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State Treasurer: 'All-In Approach' Needed To Fund $1.3 Billion Water Quality Improvements

Next year, lawmakers will wrestle with one of the biggest financial challenges in state history, when they have to decide how to raise the estimated $1.3 billion needed to improve water quality across Vermont.

The possibilities are myriad at this point: An excise tax on bottled water, a surtax on booze, a dollar-per-night fee on hotel stays and even a sales tax on pet care are among dozens of revenue options still on the table as policymakers consider how to cover the massive costs associated with cleaning up Lake Champlain and other deteriorating waterways across the state.

“And we’re up to something in the area of 60-some-odd revenue recommendations that we’ve received, some that some folks like, some others don’t,” says State Treasurer Beth Pearce.

Lawmakers in 2015 directed Pearce’s office to come up with a financing plan. To be clear, the revenue options now under consideration did not spring from Pearce’s brain. But she’s overseeing a taskforce of sorts – it includes the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Taxes and other state agencies – that’s responsible considering the universe of financing options, then whittling them down to a final mix of funding recommendations for the Legislature.

“We’ve had a least a dozen stakeholder meetings with farmers, with environmental activists, with business folks,” Pearce says.

Pearce says the revenue possibilities up for consideration are the product of some of those meetings. The revenue options include a gas tax; a per-parcel landowner fee; new taxes on water-related recreation equipment like boats; or winter skiing, as snowmaking uses tons of water. Even the possibility of a toll on the Lake Champlain Bridge is on the table.

So which ones are likely to make the cut?

“Well, we’re not there yet,” Pearce says.

The state doesn’t have to raise the money in a single year – the $1.3 billion projected cost of the clean-up effort is over a 20-year time span. Still, that’s about $68 million a year.

“For me, we need to have an all-in approach, shared effort in this and shared gain, because the lakes and the rivers are important to our economic vitality and our natural resources,” Pearce says.

Pearce says she’s asked the Department of Taxes to come up with revenue estimates for each of the proposed funding sources. She says residents can weigh in on the proposal at a public hearing on Nov. 16.

This post was edited at 6:35 p.m. on 10/26/2016 to fix some typos, and to clarify Beth Pearce's role in the development of the financing proposal

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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