Thursday, November 21, 2013

WVTK Local & State News November 21, 2013

The biggest challenge for Vermont lawmakers in 2014 is shaping up to be the budget.  The Administration Secretary told members of the Legislature Wednesday they’ve got some major challenges ahead, and that includes a projected budget gap of 70-million dollars.  House Speaker Shap Smith, who organized the briefing Wednesday says money will dominate the session, from property taxes to pension shortfalls to costs for health care.  A clearer financial picture is expected in January.

Efforts to bring back passenger rail service to western Vermont are a big step closer to reality. Earlier today, a special legislative committee authorized the Agency of Transportation to spend federal grant money to upgrade the rails from Rutland 20 miles north to Leicester.  Once the project is complete, all but 12 of the 75-mile stretch between Burlington and Rutland will have been upgraded.  State officials could apply as soon as January for grants to upgrade the final 12 miles.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and other top state officials are in talks with the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant's owners about how to dismantle the site and handle spent fuel after the plant closes late next year.  Governor Shumlin, Attorney General Bill Sorrell, Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia and others met with high-ranking Entergy Corp. officials yesterday and plan to meet again December 2. It's the first time state leaders have met with the company to discuss decommissioning since the closing was announced in August.

Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources is offering some guidance on the implementation of the state's new recycling law.  The law, passed last year, requires statewide recycling by July 2015 and diverting food scraps from landfills by July 2020.  The agency presented a report to the Legislature today in which it recommends requiring all municipalities to join a solid waste management district; leveling the playing field for all commercial haulers collecting municipal solid waste; establishing a grants/loans program to support private/public sector capital investments; and implementing a "pay-as-you-throw" system.

Senator Patrick Leahy voted in favor of making a change in the U.S. Senate filibuster rules.  A press release says these changes will ensure the Senate's ability to confirm qualified nominees to judicial and executive posts.  Officials say federal vacancies have hovered around 90.  Leahy, the President Pro Tempore and the Senate's longest serving member, presided over the series of procedural votes.

AAA says 43.4 million Americans are expected to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday this year. That's down slightly from last year.  AAA says majority of travelers will be traveling by automobile. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving will be the busiest single day of travel with 37% of travelers departing for trips November 27.