12/26/02 12:00AM By Timothy McQuiston
On the campaign trail, Jim Douglas advocated changing two of Vermont's landmark laws, which have also acted as lightning rods in the business community. Douglas insisted the state needed to change Act 60 and update Act 250. He did not advocate getting rid of either and for the most part supports them, at least in concept. And why wouldn't he? At the heart of these laws is educational fairness and thoughtful land use. What politician would be against that, especially in Vermont?
But now Douglas has to do something about them. His government appointments will probably go a long way to satisfy his campaign promises of making Act 250 more streamlined, more predictable, and, in effect, more palatable to business.
Already, Douglas has appointed Elizabeth McLain as secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. McLain has served in state government under both Richard Snelling and Howard Dean. The selection of Kevin Dorn as the new Secretary of Commerce will get a big thumbs up from those who feel the Kunin and Dean Administrations were anti-business. Dorn is the long-serving CEO of the Homebuilders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont. Permit reform has been, and will be one of Dorn's big issues as secretary.
Act 60, however, will be a more difficult law to for Douglas to deal with. Both Republicans and Democrats are calling for change. Douglas won't be able to simply sit back and watch the Legislature pass a bill or fail trying. He will never be able to blame inaction on the Legislature. He's going to have to lead on this issue.
Democrat Peter Shumlin was Act 60's most eloquent supporter. The former president pro tem of the Senate lost his race for lieutenant governor. His campaign was no doubt hurt by the Act 60 baggage he carried. There's a lesson there for Jim Douglas to learn.
Here's the big question: how is Douglas going to get rid of the sharing pool, or what most of the people who voted for him call the shark pool, without raising one of the broad based taxes? And if he raises the income tax, or the sales tax, or the statewide property tax, will he have any chance of being re-elected?
The problem with Act 60 is that it pits one town against another. That part of it has to change. It's bad public policy. General tax revenue is shared and everyone understands why, even if they disagree on how to spend it.
The Legislature has had two full sessions to fix Act 60 and hasn't done it. It's up Jim Douglas. Probably on this one issue will his governorship be measured.
This is Timothy McQuiston.