Attacking global climate change was at the top of lawmakers’ agenda Wednesday, but they had mixed success in making progress on their marquee issue.
Two key House committees were at odds about how to tax wind energy projects, arguing throughout the day and slowing action on a larger bill designed to promote renewable energy.
But a third House committee advanced another provision of the initiative, which its advocates said would address one of the state’s largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions: car and truck exhausts.
Environmental advocates were frustrated with the Legislature’s efforts. They wrote a letter to the governor and legislative leaders asking them to “redouble your efforts to enact legislation this session that will reduce Vermont’s global warming pollution and strengthen the Vermont economy. … The scope of the actions we take in Vermont must match the severity of the problem we are facing.” The letter was signed by 23 environmental advocates.
The dispute between the House Natural Resources Committee and the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee was one of the complaints that the advocates registered with the leadership.
The Natural Resources Committee recommended setting statewide property tax rates of roughly a third of a penny for every kilowatt hour produced by a wind project. Lobbyists said that tax rate would result in a state tax bill for the proposed Sheffield wind farm of $336,000 a year.
But the Ways and Means Committee proposed doubling the tax rate to nearly two-thirds of a penny, a level that advocates said was akin to outlawing commercial wind farms.
Leaders of those two powerful committees were locked in a revolving series of meetings and negotiations throughout the day as they tried to figure out a compromise. They ultimately settled on a tax rate of a half-penny per kilowatt hour with the understanding that the rate probably would be reduced by the Senate or in conference committee negotiations.
The renewable energy bill was interrupted because the House chamber was previously scheduled for a musical event. Debate was scheduled to resume on Thursday. The House Transportation Committee had an easier time, though. It voted 8-3 in favor of a bill setting the budget for the public transit program that also imposed a new tax on vehicles considered gas guzzlers.
The committee agreed to a surcharge of $150 for every new car that gets less than 20 miles per gallon, including vans, and trucks that get under 17. A proposal that would have exempted vehicles used for work from the surcharge ultimately was dropped, but there still were complaints about the number of large trucks that would have to pay the tax.
The panel also recommended a tax credit on vehicles getting 30 miles per gallon or more. Buyers of those vehicles would pay a 5 percent purchase and use tax, instead of the existing 6 percent.
The transportation bill, which would funnel an extra $1 million or so toward the purchase of replacement buses and vans for the state’s 12 public transit agencies, probably will not be debated before next week.
It faces opposition in the Senate because of the gas guzzler tax. Gov. Jim Douglas also opposes the tax.
By Ross Sneyd
5 April 2007
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