next year to pay for state health care programs.The House proposal for $9 million reserves in the event of more federal cuts? No reason to raise taxes in Spaulding’ s view. The state, he said, cannot afford to ‘ backfill’ reductions in federal spending for programs. The $2.5 million the administration sets aside for the General Fund budget stabilization fund is enough, he said.The reception from the senators on the Appropriations committee was chilly. They questioned every aspect of the proposal. Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said he remained skeptical about the break-open tickets estimates. The Reach Up and EITC proposals generated criticism from Sen. Sally Fox, D-Chittenden, who questioned whether the administration was really addressing the child-care ‘ cliff,’ which she believes the House addressed by including $3.3 million for additional child-care subsidies. Kitchel, for her part, is committed to ‘ scrubbing the budget,’ to ensure that state agencies are being accountable to taxpayers.Senate Appropriations is expected to advance its budget bill out of committee this Friday.
Green Mountain College shook off the threat of rain and awarded diplomas to 24 graduate students and 124 undergraduates during its 176th commencement ceremony Saturday morning. Dianne Dillon-Ridgley, a national and international leader in environmental sustainability, corporate responsibility and social justice, addressed the graduates and received an honorary doctor of laws degree from GMC.”This stage is so crowded ‘my mother and my father are here in spirit, and my grandparents are here,’she said.She recounted other teachers, mentors and influential people including one of her Howard College friends who died in a traffic accident.‘He might have been the brightest person I ever met in my life,’she said. ‘So many of us were devastated when he passed. I felt part of my responsibility was to live for, and to live up to, his potential in the world ‘not as a burden but as a promise and a commitment to his spirit and to his life.’Dillon-Ridgley is the chair and a trustee for CIEL (Center for International Environmental Law) and has served as the U.N. Headquarters representative for the Center for International Environmental Law since 2005. She was appointed by the White House to the U.S. delegation for the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, for the United Nations General Assembly Special Session in New York in June 1997 (known as UNGASS-’97), and World Summit for Sustainable Development in 2002 in South Africa, making her the only person to serve on all three U.S. delegations.In the private sector, Dillon-Ridgley has served as a director at Interface, Inc., a global manufacturer of environmentally-responsible modular carpet and an industry leader in sustainable design since 1997. She also served as a director at Green Mountain Energy, a leading retailer of renewably produced electricity.Ernest Klepeis of New Paltz, N.Y., a graduate of the college’s progressive program in visual/performing arts and philosophy, and Meiko Lunetta of Francestown, N.H, a double major in sustainable agriculture and environmental studies, gave the student speaker address together. In a spirited repartee, the duo traded.recollections of the class’activities in sustainability over the past four years, including promotion of the ‘real food’movement through the installation of a local food freezer, helping with the opening of a community food co-operative in Poultney, and construction of a new solar garage that will serve as a powering station for an electric vehicle.‘Wherever you travel to, know that you impact the people you meet. For years we have looked up to those who motivate and inspire us. Know now that as you complete 16 or so years of schooling, you are one of those role models who we watched crossing this stage in years before us,’Lunetta said. ‘So stand out ‘be someone who does yoga in airport.’”Or be the person who plays the devil’s advocate,’responded Klepeis. ‘Aspire to become the person that others will draw inspiration from,’he said.
