Governor announces Vermont economic stimulus packageGovernor Jim Douglas announced a $214 million dollar economic stimulus package in hopes of making Vermont the first state to bounce back from the national recession. His 15-point plan, which would cost the state $3 million in spending but generate more than $70 million alone in its first year, has caused a rift between Republican and Democratic leaders who are scrambling to review it before the session comes to a close in two weeks.The package, which the administration says could generate more than $214 million for the state in the next five years, addresses issues of construction, housing, transportation, student loans, and even proposes two tax free holidays.One suggestion involves state bonding for $80 million over the next five years to pay for road and bridge repairs, which would create construction jobs and accelerate infrastructure repairs. Even though Douglas previously rejected an increase in the state’s bonding, he says that his administration reduced the state’s bonding debt, and that a harsh winter, increase in gas prices, higher construction costs, and the current state of the economy mean Wall Street investment firms will understand if the state needs more money.He also proposed reducing the $30 million annual transfer from the Transportation Fund to the General Fund by $4.5 million every year beginning in 2010. The cut would last until the transfer was reduced to $15 million that would go towards state police funding.In an attempt to address the current housing shortage, Douglas’ package proposes leveraging state retirement funds to provide $17.4 million to help first time home buyers and low income Vermonters hold onto their houses. He also wants to pass a portion of his New Neighborhoods housing proposal which would streamline permitting, generating 400 additional housing projects and $22 million in construction jobs.The plan also calls for student and small business loans, and tax credits for manufacturing businesses in areas with higher unemployment. There is also talk of a two day sales-tax free tax holiday and a week of no sales tax on Energy Star- related home appliances.Reactions were split along party lines, with support coming from Republicans and disapproval from a majority of Democrats, who believe that his housing plans are over politicized and over promised and that the entire package is hastily constructed. There is concern over whether the stimulus plan can go through legislature before the session ends in two weeks.Full text of Douglas’ speech can be found at www.vermontbiz.com.