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Lt. Governor's Feb. 27th Newsletter | Affordable Heat Act, Election Law, and VSC Libraries and Sports

Submitted by Lisa.Gerlach@v… on

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We’re more than a third of the way through the 2023 legislative session, and things are starting to move quickly through the State House. I have three topics to share with you: the Affordable Heat Act, proposed elections reforms, and Vermont State College library closures and athletics programs changes. 


Affordable Heat Act 


This week, the Affordable Heat Act (S.5) was passed by the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy and was referred to the Committee on Appropriations.  


What is the Affordable Heat Act? This bill creates a requirement for fuel importers to subsidize clean heat installations and biofuels so transitioning away from using fossil fuels to heat homes will be more affordable for Vermonters. There are deep economic supports built into the framework of the law to reduce or eliminate the significant upfront costs of installing pellet stoves, heat pumps, and other methods of cleaner home heating. This is critical for lower income Vermonters who otherwise would not be able to afford these improvements. These methods of home heating are also less expensive than fossil fuels and will reduce the annual financial burden on Vermonters. 


Why is this important? Fossil fuels are expensive. The fossil fuel industry has continued to report record profits year after year. Between 2020 and 2021 alone, the price of propane increased by 70% and the price of fuel oil by 120%. This means Vermonters are at the mercy of the fossil fuel industry and global supply fluctuations. This law will help create stability and lower costs for Vermonters despite these pressures.  


The bottom line: This bill will make it more affordable for Vermonters to transition to clean home heating systems, and the long-term savings of these systems will reduce the financial burden compared with fossil fuel heating systems. Not only will this save Vermonter's money, but it will lower our state’s greenhouse gas emissions and help us meet the goals set out by the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act of 2020. 


Read an op-ed about the bill by Sen. Anne Watson (Washington) to learn more about the Affordable Heat Act. 


Elections Law 

During the last campaign season, not a single voter ever mentioned fusion voting as a top issue facing Vermonters. Still, last week the House Government Operations Committee passed a bill that will end fusion and dramatically change the state’s Election Law in detrimental ways. 


The big changes to Vermont’s election laws are: 

  • Political parties will be allowed to accept up to $100,000 in contributions from a candidate.  

  • A candidate that loses a major party primary will not be allowed to run in the general election under a different party label or as an independent for the same office. 

  • In practice, over time, it will reduce voter choice when people are generally wishing there was more choice and less party control.  


Why does this matter? The fusion voting system is what allows voters to endorse candidates based on voter preferences with greater candidate transparency. Under current law, candidates in the general election can list multiple parties next to their name in the order that makes their ideology most clear to voters. The fusion system builds bridges across political aisles and makes it possible for candidates who wish to run under the label of a smaller party to do so without “splitting the vote.” It allows for a wider range of issues to be discussed so voters have more choices. Vermont has successfully operated under a fusion model for decades. In 2022, voters elected about 1/3 of Vermont’s elected officials as fusion candidates. The current proposal will be less transparent system for voters to pick their candidates.  

Changing the law as proposed will create more three-way races where the “spoiler” effect will lead to the least broadly supported candidate winning with much less than a majority. This could include races for Congress where, due to these changes, Vermont could send a Republican to Washington, potentially changing the balance of power in Congress. What may seem like a small change could have drastic effects. This is all due to insider party politics and the wish to concentrate power even further. This is not what voters want or care about, And I, too, am frustrated that this is taking up our time rather than the important economic, climate and social issues that need our focus. Vermonters deserve more choice and representation, not party power concentration. 


I believe that we need to be reducing the influence of money in our political system, not allowing for money to have more power. This bill would allow candidates who have a lot of wealth or a larger “war chest” to give as much as $100,000 to a political party, further tilting the balance of power towards the wealthy. I doubt many readers of this newsletter have that kind of power. It’s not right. 


The consequences of these changes to Vermont’s election law are likely to be far worse than any issues that the committee is trying to solve. We should be working to bring more transparency to politics and institute elections reforms, such as Ranked Choice Voting, that would make our system fairer, more transparent and give voters more choices.  


Vermont State College Library Closures and Athletics Programs Changes 


Earlier this month, the Vermont State Colleges System announced plans to close and digitize libraries on five campuses and to make major cuts to their athletic programs. In the days since, there has been an outcry from students and educators around Vermont overwhelmingly opposing these decisions. 


I had the opportunity to meet with dozens of students, faculty and staff to hear their concerns. Students are saying that a full in person library is important to their learning. Faculty have made it clear that many students have conditions that make learning from books and paper move conducive than too many hours of screen time in a day. Moving these resources online and eliminating on-campus libraries could be an unnecessary barrier that prevents academic success. These cuts and the changes to the sports programs may also hurt Vermont’s ability to attract new residents. Many students have said the reason they chose to attend a Vermont State College was to play an NCAA or USCAA sport. Changing these sports affiliations will lead to outward transfers and could push prospective students from going to college in Vermont, thus defeating the stated purpose of creating better financial stability for the State College/university system. 


I am compiling questions for the Chancellor, President and Board of Trustees to dig deeper in the research and ideas behind these proposals.  I also encourage the VSCS administration and legislators to work together with faculty, students and staff to find solutions that do not risk reducing student success. Community voices need to be part of that process. 


As bills start moving, your timely calls can really make a difference. I encourage you to consider contacting your legislators or the Governors' office on these issues or others that are important to you.  


Lt. Governor David Zuckerman 


Additional resources 

Affordable heat act 


VSC Library Closures and Athletics Program Changes