The Vermont Department of Economic Development has issued its Winter Newsletter to highlight recent developments.Vermont ranked first overall in the nation in the latest Scorecard published by the Corporation for Enterprise Development. The Assets & Opportunity Scorecard is a comprehensive look at Americans’ financial security today and their opportunities to create a more prosperous future.It assesses the 50 states and the District of Columbia on 133 outcome and policy measures, which describe how well residents are faring and what states can do to help them build and protect assets. These measures are grouped into five issue areas: Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care, and Education. (Photo: North Woods Joinery, Jeffersonville)For Solar Jobs, TooA solar industry research group says Vermont had the largest increase in solar jobs per capita in the nation for 2013 adding 1,000 new solar jobs for a total of 1,300. The report predicts 15% growth annually in the nation, building on a 50% growth since 2010.The report is the fourth annual and can be found here.Vermont Training Program Wage AnalysisNew data from the Vermont Department of Labor makes one thing very clear — wages of individuals that receive training with grants from the Vermont Training Program in the Department of Economic Development go up substantially. Data from the second quarter of 2011 to the third quarter of 2012 show a median quarterly wage increase of 10.9%. What’s more notable is that during that same time period the statewide average wage decreased by 1.3%. The analysis shows that median wages increased from $48,660 to $53,966 on an annualized basis. VTP trainees had even better results from the second quarter of 2012 to the third quarter of 2013 with median wages increasing by 13.1%. For more information on this report or the Vermont Training Program contact Beth Demers. (Photo: Revision Military, Essex Junction)CEDS Process ContinuesVermont’s economic development strategic planning process, the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) is well underway with a number of meetings held across the state. On January 27th, more than 75 Vermonters gathered at the Sugarbush Inn to describe in more detail the path for Vermont’s Economic Development future. After introductions, Agency of Commerce economist Ken Jones provided some targets to consider for the next five years.These targets include an increase in the dollar value of the Genuine Progress Indicator of 1% above Vermont’s historic link to national economic growth. To get there, Vermont will work to increase the effectiveness of its workforce through education and training, increase access to private sector capital and improve the development of public infrastructure projects. In addition, the Vermont public and private sector will strengthen their partnership to provide networking and assistance to businesses in order to improve the success rate of start ups and the growth of maturing companies.After the presentation, working groups focused on the topics of workforce development, private finance, public infrastructure, the business environment, innovation and the working lands and tourism to identify the critical pieces necessary to move forward towards the ambitious goals set forth in this project. Over the next two months, the work plans and partnerships necessary to move each of the initiatives forward will form the early draft of Vermont’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.Banner Year for Vermont InsuranceVermont celebrated it’s 1000th newly licensed captive in 2013, but there were plenty of other notable accomplishments as 29 new captives were licensed according to the Vermont Captive Insurance Division. Captive insurance is a form a self-insurance used by companies around the world. Governor Peter Shumlin shared the results during the Vermont Captive Insurance Association’s Legislative Day in January, where he was joined by owners of captive insurance companies from throughout the country, government officials and service providers. “2013 was a terrific year for captives in Vermont,” said Governor Shumlin. “I want to personally congratulate the Division for their hard work and welcome all of the new captives to the gold standard of domiciles.” For more information on Vermont’s captive insurance industry visit Vermontcaptive.com or contact Dan Towle, Vermont’s Director of Financial Services.In addition, a first in the nation bill expanding Vermont’s worldwide reputation as an insurance pioneer was signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin. The Vermont Legacy Insurance Management Act (LIMA) creates specialized Vermont insurance companies that would acquire commercial policies from other companies wishing to get old policies off their books enabling them to use capital reserves for new initiatives.Turkish Officials Visit VermontTurkey wants to do business with Vermont, and Vermont wants to do business with Turkey. That was the message at a presentation in Montpelier by a representative from Turkey’s Ministry of Health-Pharmaceuticals & Medical Devices Agency, and the Undersecreteriat for Turkish Defense Industries hosted by the Vermont Global Trade Partnership. They