Shape of Legislature looks good for Rutland
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | January 14,2013
Local officials saw good news when the committee assignments were announced for the new legislative session.
Mayor Christopher Louras said he was particularly pleased to see Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, at the head of the Economic Development Committee and Rep. Herb Russell, D-Rutland City, on the Transportation Committee.
“I think the city and the county are well represented on economic issues,” he said.
Mullin said he was setting himself the task of creating job opportunities and halting the population decline in Vermont’s 25-44 age bracket, but he was short of specific ideas.
“I think it’s way too early to say how we’re going to get there,” he said. “We’re going to be talking to businesses throughout the state, finding out what they see as the greatest opportunities and the greatest threats.”
Mullin did say there were steps he knows the state needs to take, like increasing work force development in school curriculums, toward which he supports the governor’s call for more investment in STEM education. Every student in Vermont should be exposed to algebra and geometry, Mullin said, and should have the opportunity to take calculus. He also said more resources should be put into technical centers.
“Not everyone has to have a bachelor’s degree,” he said. “There are a lot of necessary jobs that can be filled out with technical centers.”
Mullin said the state also needs to make bachelor’s degrees available at lower prices. He said the lack of state funding for the Vermont State Colleges was part of the problem, while inefficiency is another part.
“A lot more could be done online,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to have brick and mortars. But, I am totally in agreement that we are woefully inadequate in how we pay for post-secondary education.”
Mullin said Vermont is second in the country in K-12 spending but 49th in college spending.
“There is no magical money tree,” he said. “We can’t spend more on higher education until we get better at spending on K-12.”
Aside from education issues, Mullin said he hopes to use the chairmanship as a “bully pulpit” to attract successful businesses to the Rutland area.
“Anything I can do to promote Rutland, I will do with the chairmanship,” he said.
Russell has been one of the loudest voices at the state level in trying to get the western rail corridor developed, and he said a seat on Transportation will only make him louder.
“I am totally focused,” he said. “I asked for this assignment. ... They’re going to get tired of hearing ‘western corridor’ because that’s all I’m going to bring up.”
Maybe not “all” — Russell said he’ll also pay attention to local concerns like the River Street Bridge as the Agency of Transportation puts together its project list.
“It’s as simple as finding out where the priorities are and making certain we’re on the list,” he said. “I’m in every conversation in that committee. The advantage is to know exactly what’s going on, what’s proposed, the money being suggested statewide.”