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Town Meeting
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Weinberger: Statehouse Should Listen To Burlington Voters On Guns

Voters in Vermont’s largest city had some appropriately big issues to vote on at Town Meeting yesterday. They narrowly approved an increase in the tax rate, but rejected the school budget.

Voters also gave strong approval to three gun control measures. Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger spoke with VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb about those and other issues.

The approved gun restrictions would give police power to seize guns when there is reasonable suspicion of domestic violence; ban firearms on the property of institutions where liquor is served; and require all guns to be under lock and key when not in possession of their owner.

“I was not surprised, throughout the last year, as these have been discussed and as the city council has been working on them, it’s been my sense that the people of Burlington overwhelming supported them,” Weinberger said.

“It was interesting to see how strong the results were in the face of what I think has to be called an overwhelming attempt to defeat them, with a major campaign against them, with very little done in the way of a campaign in favor for them. So I think that really needs to be understood and thought about and cause for some reflection and some reconsideration of long-held assumptions about the desirability and electoral support for common sense public safety measures in Vermont.”  

The legislature has to approve the charter change, and the gun rights group the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs has said it will continue to campaign against the measures at the statehouse.

Typically, the legislature has approved charter changes easily, but Weinberger said he can’t be sure that these measures will be approved.

“Certainly we will be working on this issue, and my sense is this issue will require some considerable debate in Montpelier. It does come into conflict with a long-held policy in Montpelier of avoiding local regulation of gun issues. And I think it may take some time for the legislators to sort through that issue. My sense is that we should give the legislature the time to get this right and do what’s right for public safety in Burlington, as well as consider the broader implications for the state,” Weinberger explained.

“I will be there making it clear as the elected official representing the whole city that my constituents very strongly support this as yesterday’s results show, and we expect action on this.”

The one measure that didn’t get approved by Burlington voters was the school budget. Weinberger said it’s now up to the school board to decide how to handle the budget.

“I’m not sure how they’ll react. It’s the first time in some time that a Burlington school budget has gone down. I think it is an indication that people are concerned about the overall statewide trends, and that something needs to happen on it. And we need to be working more at a local level and I think on a statewide level. I think this should be seen in part as a concern about statewide policy, as well as local spending decisions, and it’s something that as mayor I’m planning on being involved in over the next year. It’s something that we’ve been involved in with the Vermont Mayors Coalition and will continue to do so.”

Burlington voters, however, did approve a tax rate increase of just under 3 percent. Weinberger said that amounts to $81 for the typical Burlington home for a year. Weinberger said they worked to avoid the increase for a long as possible, and that it’s his first since being elected to office. “I appreciate that the voters supported it, but I am also quite aware that there’s a lot of general concerns out there about the increase in property taxes, and we will stay very conscious of those concerns going forward and continue to work with real discipline and constraint on spending decisions.

Voters also approved six projects that would invest in the Burlington waterfront, including the approval to rehabilitate the long vacant Moran plant or tear the building down. Weinberger said he thinks Burlington voters examined the idea carefully before showing their support.

“I was very happy to see that. I take it as a sign that people think we’re on the right track with our plans for the waterfront in terms of getting the city moving again. We’ll now move to the next stage of working very hard on the details to make sure that this plan is implemented effectively. Some people will start to see changes on the Waterfront as soon as this summer and fall when we get through the busiest season. This comes on top of votes over a year ago supporting an expansion of the bike path and approval of a project called Waterfront Access North in the area around the Moran Plant,” Weinberger said.

Voters also approve the purchase of the Winooski One hydro dam. The power equals about 8 percent of the total Burlington load. The dam has another 80 years in lifespan.

“I think it’s a sign that voters understood that this was something smart in terms of long-term electric affordability that will lead to stability with the city’s electrical rates and at the same time allows Burlington to make a significant step forward with their renewable energy goals.” 

Melody is the Contributing Editor for But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids and the co-author of two But Why books with Jane Lindholm.
A graduate of NYU with a Master's Degree in journalism, Mitch has more than 20 years experience in radio news. He got his start as news director at NYU's college station, and moved on to a news director (and part-time DJ position) for commercial radio station WMVY on Martha's Vineyard. But public radio was where Mitch wanted to be and he eventually moved on to Boston where he worked for six years in a number of different capacities at member station a Senior Producer, Editor, and fill-in co-host of the nationally distributed Here and Now. Mitch has been a guest host of the national NPR sports program "Only A Game". He's also worked as an editor and producer for international news coverage with Monitor Radio in Boston.
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