were accompanied by the Turkish Commercial Attache for New England. Several Vermont companies attended and were welcomed by Deputy Secretary of Commerce Lucy Leriche. Turkey is the 16th largest economy in the world with a population of over 75 million.”Turkey is aggressively pursuing new business with US companies, and there are a number of good opportunities for our Vermont companies,” said Brent Raymond, Vermont’s Director of International Trade. For more information on doing business with Turkey contact Brent Raymond.Farm Bill Becomes LawVermont’s farmers received news that after over a year of delays the U.S. Congress passed a comprehensive Farm Bill. In the closing hours of the negotiations over the conference report, Vermont’s Senator Patrick Leahy negotiated a compromise to protect small dairy farmers in Vermont by securing drastically lower premium rates for Vermont’s small dairy farmers that will help them to better mitigate their risk through a new Margin Protection program for dairy farmers. House conferees had rejected the market stabilization program in the Senate-passed bill, then over the weekend also rejected a proposal offered by Leahy to implement a $1 million annual net-payment cap for the new Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers or to create a new third tier of “actuarially sound” premium rates for those with more than 2000 cows.The final compromise for lower premium rates for Vermont’s small dairy farms and substantially higher rates for the country’s largest dairy farms was agreed to in the final hours of the Farm Bill negotiations and will result in lower costs for Vermont’s family farms. Leahy also led in winning renewal of the charter for the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone program. Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom is one of only three REAP Zones in the country, and the region’s REAP Zone designation has helped bring millions of dollars of improvements to the Northeast Kingdom. President Obama has signed it into law.VEGI Authorizes $2.5 Million in Job Creation IncentivesSix Vermont companies received incentives from the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive totaling $2.5 million at the February meeting of the Vermont Economic Progress Council. The awards will encourage the creation of up to 327 new, well-paying jobs for Vermonters. The companies include Freedom Foods of Randolph, Biotek Instruments of Winooski, Dealer.com of Burlington, Logic Supply of South Burlington, Farmer Mold & Machine Works of North Clarendon, and JBM Sherman Carmel of Bennington. To earn the incentives, authorized companies must meet payroll, employment and capital investment performance requirements each year between 2013 and 2017. If earned, the incentives would pay out to the companies over nine years between 2014 and 2022, only if the new jobs and payroll are maintained. The Council approved the applications after reviewing nine program guidelines and applying a rigorous cost-benefit analysis that calculates the level of new tax revenue a project will generate for the state. The model estimates that the economic activity approved for these projects will generate $3.1 million in net new tax revenue, even after payment of the incentives.The Council also determined that these projects would not occur or would occur in a significantly different and less desirable manner (the “but for” test) if not for the incentives being authorized.(Photo: Freedom Foods of Randolph groundbreaking for new expansion.)AnnouncementsKaman Composites Gets Boeing ContractKaman Corporation announced that its Aerospace segment has entered into a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with Boeing Canada Winnipeg for the manufacture and assembly of two major sections of the 747-8 Wing-to-Body Fairing. Kaman will manufacture most components at its facilities in Connecticut, Florida, Kansas and Bennington, Vermont with final assembly to be completed at the company’s Jacksonville, Florida facility and delivered directly to Boeing’s wide-body assembly line in Everett, Washington. The MOA has a potential value, depending on production rates, in excess of $60 million. (Photo 747-8 courtesy Boeing Corporation.)From the Regions The Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation is sponsoring the 16th annual Career/Job Expo at Collins-Perley Fitness Center in St. Albans on Thursday, March 27th. Over 900 high school students will be attending. The event is open to the public in the afternoon from noon to 5pm.The Franklin Region Career/Job Expo Committee is comprised of the Franklin/Grand Isle Workforce Investment Board; Franklin County Business and Professional Women; VT Department of Labor; VT Student Assistance Corporation; Franklin County Regional Chamber of Commerce; Northwest Technical Center; Franklin County Industrial Development Corporation; CVEOE; St. Albans Messenger; Voc Rehab/VABIR; VT Army National Guard; and, Community College of VT. For information contact Marilyn Savoy at 527-6513 or [email protected](link sends e-mail) or Melanie Langevin at 524-6585 or [email protected](link sends e-mail)The Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation recently