[V]TDigger’s choice as the top story of 2014 is barely 10 days old. For our voters, Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Dec. 17 announcement that the state could not afford to pursue a publicly financed health care system in the near future drove to the finish line like Secretariat.After waiting two years for the administration to share a financing plan, Vermonters finally learned how much it would cost. The answer was “too much,” given the state’s tepid recovery from the recession and an unexplained decline in personal income tax forecasts.
Shumlin somberly reported the news that, at least for now, his dream of making Vermont the first state in the nation to provide universal, publicly funded health care was over. The governor called it the “biggest disappointment” of his public life.
The anticlimactic decision was celebrated by opponents of the plan, many of whom enjoyed their “I told you so” moment, and it was jeered by supporters, many of whom felt betrayed by Shumlin’s abandonment of the idea.
Scott Milne, a relatively unknown Republican businessman from Pomfret, came within 2,434 votes of outpolling Shumlin, a two-term Democratic incumbent in a predominately blue state.The result, which is not official until the Legislature chooses a governor on Jan. 8, was seen by pundits as a repudiation of Shumlin’s policies, positions and personal style. He admitted to being humbled by the lack of voter support and vowed to better “listen to Vermonters,” if lawmakers give him a third term.
Milne has refused to concede the election, although he did not contest the results and has acknowledged that Shumlin won more votes.
The website of the state’s Obamacare health insurance exchange continued to experience glitches for a second year and was shut down in mid-September for about eight weeks.
Security concerns prompted federal officials to warn Vermont that it would be disconnected from the federal data hub if it did not address the issues. The site was back online for new customers to sign up during open enrollment last month.
However, small businesses are still unable to use this system and existing customers were urged to avoid the site to extend their coverage. Users are also still unable to make changes to their accounts online and billing issues have plagued many of the insured.
Vermont’s 42-year affair with its only nuclear power plant will start a new chapter Monday, when the reactor will no longer produce energy.Entergy, the Louisiana-based company that owns the Vernon facility, announced late in 2013 that it would close the plant for economic reasons.
The company last fall released a decommissioning plan that put the cost of removing the plant at $1.24 billion. The process could take up to 60 years, but Entergy and the state have said it might happen sooner.
The violent deaths of two toddlers who were placed back into homes by the state’s Department for Children and Families put a spotlight on how child protection officials make decisions regarding child safety.
More social workers were added in the wake of those deaths and several investigations followed, aimed at improving the way in which social service agencies, courts and police share information. The Legislature is expected to address some of the findings in the upcoming session.
Rumors turned to reality in October as a company owned by the Emirate of Abu Dhabi completed a transaction to acquire IBM’s chip-making facilities in Vermont and New York.
IBM gave GlobalFoundries $1.5 billion to take over those operations, which include IBM’s facility in Essex Junction. GlobalFoundries said it intends to keep producing the computer chips in Vermont. Once Vermont’s largest private employer, IBM has steadily reduced its workforce over the past several years.
Lawmakers passed a bill that will require food manufacturers to label products containing genetically engineered ingredients starting July 1, 2016. Industry groups immediately filed a lawsuit to prevent the rule from taking effect.
Several participants in a federal immigrant investor program spoke out against changes made to their agreement with Jay Peak Resort to build the Tram House Lodge.
Several of the 35 investors in the project say the terms of their contracts were altered without consulting them and that they weren’t notified of those changes for months. Jay Peak managing partner Bill Stenger said the changes were legal, but admitted to mistakes in notifying the participants.
The investors also contend that their complaints to the state’s regional EB-5 center were dismissed, and that the center is too closely aligned with Jay Peak management.
The election that nearly gave Republican Scott Milne a plurality of votes for governor also changed the fortunes of the GOP in the Statehouse.
Republicans, who had been losing ground to the Democratic and Progressive “supermajority,” rebounded in November by picking up a net of eight seats in the House and two in the Senate.
The tally entering 2015 shows 85 Democrats, 53 Republicans, six Progressives and six independents in the House. The Senate has 18 Democrats, nine Republicans and three Progressives.
This issue trumped single payer for almost all of them and lawmakers apparently heard the message. Democrats have made education finance reform a centerpiece for the new Legislature and the administration has sent its top education official into the field to meet with school districts on cost containment.
Finishing just outside the money were the saga of MIT economist Jonathan Gruber and the state's ban on using a hand-held electronic device while driving, which tied at No. 11.
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day's news in the Legislature.