Bob Kinzel

Host, Reporter

Bob is a veteran Vermont journalist, specializing in political reporting. He is based in VPR’s Capital Bureau located across the street from Vermont’s Statehouse. Prior to joining VPR full time in 2002, Bob ran the Vermont News Service for 21 years. The service provided daily local news for eleven stations, including VPR. Bob started the News Service following a stint as news director for WNCS.

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AP/Toby Talbot

Fri 5/3/13 Noon & 7pm The 2013 Legislative session is winding down and the fate of many key issues will be decided in the next few weeks. Friday on Vermont Edition, we get a status update on issues like taxes, marijuana decriminalization and end of life care with Statehouse reporters Peter Hirschfeld of the Vermont Press Bureau and VPR’s John Dillon.

The Senate has rejected a plan to raise income tax rates on wealthy Vermonters to help pay for next year’s budget.

Part of the Senate’s $10 million tax plan includes a provision to impose a tax on bottled water and satellite TV services. Washington senator Anthony Pollina argued that these taxes are regressive so he proposed higher tax rates on wealthy people.

“So when we talk about how we should not ask people with great wealth to pay more because they’re already paying too much, when you look at it as a share of their income they are paying less than others are.”

The Senate has passed a tax bill that raises $10 million in new revenue but it faces the strong opposition of Governor Peter Shumlin.

With very little debate or opposition, the Senate gave its strong support to its 2013 tax bill. The legislation uses four primary sources to raise the additional revenue.

It caps the amount of mortgage interest that can be deducted on the income tax, it imposes a minimum 3 percent tax for all people who earn more than $125,000, it applies the sales tax to bottled water and it places a tax on satellite TV services.

Vermont lawmakers are trying to wrap up their 2013 legislative session, with the hope of adjourning in early May.

Here’s a look at what’s been accomplished and what’s coming up in the next few weeks.

-Gas tax.  Both the House and Senate approved a gas tax, and so it will increase on May 1. Lawmakers favored a change to a sales tax on gas, rather than a per gallon increase. Many supported the bill because they wanted to take advantage of $56 million in federal matching funds.

Toby Talbot / AP

According to a new report, the effort to restrain the growth of health care costs in Vermont is being undermined by the government’s failure to properly reimburse health care providers.

The report, released by the Green Mountain Care Board, shows that health care costs grew in Vermont by just 1.5 percent in 2011 but the cost of health care insurance grew several times that rate.

Anya Rader-Wallack is the chair of the board. She thinks a slow economy in 2011 reduced demand for health care services.

Rep. Peter Welch is part of a bipartisan House group that wants to improve the Affordable Care Act
Toby Talbot / AP File

Internet sales tax, immigration reform, gun control....Congressman Peter Welch joins us for the whole hour today. Email vermontedition@vpr.net or post your comments or questions for the congressman here.

VPR/Bob Kinzel

Governor Peter Shumlin and the Senate Finance committee are on a collision course concerning a new tax package.

The Governor didn’t like the tax package that was passed by the House last month and he doesn’t think m

uch of the proposal being crafted by the Senate Finance committee.

The committee’s draft plan caps mortgage interest deductions on the income tax, it creates a new minimum income tax rate and it imposes the sales tax on bottled water.

The Governor made it clear that he opposes the committee’s approach.

For years, House Democrats have been very reluctant to consider changes to Act 68, the state’s education funding law, but projections of double digit increases in spending over the next two years have changed the debate at the Statehouse.

Late Wednesday afternoon, by a vote of 110 to 24, the House give its preliminary approval to a bill that’s designed to slow down the growth of education spending in the future.

Bristol Rep. Dave Sharpe said the time has come to make some changes to the state’s education financing system

The Vermont House will soon consider an end of life bill that is very different from legislation that passed the Senate earlier this session.

When the Senate passed this bill several weeks ago, a 20 page bill was amended to just a single page during the floor debate.

The original bill contained a detailed process before a terminally ill person could request life ending medication from a physician. The amended version eliminated the process and granted doctors and family members immunity from prosecution for supplying the drugs.

House committees are rewriting a bill about end-of-life care that the Senate previously scaled back.