published the Upper Valley Workforce Needs Assessment. Findings included data illustrating the challenges of recruiting skilled labor, connecting young people with local careers, and preparing employees for management roles. It also highlighted industry specific issues and identified well paying, knowledge intensive, high growth jobs especially in health care, social assistance, professional, scientific, and technical services, and manufacturing. Tools You Can Use ExporTechThe ExporTech program helps companies to enter or expand in global markets, by assisting in the development of a customized international growth plan, vetted by experts, and by building a team of organizations that helps companies move quickly beyond planning to actual export sales. Participants work as a group through a process to accelerate the pace and increase the success rate of international sales efforts. Unlike a static classroom environment, this course is customized to the specific learning needs of participants and produces an international growth plan for each company. Participants will also have the opportunity to work with international business experts to refine their international strategies. The program is intended for small and mid-sized companies, and is aimed at both new-to-export companies and those with exporting experience who have not fully exploited global opportunities. Space is limited, and the costs will be subsidized by a grant from the Northern Border Region Commission. More information? Contact Ken Horseman at 802-828-5236.Source: Think Vermont
Vermont’s traditional trout fishing season opens Saturday, April 12 this year, and anglers are looking forward to spring fishing for brook, brown and rainbow trout in the Green Mountain State’s lakes and streams. Until then, eager anglers can capitalize on year-round catch-and-release trout fishing opportunities on nine river sections.The following Vermont river sections are open for year-round trout fishing using artificial lures or flies. All trout caught must be immediately released where they are caught._Black River – From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the top of the Lovejoy Dam in Springfield._Lamoille River – From the Lake Champlain boundary (top of Peterson Dam in Milton) upstream to the top of the hydroelectric Dam at Fairfax Falls._Lewis Creek – From the Lake Champlain boundary upstream to the State Prison Hollow Road (TH #3) bridge in Starksboro._Ompompanoosuc River – From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the Union Village Dam in Thetford. _Otter Creek – From the Lake Champlain boundary upstream to top of Center Rutland Falls in Rutland._West River – From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the Townshend Dam (Townshend) to Connecticut River boundary._White River – From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the bridge on Route 107 in Bethel._Williams River – From the Connecticut River boundary upstream to the top of the dam at Brockway Mills Falls in Rockingham._Winooski River – From the Lake Champlain boundary upstream to the Bolton Dam in Duxbury and Waterbury.“We know anglers are keen to wet a line as early as possible,” said Vermont Director of Fisheries Eric Palmer. “If weather conditions cooperate, these river sections will provide a great opportunity to do some catch-and-release trout fishing with artificials between now and the traditional start of trout season in April.”Vermont is known for excellent fishing opportunities for wild trout, and some of the biggest brown and rainbow trout are caught during early spring in many rivers throughout the state.“Willoughby River steelhead provide a popular spring fishery in the Northeast Kingdom at the Village of Orleans,” said Palmer. “These steelhead are on their spring spawning run from Lake Memphremagog, and they always attract a lot of interest, partly because they can be seen jumping the falls in Orleans.”As an added bonus, Vermont’s catch-and-release bass fishing season in lakes starts the same day as trout season on April 12 and continues through June 13. Only lures and flies may be used, and bass must be immediately released.The Fish & Wildlife Department is cautioning anglers that the use of felt-soled boots or waders in Vermont waters is prohibited in order to prevent the spread of the invasive algae called didymo.Anglers also are reminded to use sinkers that are not made of lead. It is unlawful to use a lead sinker weighing one-half ounce or less while fishing in Vermont. Weighted fly line, lead-core line, downrigger cannonballs, weighted flies, lure, spoons, or jig heads are not prohibited.Planning a Vermont spring fishing trip is easy. The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has a 2014 Vermont Hunting, Fishing and Trapping Laws and Guide that includes maps showing lakes and streams as well as fishing access areas and public lands. It also lists the fish species found in each body of water and it includes fishing regulations. Copies are available where fishing licenses are sold, or from the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Tel. 802-828-1000. You also can download sections of the publication from their website.The Vermont Outdoor Guides’ Association offers help in locating fishing guides and some overnight facilities on their website (www.VOGA.org(link is external)). Additional help in finding a place to stay overnight can be found at (www.VermontVacation.com(link is external)).Fishing license fees are $25.00 for adult residents, $8.00 for residents 15-17 years of age, $50.00 for adult nonresidents, and $15.00 for nonresidents 15-17 years old. One, three and seven day fishing licenses also are available for nonresidents. Children under age 15 do not need a fishing license in Vermont. Licenses are quickly and easily available on Fish & Wildlife’s website (www.vtfishandwildlife.com(link is external)) and at agents statewide.Willoughby River steelhead, like this one, provide a popular spring fishery in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom Village of Orleans. These fish are on their spring spawning run from Lake Memphremagog during April and May. VTF&W photo by Wayne Laroche
by Hilary Niles vtdigger.org(link is external) The fiscal year 2015 state budget reflects a sluggish economic recovery and several pressing budgetary concerns, lawmakers say. The $5.5 billion price tag is about 4.1 percent more than the current year(link is external), which ends June 30. Governor Peter Shumlin’s recommended budget included $14 million from a tax that would have been levied on every health insurance claim; lawmakers rejected that proposal and trimmed new taxes on a handful of products and services to $5.79 million.Legislators scaled back Shumlin’s proposed 2 percent increase in(link is external) reimbursement rates for health care providers who accept Medicaid payments. House budget writers instead proposed a 0.75 percent uptick. The Senate tried to restore the 2 percent rate increase; the House and Senate budget conferees settled on 1.6 percent, effective Jan. 1.Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin proposed a $5.6 billion dollar budget to the joint assembly of the House and Senate in January. Photo by Roger CrowleyThe Medicaid reimbursement issue came as no surprise. Lawmakers increased reimbursement rates by 3 percent(link is external) in fiscal year 2014, and they knew Shumlin wanted to continue the gradual increase in compensation for services that are reimbursed at lower rates than the cost of care. The gap in Medicaid payments contributes to the cost shift and rising insurance prices. Vermonters who buy private health insurance pay the difference in higher premiums.This year the budget addresses funding for retired teachers’ health care. State Treasurer Beth Pearce proposed a plan to pay for the roughly $28 million in annual health care costs. For years, most of the money has been borrowed from the teachers’ retirement fund, which has undermined the stability of the pension plan.Pearce assembled stakeholders in the fall of 2013 to develop a funding solution. They came up with a combination of General Fund appropriations, employee contributions, school district fees ($1,072 annually for each new teacher hire), federal grant allocations and a one-time, low-interest, $28 million General Fund “loan.”The plan is not loved by municipalities and school boards, who say they should not have to shoulder the burden for a benefit they never negotiated. But few lawmakers balked at the impact of the proposal on local property taxes. They were more concerned about $485 million in interest payments that come due in 2024 than they were about incremental increases in the local property tax burden.The plan was approved, including a $28 million interfund loan from the General Fund cash pool. The loan is expected to be paid back by 2023.To help speed along the repayment schedule, lawmakers rejiggered the budget “waterfall” provisions that dictate where end-of-year surplus revenues should flow. Under the new plan, half of all General Fund surpluses will pay down the loan.The other half will be split evenly between Rainy Day Reserves and the Education Fund. The rainy day fund also will be built up by General Fund revenues from a new legacy insurance license,(link is external) created in February.A newly unionized group of home health care providers negotiated a roughly 2.5 percent raise from the state, at a cost of about $2.2 million just a few weeks before the session ended.(link is external) The eleventh-hour contract negotiation took lawmakers by surprise and the tax and budget-writing committees had to go back to the drawing board to find more funds, though Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said legislators should have known the payout was coming.Other budget decisions had more to do with policy goals — especially economic development and health care reforms.economic developmentThe $5 million Vermont Enterprise Investment Fund that Shumlin announced in April originally counted on surplus funds. But April revenues (announced in May) fell far short of expectations and administration officials scrambled to find a way to backstop the new business incentive tool. Revenues from personal income were down $19 million in April; an unexpected estate tax windfall for about the same amount helped to soften the blow.Budget writers appropriated $5 million for the Vermont Enterprise Fund from the estate tax windfall; any excess estate money will go to the Higher Education Trust Fund.The fund gives Shumlin the discretion to provide $4.5 million in cash incentives to a large business located in Vermont that is threatening to leave or close up shop. The fund also includes $500,000 for entrepreneurial lending through the Vermont Economic Development Authority.Other economic development line items include:• $1.5 million for working lands investments;• $50,000 for a new domestic export program to help Vermont businesses sell their products across state lines;• 6 percent increases in funding for regional development and for regional and municipal mapping;• $50,000 additional funding for the Vermont Employee Ownership Center.