The Vermont Legislature starts its 2020 session in a couple of weeks, and Rep. Heidi Scheuermann has been busy during the offseason.
The Stowe Republican has crafted some policy proposals aimed at boosting Vermont’s tourism industry. At the same time, she’d like to rein in stormwater and education governance laws passed in recent years that she thinks have gone too far in their effects on local residents.
Scheuermann said she has supported Gov. Phil Scott’s three budgets — especially in his first two terms, when his budget address included opposition to any new taxes or fees — but also that, with an anticipated $60 million budget shortfall to start 2020, finding revenue will require work.
“When you’re a fiscal conservative in Vermont, it’s all about compromise,” she said.
Skin in the game
Scheuermann is still fighting the state’s decision a year ago to force school districts to merge. The Stowe and Elmore-Morristown school districts formed into one unified district July 1, despite fighting the merger in court and in the Legislature.
Her proposal is, if the state is going to force the mergers, then the state should help pay the tab for any future building costs the districts face.
She pointed out that both Stowe High School and Peoples Academy in Morrisville have “significant capital needs,” more than $20 million in Stowe and another $15 million or so at Peoples.
What happens if, down the road, the school board decides the best thing for the district is a new school, somewhere in the middle of the district? She proposes the state pay 70 percent of the cost.
“They forced this merger, and if the best thing for equity and quality is a new school campus for everybody, then the state needs to be a partner,” she said. “The state needs to have skin in the game.”
Scheuermann is proposing changes in Vermont’s stormwater laws, particularly the “3-acre rule,” which requires all properties with more than 3 acres of impervious surfaces, public or private, to have a state stormwater discharge permit by 2023. Not having one brings hefty state fines.
There are 17 such properties in Stowe, for a total of 183 acres of surface.
Stowe Mountain Resort makes up an 82-acre chunk of that area, and two town-owned properties — Stowe’s town garage and the elementary school/rink area — are on the list.
Scheuermann’s bill would add a “trigger” for the permit requirements, so that only future development would require the discharge permit.
“It is critical that we clean up our waterways, but we also have to do it in a way that won’t put people out of business or put municipalities and school districts in very precarious circumstances,” she said.
Scheuermann’s primary committee assignment is the House Committee on Energy and Technology, a relatively new group. But her heart often seems to be on matters of economic development.
She was the driving force behind getting a statewide Tourism Day at the Statehouse last session, and is planning the second such event next month, Jan. 15. The hosts for the event have a distinctly Stowe vibe to them, and include the Vermont Ski Areas Association and the Vermont Mountain Biking Association.
Tourism is something lawmakers from all parties can get behind, Scheuermann said, noting she is part of a tri-partisan tourism caucus that meets this month to talk about priorities ahead of the session, which starts Jan. 7.
To help attract people, Scheuermann proposes a $500,000 increase for destination marketing, which she said “would bring us back to levels we used to be at.”
Vermont is the only New England state that has lost market share in the tourism industry in the past five years, Scheuermann said.
“Our competitive neighbors are really mopping the floor with us,” she said. “Once we get them to consider Vermont is when we can fight for them within Vermont.”
Scheuermann isn’t keen on a much-publicized plan to pay people to move to Vermont — by reimbursing them for up to $10,000 in expenses to move here and work remotely. She thinks it’s a quick-fix effort when the state should be pumping more money into its tourism budget.
The state Department for Tourism and Marketing has another initiative aimed at attracting people to move here that gets them while they’re already here.
Stay to Stay Ski Weekends, held at Jay Peak, Bromley, Mount Snow and Killington ski resorts and their surrounding towns and cities, show the local job and housing markets to visitors who are already in Vermont skiing or riding. They hit the slopes on Sunday and have an après-sport reception with area business owners and Realtors. On Monday, they tour the towns with Realtors or visit business incubators to talk with small business owners.
Scheuermann has high hopes for recently appointed tourism commissioner Heather Pelham, who has touted the Stay to Stay program. She said Pelham is good with data and “will be right there for us on day one.”