Monday, April 18, 2011

H. 287: The Jobs Bill

On Friday morning, the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs passed amended version of H. 287, to be reconsidered by the House. The bill creates many programs that support agriculture in the state, including the new Local Food Coordinator position. The bill also contains a section entitled "State Purchase of Food and Agricultural Products." This section mandates that: " the commissioner shall use an econometric model developed and maintained jointly by the legislative and execute economists to evaluate the net cost and economic impact of purchasing food that is produced, grown or harvested on land physically located in Vermont, and of food and agricultural products that are processed or produced in Vermont." This is exactly the language we wanted in S. 63 (the bill Pollina sponsored in Senate Government Operations.) So this is a lesson in politics: if it dies somewhere, look somewhere else. Now, H.287 has to go back through the House for approval. I will let you know what happens.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

BooHoo for the Bureaucrat?

This week, in three different committees I heard testimony that suggested that unfair legislation was being laid upon bureaucrats or rich corporations. In the Senate Committee on Government Operations, State Building and General Services testified against any sort of local preference when buying food for state institutions. BGS also opposed the implementation of an econometric model for evaluation of local v. non local food. An econometric model could be used to evaluate any bid, to examine multiplier effects activated by choosing local bidders and would make a well-rounded assessment mathematically. I know that in previous posts I have mentioned proposed legislation that would necessitate a certain amount of food bought buy the state to be locally derived (grown, harvested and produced.) In fact, S.62, H. 287, S.99, H. 491, and S. 69 all contain a variety of "buy local" sections. Some instate a preferential percentage, some implement an econometric model,some are more vague, but BGS has discerned that all of these bills place an unfair burden on their operations. BGS instead is requesting for a one year respite on the issue, at which time it will report to the legislature on the "state" of local purchasing in the state. This respite is requested, despite the fact, BGS feels it is already doing an excellent job purchasing in a way that protects the best interest of the Vermonters. I would argue that although BGS is doing its best, it will certainly not seek to do any better, without legislation that forces it to do so. BGS says it buys 90% of its food locally, but their definition of local includes local vendors. BGS testified against local purchasing legislation in Senate Government Operations and in House Agriculture. In both cases, the chairs (along with the committees) were supportive of BGS, acting as though their biggest fear was that the bills would somehow inconvenience BGS. BGS is exactly the type of group that needs to be "inconvenienced" if we want to move forward with a sustainable model for our state. State entities are some of the groups that have the largest potential to make change, and if our law makers don't push them to do so, they will be allowed to stay stuck in their bureaucratic habits- poor purchasing practices that do the minimum to help Vermont businesses and farms.
This morning, I also heard testimony on the Plum Creek case: a cut contrary up in the Kingdom that violated UVA laws, resulting in the removal of thousands of acres from the program (much to Plum Creek's chagrin.) Both Senator Baruth (who I generally agree with/ adore) and Senator Starr sided with Plum Creek, in that they found "the punishment did not fit the crime." How can we justify excusing large corporate entities from following UVA rules, yet hold the small land-owner accountable? And, when did our law-makers start siding with the big guys instead of the little ones? Our governor is proposing a renaissance in agriculture. For the first time in years, we have a Governor who is pushing for real change to support Vermonters on the farm, but legislators have to pave the way. Backing BGS and Plum Creek acts not to pave the way for a new, farm economy, but rather to allow the road to stay full of unnecessary potholes deep from the depressing weight of bureaucratic and corporate agendas.