(link is external)EducationIn an effort to support sound decision-making about education, legislators this spring devoted $3.5 million from a supplemental property tax relief fund to pay for wide-ranging educational data initiatives.Students in Windy Kelley’s fifth grade classroom at Union Elementary School in Montpelier work on computers. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDiggerLawmakers and Agency of Education officials say up-front spending on better data and analysis will help schools improve outcomes and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of education programs.The budget also:• Fully pays for the Education Fund transfer, which includes a $7 million increase.• Instead of growing the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund by just the cost of inflation, a new formula allows additional transfer increases that are based on the sustainable growth of General Fund revenues, which is far from guaranteed in the current fiscal year.• The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation also got a funding increase — 1 percent starting in January, bringing its total appropriation to about $19.5 million. The Vermont State Colleges also will see a 1 percent funding increase over fiscal year 2014.• Some assistance and pilot programs for low-income students(link is external) also made it into the budget bill at the last minute.Health and human servicesHuman services comprises by far the largest portion of the state budget: $3.6 billion all-told. Most of that is covered by nearly $1.3 billion in federal funds and another $1.27 billion in Medicaid Global Commitment Funds. The rest is paid for by a combination of general funds, state health care resources and other smaller sources.Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of the House Committee on Human Services. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDiggerNext year’s human services budget falls somewhere between Shumlin’s draft and the House’s counterproposal, which would have lowered human services spending by $23 million. It’s about $165 million more than FY14 — a 4.7 percent increase.Included are:• $1.2 million in substance abuse and mental health funding for Reach Up clients;• Child care eligibility updates, plus additional funding for Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) to rate the quality of child care centers;• Funding for Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, slated to open in late summer or early fall.More policy-oriented provisions also were written into the budget:• A new legislative Health Care Reform Oversight Committee is created to monitor the economic and financial aspects of pending health care reforms.• Substance abuse programs have a new incentive for documenting their success by establishing performance measures. If they can link program success to savings in other areas — for example, clients avoiding emergency room visits by getting clean — then those savings can be transferred to the substance abuse programs to support expanded services.Other initiatives didn’t get traction this session:• A proposal to transfer ADAP to DVHA took some lawmakers and administration officials by surprise. It was dialed back to merely studying the potential for a move in the future.• Lawmakers hope more sophisticated data collection in the future will help agencies better integrate weatherization and home heating fuel subsidies for low-income households.Affordable housing• Vermont’s rental subsidy program is doubled to $1 million;• $900,000 is allocated for temporary emergency housing;• Emergency Solutions grants for shelters are boosted by $300,000;• Family supportive housing gets $200,000;• The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board sees an 8.1 percent funding increase from the property transfer tax.Other budget provisions• The Transportation Budget will hit a record high $686 million in fiscal year 2015. Most of the transportation infrastructure improvements are federally funded.• The Vermont Center for Geographic Information, a nonprofit corporation, will become part of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.VERY TOP PHOTO: State senators sit in comfortable seats as they listen to the governor’s budget speech in January in the House chamber. From left, Senators Kitchel, Benning, Pollina, Cummings, Lyons, Snelling, Zuckerman, Ashe, and Baruth. Senator Doyle is just behind the podium. Vermont Business Magazine photo.
