U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy recently joined the Vermont Chamber of Commerce for a virtual discussion on the economic future of the state.
Leahy, a Democrat, is Senate pro tem, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and the senior member of the Judiciary Committee. He joined the meeting a bit late because he was opening the day’s Senate session. So the Senator’s Vermont Field Representative Chris Saunders began the virtual session explaining the status of the federal infrastructure bill. Saunders said they have been gathering input from Vermonters for over a year and incorporating those ideas into the bill.
“The hope and the belief is that Congress will take the ball and run with it trying to pass a bill first through the House of Representatives later this summer, maybe by the 4th of July, and then the Senate picking it up and making some adjustments and sending it back over to the House either later in the summer or early in the fall," said Saunders.
When Senator Leahy entered the virtual meeting he praised the state’s efforts to vaccinate Vermonters. He then turned to how federal COVID relief is helping Vermont employers and workers.
“The first COVID package had what’s called the Leahy Small State Minimum in it," Leahy said. "That got us about a billion and a half dollars for Vermont. It was spent on Paycheck Protection Program, direct assistance to Vermonters, those who are out of work. But we also wanted to make sure that our state fiscal situation didn’t collapse so in the American Rescue Plan get another billion dollars to Vermont. I want to get through the pandemic of course but let’s use this as an opportunity to build back a lot stronger.”
Leahy says resources must be invested in transportation, affordable housing, water infrastructure, the internet and broadband. The future of electric vehicle infrastructure was raised by several participants and the Senator said pressure is growing to create such infrastructure.
“We are going to be hurt badly as a state if we don’t have fast and easy charging everywhere," the senator said. "And there is going to be money that can be used by the states if they want it. I think it’s going to be an evolution but I think it’s going to be a much much faster evolution than anybody thought of just a few years ago.”
When Leahy was asked about federal immigration policy he noted that he comes from an immigrant family.
“We are a nation of immigrants. Immigrants have been good for Vermont," Leahy said. "We have got to improve our immigration system. We have got to make it better. We have got to welcome people. We need it for all kinds of workforces.”
Before he left to return to the Senate floor Leahy cautioned that federal relief funds must be used judiciously.
“If we are at all wise, if we use this this money by not just here’s a check, here’s a check, but actually target it we can so dramatically improve for the next generation just about any kind of business we have," said the Democrat.
As the meeting neared its end, Saunders told participants that Senator Leahy will bring back earmarks.
“With his ascendancy to the chairman of appropriations the Senator has made a decision to bring earmarks back to Vermont, or well to the country and therefore Vermont," Saunders said. "He’s going to be looking for ways to invest public dollars wisely in the state so that we can build back stronger and really advance the economy of the state.”