As we returned to the Statehouse last week following our Town Meeting Day break, my quest continued for a one-year extension to the Act 46 involuntary merger deadline.
First, I was very fortunate to have Cara Zimmerman (chair of the Stowe School Board, vice chair of the Lamoille South Supervisory Union Board, and chair of the School District Merger Transition Board) join me last Tuesday to speak with the Senate Education Committee about our hope for this one-year extension from July 1, 2019, to July 1, 2020.
Not surprisingly, Cara did a fantastic job, and the committee was clearly impressed with the diligent work of both the Elmore-Morristown and Stowe school boards, and our supervisory union. In fact, both Cara and I were proud when the chair even indicated that he holds us out as the model for other communities going through this involuntary merger process.
Then, on Friday of last week, following more testimony presented throughout the week (some unhelpful to our quest), the Senate committee passed a bill that allows for a deadline extension of one year as long as districts demonstrate that they are proceeding.
While I am really pleased with this development and look forward to the bill passing the full Senate this week, it is exceptionally frustrating to see the administration and the Vermont School Boards Association so opposed to this change, and working against the interests of our communities so aggressively.
After all, our communities have done everything right; everything according to the law; everything in the best interests of all of our students. Yet, none of that seems to matter.
This quest for an extension still seems like a Sisyphean task, but I am hopeful that we will ultimately prevail, and the governor will sign an extension into law. The additional time is critical to ensure this merger (if our appeal of the State Board of Education’s decision to forcibly merge our two districts doesn’t succeed) is done well and in a way that ensures the confidence and support of all of our students, parents, teachers, and communities as a whole.
The importance of tourism
In our efforts to bring more attention to the importance of our state’s tourism industry, and additional investments in it, I am pleased to report that I have been invited by the House Economic Development Committee this week to present the two bills I have introduced.
One of the bills, H. 298, would provide for a dedicated fund for tourism marketing. Following in the footsteps of the state of Maine, this bill would take a percentage of the revenues generated from tourism (rooms and meals tax) and direct that percentage into promoting and marketing Vermont as a tourist destination.
While many argue that investments in tourism marketing are wasted investments, I submit that the real impact is exactly the opposite.
In fact, the first year that Maine instituted a dedicated fund paid for by 5 percent of the lodging and meals tax to promote its tourism, the state had a $20 million increase in gross receipts from the lodging and meals tax. And from fiscal year 2004 to fiscal year 2019, those annual receipts have increased by $208 million.
Vermont must follow the lead of the state of Maine. We can no longer sit idly by and watch as our competitors spend millions more than us to promote tourism in their states. After all, we are competing in an ever-increasingly global market. To grow and increase our market share of those global tourism dollars, we cannot lose sight of staying economically competitive.
Toward that end, our April 3 Tourism Day at the Statehouse is coming together nicely. This day will include a House Commerce and Economic Development Committee hearing on the importance of tourism, informational tables and displays about the industry, and other activities.
Most importantly, it will bring Vermonters from across the state to the Statehouse for important conversations with their local legislators with the simple goal of ensuring all 180 legislators know and understand the importance of the tourism industry, and of greater investment in it.
I urge the people of Stowe in the tourism industry — both indirectly and directly — to join us on April 3. If you are interested in doing so, please contact me.
As always, as our legislative session progress, please feel free to contact me at anytime. I can be reached at 253-9314 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also be in touch if you are interested in receiving my more in-depth, regular email newsletters.
Heidi Scheuermann, a Republican, represents Stowe in the Vermont House of Representatives. Email letters to email@example.com.