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Committee looks at changing government structures

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2015-10-14

By Erin Mansfield as seen in vtdigger.org: http://vtdigger.org/2015/10/14/committee-looks-at-changing-government-st...

The Legislature’s committee on government restructuring met for the first time Tuesday and plans to have a report done in November on how to change Vermont’s government structure.

The Legislature established the committee in H.490, last session’s budget bill.

The idea was to establish an independent committee that could offer recommendations on how Vermont’s government should be structured to become more efficient, without the pressure of the session’s politics or a looming adjournment deadline.

The committee is comprised of John Sayles, the chief executive officer of the Vermont Food Bank; Paul Costello, the executive director of the Vermont Council on Rural Development; and Jeff Wilson, a former state representative from Bennington County.

Their priorities must be to review how public-private partnerships “could provide long-term improvements in quality and cost-effectiveness of management or service delivery,” and to review how the government is implementing results-based accountability measures, according to the law.

Sayles will serve as chair of the committee. He said the committee could turn out to be an example of kicking the can down the road on budget reforms, or it could offer real solutions to a Legislature that now must deal with another substantial budget gap due to Medicaid spending.

“I won’t feel like what we’ve done is wasted time,” Sayles said of the committee. “I think we’ll have added to the conversation in a really positive way.”

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, respectively, appointed each member. The committee got started late because appointments took longer than expected.

Sayles, Costello and Wilson will ask for an extension from its Oct. 15 deadline to Nov. 17 to submit their first report. They will meet again at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Montpelier. A second report will be due Nov. 15, 2016. The ad hoc committee will dissolve June 30, 2017.

The group decided its first task will be to read through research papers as much as 15 years old to recommend which governance ideas should be implemented. Those ideas include the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission’s report from 2010.

During the 2015 session, Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, chair of the Senate Finance Committee, suggested changing the way Vermont imposes sales taxes in accordance with that Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission Report, but most of the ideas did not become law.

“We’re gonna look at those recent studies that have been done,” Costello said. “We’re going to listen to key leaders.”

Sayle pressed to make sure the committee knows how to comply with Vermont’s open meeting law; under Vermont’s law, a conversation between two people on the committee constitutes a quorum.

“I want to make sure we’re not relying too much on the ‘Vermont is small’ (reasoning) and really have a thought toward transparency in what we’re doing here,” Sayle said. “While we’re doing this work, there’s going to be a campaign going on for governor and for legislative offices.”

He also wants to set up a website through the Agency of Administration so the public can stay involved in the process. The committee will decide how the public can submit suggestions and opinions at its Oct. 27 meeting.