Scott administration rejects $31 million tax plan for Lake Champlain cleanup

David Deen

Rep. David Deen, D-Putney, chair of the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

A House panel has approved $31 million in taxes and fees to support cleanup of Lake Champlain.

Rep. David Deen, D-Westminster, says he wants to ensure that a funding mechanism is in place when other sources of funding expire in two years. The House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife approved the spending proposal in a 7-2 vote.

“We were careful to use a nexus connected to clean water,” Deen said.

The Scott administration issued a statement on Tuesday night, shortly after the bill was approved, rejecting the plan.

Under the House plan, additional taxes and fees would be assessed on property, roadways, vehicles, marinas and tourism. The big ticket items are a 1 percent increase in the rooms and meals tax, which would generate $18.9 million annually; a $10 annual motor vehicle fee, which raises $6 million a year, and a 0.2 percent surcharge on the property transfer tax, which brings in $4.7 million annually.

The plan would go into effect in 2019 and would sunset in 2021, when a per parcel fee would go into effect. The Clean Water Funding Bill creates the formation of a working group that would analyze options for a per parcel, per acre or impervious surface fee.

The EPA has mandated a $2.3 billion investment in Lake Champlain cleanup over a 20-year period. The state’s largest body of water has been polluted by phosphorus runoff from farms, parking lots, dirt roads and fertilizers used on lawns.

Toxic algae blooms have proliferated in the northern area of the lake and turned the Mississquoi Bay into a poisonous green soup.

The state needs to raise $25 million to $30 million a year to pay for mitigation efforts. Beth Pearce, the state treasurer, has proposed using existing sources of revenue over the next two years until the Legislature and the executive branch identify a long-term revenue source.

Rebecca Kelley, the communications director for Republican Gov. Phil Scott, says the governor will not approve any new taxes or fees this year and in a statement wholly rejected the plan approve by the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife.

Kelley said the Legislature has two years to review other “financial tools and existing revenue sources to fund clean water efforts.”

“Making decisions now about the appropriate funding source two to three years away is premature at best,” Kelley said. “Why the Legislature would not take that time to explore alternatives and think creatively – and, instead, instinctively turn to increasing taxes and fees on Vermonters, whether this year or two years down the road – is baffling.”

Deen counters that what’s “baffling” is the governor’s lack of interest in offering a solution that guarantees support for lack cleanup efforts.

“Does he want to wait until the lake turns green, the Connecticut River smells and we have fish kills?” Deen said. “This is serious stuff. The way we’ve structured this nothing happens until two years from now. We will get a working group together to figure out how in the hell to do a per parcel fee. If that kicks in, all this goes away.”

If the state does nothing to ensure cleanup efforts are adequately funded, Deen said, “we could lose Lake Champlain and put Lake Memphremagog and the Connecticut River at risk.”

Jason Gibbs, Scott’s chief of staff, has said the governor wants to use state bonding capacity to pay for cleanup. A plan detailing how the bonding proposal would work has not yet been submitted to the Legislature.

Correction: A proposed fee would be on all motor vehicles, not just motorcycles.

Anne Galloway

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