by Bill Schubart The right to vote becomes a moral obligation when voting is understood as fundamental to the functioning of our democracy. In Australia, voting is mandatory – and failure to vote is punishable by a fine or community service. But here, as many as 40% of eligible voters will stay home on Election Day. Apart from voter apathy, the next biggest threat to the democratic experiment is our historical and current efforts to make it more difficult for certain racial and political blocs to vote – especially when voter fraud is a statistical myth. Only in the last century did we fully enfranchise women and African-Americans. But discredited practices designed to favor partisan votes – like gerrymandering and voter competency and ID tests – continue to undermine the right to vote.To vote is easy. It’s choosing your candidate that isn’t. Many people won’t vote for a party, an ideology, a narrative, or personality. I’m one of them – I vote for ideas and I don’t vote out of fear.To vote responsibly is to rise above competing and seductive narratives. All parties oversimplify complex issues to win; some even invent them, appealing to latent fears, making up so-called facts, manipulating data, and even lying. This may seem new but it’s been going on forever.The responsible voter considers all sides of an issue, separates truth from fiction, courts opposing viewpoints, and questions most of what he or she hears in campaign rhetoric. The campaign narrative is rarely the leadership narrative.Ultimately, each of us must decide whether to cast our vote as a personal statement that won’t mean much to anyone but ourselves or to choose the best available person to lead us, which entails consideration and compromise. This test comes in the voting booth, where we deliberate whether to indulge ourselves to feel better, or commit to the risky business of choosing the best possible leader from the candidates available.It’s true that your vote also matters to some who don’t have your best interests at heart. So far, a billion dollars has been contributed to support favored candidates but also to curry influence, while another half a billion dollars has flowed into super PACS.But your vote can count if you let it – if you use it wisely and vote the best interests of your family and your country.This commentary by Bill Schubart first appeared on Vermont Public Radio.
Vermont Business Magazine On Saturday, November 19, Vermont Federal Credit Union was the presenting sponsor of the Feed Your Neighbor Food Drive to benefit the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Vermont Federal joined radio stations 99.9 The Buzz and 106.7 WIZN at Costco in Colchester, from 10 AM to 4 PM, to support the Feed Your Neighbor Food Drive. Credit Union staff spent the day collecting non-perishable food items as well as cash donations, to benefit the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Volunteers provided suggested items to donate and those who contributed received reusable Vermont Federal tote bags as a thank you.VFCU photo of Jean Giard helping out.This year’s food drive raised 4,096 pounds of food and $736.60 in cash, equating to 2,209.80 additional pounds of food for a total of 6,305.8 pounds donated.“The annual Feed Your Neighbor Food Drive is critical for our organization as we work to make sure that all of our neighbors have the opportunity to share a full Thanksgiving meal with their loved ones,” said Kelly Saunders, Development Director at the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf. Saunders added, “We are so grateful for the support of the event sponsors, volunteers and community members whose generosity has made this event such a success.”The Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf works to alleviate hunger by feeding people and cultivating opportunities. As the largest direct service emergency food provider in Vermont, the Food Shelf serves approximately 11,000 people every year. You can learn more about the Chittenden Emergency Food Shelf by visiting www.feedingchittenden.org(link is external).Vermont Federal is a $469 million-plus financial institution, with six locations currently serving over 36,000 members. Members are part of a cooperative, meaning they share ownership in the Credit Union and elect a volunteer board of directors. Vermont Federal Credit Union provides membership to anyone who lives, works, worships or attends school in Chittenden, Grand Isle, Lamoille, Franklin, Washington, or Addison Counties in Vermont. Vermont Federal Credit Union is committed to providing support to the communities it serves and to make a decided difference in the lives of its members and other Vermonters. For more information about Vermont Federal Credit Union, call (888) 252-0202, visitwww.vermontfederal.org(link is external), or find us on Facebook(link is external).Source: Burlington, VT – Vermont Federal Credit Union 11.30.2016,Yes