Right to the Point (2/11/10)

Seeking input for Vermont’s Legislature

Feb. 11, 2010

By Mike Benevento

Do you feel that elected officials properly represent you in Montpelier? Do you believe that state legislators fully understand your positions and advocate on your behalf? If not, you should send them a message.

While legislators do their best, unless we speak up, it may be difficult for them to wholly represent our interests. Keeping in touch with the people’s pulse is hard to do without feedback. Therefore, I encourage you to contact your senators and representatives to give them your comments and suggestions.

Jim McCullough (jim_mccullough@myfairpoint.net) and Terry Macaig (tmacaig@leg.state.vt.us) represent Williston residents at the Vermont House, while Joan Lenes (jlenes@leg.state.vt.us) represents St. George/Shelburne.

Meanwhile, six state senators — Tim Ashe (tashe@leg.state.vt.us), Ed Flanagan (eflanagan@leg.state.vt.us), Ginny Lyons (vlyons@leg.state.vt.us), Hinda Miller (hmiller@leg.state.vt.us), Doug Racine (dracine@leg.state.vt.us) and Diane Snelling (dsnelling@leg.state.vt.us) — serve Chittenden County residents.

If you do not mind sharing, please copy me (VTMikeBenevento@gmail.com) on your e-mails to our state legislators. I can present your ideas for making Vermont a better place in a future column — inspiring others.

Right now, the media has drawn attention to balancing the state’s budget, Vermont Yankee’s fate, delaying the start of school and outlawing texting while driving. Let’s take a quick peek at these issues.

Because Vermont’s economic health relates to it, the state budget is a big concern. Currently, the Legislature is searching for ways to climb out of the huge $150 million deficit hole it helped dig. Because they previously failed to enact cost-cutting measures, legislators now face difficult choices. Due to serious revenue shortfalls, deep cuts must be made throughout state government.

Vermont’s budget needs to be reduced before it spins out of control. Large spending increases in human services, pensions, education and welfare programs have exacerbated budget woes. During these hard economic times, besides level-funding basic necessary programs, we need to find ways to reduce or eliminate any non-essential ones.

Your suggestions to protect citizens, grow the economy, reduce the size of government and prevent tax increases are most welcome.

Besides the budget, one of the most contentious issues facing our state in 2010 is Vermont Yankee. In recent years, problems associated with the aging nuclear power plant located in Vernon have been a source of anxiety for Vermonters.

The operating license for the controversial plant expires in 2012. Entergy Corporation seeks a 20-year extension. The company needs legislative permission to do so — along with the Public Service Board’s approval.

As it stands, the power plant provides about a third of Vermont’s electricity. Yankee’s supporters argue that it is a source of relatively cheap and clean energy. On the other hand, detractors cite safety concerns and believe Yankee can be replaced by other energy sources, including wind power.

While in theory it sounds great, in reality implementing wind power in Vermont has proven problematic. Noise and vibrations affect humans and wildlife. In addition, large wind turbines detract from Vermont’s aesthetics. Tourism will suffer if the state becomes littered with wind towers. Experience has shown that these drawbacks have reduced Vermonters’ desire to generate energy by harnessing the wind.

In my opinion, the best solution to Vermont Yankee is eventually replacing it with a new nuclear power plant. Based on more than 35 years of technological growth, modern plants are by far safer and more efficient than those built in the early 1970s.

This is where the Legislature can use your help, as legislators are not nuclear power experts. What happens after Vermont Yankee closes, whether it is in two years or 22? How will Vermonters replace the lost energy? What are our alternatives? What do you think?

Reforming education and its funding is always under consideration. Sen. Ginny Lyons recently introduced a bill prohibiting school districts from starting the academic year before Labor Day. Opposed by Vermont’s Department of Education, the legislation aims to reduce business disruptions and protect family vacations by delaying the end of summer break. A good idea — or not? You make the call. Afterwards, let people know.

Lawmakers are considering banning texting while driving in order to make roadways safer. So far, there is widespread support for this measure. Multi-tasking while driving is dangerous — even for the tech-savvy. Reducing distracted driving, especially for our least experienced drivers, is a good idea. Do you agree?

Please contact your state legislators and help them better represent your interests. We are facing difficult times. Vermont needs to consider all options and explore potential alternatives. You may have the appropriate solution. If so, now is the time to bring it to everyone’s attention.


Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.