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Treasurer: State can afford two years of lake cleanup

Observer photo courtesy of Flickr, by Don Shall Algae blooms appear near the Lake Champlain boathouse.
Observer photo courtesy of Flickr, by Don Shall
Algae blooms appear near the Lake Champlain boathouse.

By Mike Polhamus

For Vermont Digger

Vermont can meet federal requirements for cutting pollution in Lake Champlain over the next two years without raising new revenue, State Treasurer Beth Pearce told legislators last week.

More than $50 million a year must come from within Vermont for a massive effort to reduce pollution in the lake to federal limits. State government will need to directly contribute around half that amount, Pearce said. The rest represents spending by the private sector and local governments.

The number includes only the most urgent costs, however. The full amount required — after subtracting available federal and other funding — is likely to be around $62 million a year, according to figures compiled by Pearce’s office. These costs assume a 20-year timeframe for completing the cleanup, she said.

The annual sum includes both what the state government must supply and what must come from businesses, nonprofits and municipalities, Pearce said.

Of the immediate $50 million annual investment that must begin in 2018, the state government should be able to cover its roughly $25 million annual contribution from existing revenue sources for at least the next two years, Pearce told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee on Jan. 10.

“We do believe there’s a two-year window where we can put sizable monies into clean-water investments, assisting our municipalities and other stakeholders, without raising taxes,” Pearce said.

Legislators will need to come up with a longer-term solution by the end of that period, she said.

“The goal is to try to minimize the impact on additional revenues as much as possible, but at the same time, these are investments the state needs to make, and should be making, and we need a long-term plan to make it happen,” she said.

Gov. Phil Scott said in his inaugural address that the state’s share of the cleanup would be paid for through “existing resources” and that taxes and fees would not be raised to fill the gap. Others, including Senate President Tim Ashe, have questioned whether that’s possible.

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