The House Human Services Committee voted seven-to-four in favor of the bill that would allow terminally ill patients to end their lives with a prescription medication.

Rochester Representative Sandy Haas says the committee put in safeguards that members of the Senate say are necessary.

As the Legislature struggles to put together a plan to raise new revenue, it could get an unexpected gift from Congress that would boost revenue in Vermont by at least $20 million.

Currently, Internet retailers like Amazon, don’t have to impose a state sales tax unless the company has a physical presence in the state.

Many small retailers have complained that this gives Amazon an unfair price advantage and state officials are upset because they lose revenue.

Toby Talbot / AP

It’s likely that Vermonters will pay more for gas and diesel fuel in about 10 days.

That’s because the Senate approved legislation increasing those taxes, and legislative leaders are seeking quick compromise with the House.

That’s because they want the tax hikes to be in place at the beginning of May.

The vote in the Senate was 23-5.        

The Senate plan imposes a 4 percent sales tax on gasoline. Senate Transportation Chairman Dick Mazza says it’s critical to move away from the current per-gallon tax because of declining gas sales.

Legislative leaders have put a bill raising the gas tax on a fast track for passage because they want the legislation to go into effect on May 1.

There’s little doubt that lawmakers are going to increase the state gas tax this year, the question is by how much.

Because gas sales have fallen by 30 million gallons in the last 7 years, both the House and Senate want to shift away from the current per gallon tax and towards a sales tax on the price of gas.  Each chamber is seeking the equivalent of roughly an 8 cent increase in the tax.

Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s hopeful that Congress can pass meaningful immigration reform legislation this year. Leahy says the proposal needs to balance stronger border security measures with a plan to offer undocumented immigrants a path to citizenship.

A bi partisan group of 8 U.S. Senators has been working on an immigration package for several months.  The specific plan is expected to be unveiled this week and the general outline of the proposal was released this weekend.

On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted to open debate on gun control legislation. One person at the center of this discussion is Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bob Kinzel spoke with Leahy on Thursday about the whether he was surprised by the wide margin of senators who agreed to have the debate on gun control.

Senator Patrick Leahy says he's pleased that the debate over gun control legislation will proceed in the U.S. Senate over the next few weeks.

An effort to filibuster the legislation was defeated on Thursday.

The legislation would expand the federal background check system for gun shows and be used for all gun sales on the Internet. It would also toughen penalties for individuals who purchase guns for people who are prohibited from owning those weapons.

Speaking on the Senate floor, Leahy urged his colleagues to allow a vote on the bill.

Bob Kinzel / VPR

Legislation to bring the state's hospitals under Vermont's Open Meeting Law faces an uphill battle at the Statehouse.

Backers of the legislation argue that because Vermont hospitals receive more than a billion dollars in state and federal funds, the Board meetings of these institutions should be subject to Vermont's Open Meeting Law.

Ethan Parke is a member of Vermont Health Care for All. He says hospital Boards make important public policy decisions with government funds and he thinks it's a key democratic principle to have these meetings open to the public.

The Senate Finance committee is working on a tax package for next year and the plan is likely to look quite different from a proposal adopted in the House several weeks ago.

The House plan raised roughly $25 million in 2014 and $46 million in 2015. It increased the rooms and meals tax by half a percent, imposed the sales tax on soda, candy, and bottled water, and capped personal income tax deductions.

Governor Peter Shumlin has vowed to oppose any plan that increases a broad based tax and he says the House proposal does this three times.

Governor Peter Shumlin's plan to finance a major expansion of child care programs is sharply dividing Vermont's early childhood community.

Within the state's early childhood community, there's almost unanimous support for the Governor's plan to significantly increase funding for child care subsidies and to boost rates for providers.  But there's a huge disagreement over how to pay for the initiative.

Toby Talbot / AP

Vermont has received $250 million in federal funds over the last eighteen months to set up its health care exchange.

Friday on Vermont Edition, we examine how that money is being spent, and what work remains to meet the deadline of launching the state's exchange by the end of 2013. Our guests are Mark Larson, commissioner of the Department of Vermont Health Access, and Robin Lunge, the governor's director of the health care reform.

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