Peter Hirschfeld

Reporter

Peter Hirschfeld covers state government and the Vermont Legislature. He is based in VPR’s Capital Bureau located across the street from Vermont’s Statehouse.

Hirschfeld is a leading Vermont journalist who has covered the Statehouse since 2009, most recently as bureau chief for the Rutland Herald and Times Argus. He began his career in 2003, working as a local sports reporter and copy editor at the Times Argus.

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Inequality For All

Robert Reich is the star of a new movie. And Bernie Sanders probably could have written the script.

This weekend, the two men will host a screening of Reich’s new documentary, Inequality for All. Reich and Sanders have been preaching the same progressive gospel for years. And Reich says the message finally seems to be resonating.

VPR/Peter Hirschfeld

It’s being called the fiscal sinkhole. And it could be coming to a road near you.

In his budget address last week, Gov. Peter Shumlin unveiled a plan for record-setting transportation spending. But partisan politics in Washington, D.C., could soon threaten some of that money.

The problem is in the Federal Highway Trust Fund, a multi-billion dollar pot of money that accounts for about half of Vermont’s annual road budget. And it’s going to run dry in September unless Congress votes to fill it back up.

When federal lawmakers finally came to a budget deal last month, they did so at the expense of military retirees. The congressional spending plan reduced cost-of-living adjustments for veterans’ pensions. And that provision is expected to cost former service members $6 billion in lost income over the next 10 years. 

As local school boards put the finishing touches on the budget proposals they’ll put before voters in March, Gov. Peter Shumlin continues to push for austerity from afar.

After telling Vermonters in his budget address last week to closely scrutinize spending proposals on Town Meeting Day, Shumlin used his weekly press conference to reinforce the message.

Asked by reporters how he can tell school boards to keep costs down when his own state budget proposal for next year exceeds the rate of inflation, Shumlin said that’s “easy.”

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

Vermont lawmakers are at a critical juncture in their quest for a publicly financed health care system. And they’re bringing aboard a $10,000-a-month consultant to help them get it right.

The Legislature already has a small staff of fiscal analysts to call on. But as lawmakers undertake the most ambitious health care reform agenda in state history, they’re spending some money on outside experts.

In a State of the State address devoted entirely to what he says is Vermont’s “full blown heroin crisis,” Gov. Peter Shumlin on Jan. 8 announced $10 million in new spending on an addiction treatment infrastructure plagued by long waiting lists and a shortage of providers.

“Let’s start treating drug addiction as the immediate health crisis that it is by dramatically increasing treatment across Vermont,” Shumlin said.

Anya Rader Wallack

The man in charge of developing the financing mechanism for Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single-payer health care plan made his first appearance of the year before the Legislature Friday.

That man is Michael Costa, a lawyer whose title in the Shumlin Administration is deputy director of health care reform.

But Costa isn’t tipping the administration’s hand about what taxes will be used to pay for the new system.

VPR/Peter Hirschfeld

Four years ago, lawmakers worked to help wrongfully convicted inmates obtain the DNA evidence needed to win their release. This year, the Legislature will try to prevent innocent suspects from going to jail in the first place. 

Dennis Maher had to spend 19 years in prison before the arrival of DNA evidence  proved he wasn’t guilty of the rape charge that landed him there. Maher can trace the roots of his wrongful conviction to a photo line-up in which the victim misidentified him as the perpetrator of the crime.

Angela Evancie / VPR/file

Lawmakers, administration officials and the media have spent months spotlighting the $70 million shortfall that was threatening to bust next year’s budget.

But Gov. Peter Shumlin on Wednesday outlined a fiscal year 2015 spending plan that will use previously undisclosed windfalls to balance the state ledger in a way that administration officials say won’t impact government services.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Looming increases in the statewide property tax rate have prompted calls for education financing reform. But the most powerful Democrats in Montpelier say they’re not yet convinced that Vermont’s school funding system needs fixing.

VT DEC

Lawmakers are again seeking new environmental protections for the more than 200 lakes and ponds scattered across Vermont. But, as was the case last year, the push for shorelands legislation is running into resistance from some waterfront property owners.

National Multiple Sclerosis Society New England Chapter

Sen. Sally Fox, D-Chittenden, an advocate for the poor and a longtime lawmaker, died Thursday night after a battle with a rare form of lung cancer. She was 62.

Fox was elected to the Senate in 2010 and served seven terms in the Vermont House of Representatives before that. In the Senate, the South Burlington Democrat was an assistant majority whip and was co-chair of the Mental Health Oversight Committee.

Fox was known as an advocate for poor and underprivileged Vermonters. She focused especially on poverty and healthcare issues.

Earlier this week, Gov. Peter Shumlin touted progress in fixing problems on the state’s embattled health insurance website. But as lawmakers are hearing from consumer advocates and private insurers, significant hurdles remain.

In a rare appearance before the House and Senate committees on health care Tuesday, Shumlin acknowledged that the exchange has had its issues. But he said the insurance website is slowly but surely becoming a success story. With more than 50,000 Vermonters enrolled in exchange plans, Shumlin said that Vermont has put the worst of its problems behind it.

Angela Evancie / VPR

Gov. Peter Shumlin has focused his annual address to lawmakers on what he calls a growing epidemic of drug addiction as treatment programs around the state struggle to keep up with a surge in demand for services.

Governor Peter Shumlin will give his annual introductory address to the legislature at 2 p.m. on Wednesday.

While the imperative of the State of the State shouldn’t be overstated, it is an important ritual in Montpelier and it can help focus lawmakers attention on an issue.

Governor Peter Shumlin is expected to address what he has called an epidemic of opiate abuse in Vermont, and offer some solutions based on recent reports from the administration.

What promises to be one of the highest-profile political fights of the 2014 session got underway in earnest Tuesday when supporters of a bill that would require employers to supply paid sick days staged an opening day rally inside the Statehouse.

Dressed in the red T-shirts that have come to signify their organization, members of the Vermont Workers Center, the group leading the push, said it’s time “to hold our legislators accountable to our health and dignity in Vermont.”

Angela Evancie / VPR File Photo

In a rare appearance by a sitting governor before a legislative committee, Gov. Peter Shumlin Tuesday took responsibility for problems on the new health insurance exchange, but said the shortcomings only reinforce his case for a publicly financed, universal health care system.

“No one is more disappointed than I am that we fell short of our rollout in the exchange, and I take responsibility for those failures,” Shumlin said. “I know that we have work to do to restore Vermonters confidence in our ability to get health care right.”

VPR/ Peter Hirschfeld

Two years ago, the proposed merger of Vermont’s two largest electric utilities triggered a debate over the adequacy of the state’s regulatory system. Now, a bill borne out of that dispute will look to give regular Vermonters more sway in the rate-setting process.

Peter Hirschfeld / VPR

With midterm congressional elections less than a year away, partisan bickering on Capitol Hill isn’t likely to end anytime soon. But as he prepares to head back to work after the holiday recess, Senator Patrick Leahy says he’s optimistic Democrats and Republicans will come to terms this year on some key pieces of legislation.

Vermont is one of three states that don’t require their elected officials to disclose their financial interests. But a new organization being bankrolled by a former Wall Street executive says that needs to change.

Bruce Lisman came on the political scene in Vermont only about two years ago. But he’s trying to use his personal fortune to fast track his influence.

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