by Rob Roper (June, 2013)
Did Vermont’s governor take advantage of a neighbor in a real estate deal for personal profit? Here’s a little background for those who might have missed this story….
Governor Peter Shumlin bought a piece of property from his neighbor in East Montpelier, Jeremy Dodge, at what appears to be an extraordinarily good price. According to reports, the sixteen-acre property was listed at $233,700. Shumlin paid Dodge $58,000 for it, with $9000 of that coming back to Shumlin in the form of rent ($1000/month) for allowing Dodge to stay on the property from November 2012 to July 2013, and $17,000 going to pay off back taxes, a move that benefited Shumlin by keeping the property off the auction block.
Jeremy Dodge is apparently struggling with some mental health issues, and is trying to reform himself from a history at odds with law enforcement. The annual property tax bill on his farm, which he inherited from his parents, was $4597 in 2012, but Dodge never made more than $10,000 a year. He could not afford to have a lawyer represent him in the real estate transaction with the governor.
Shumlin has repeatedly insisted that the deal he made with Dodge was, “good for me and good for him.” It’s easy to see how this was good for the governor. But…
Here’s the rub. Dodge, who says he believed he had exhausted all of his options before facing an inevitable tax sale on his property, didn’t have all the information. Vermont’s property tax laws are complex, but Dodge didn’t even know that someone making just $10,000 a year is eligible for income sensitivity. Had he been property registered, his annual property tax bill should have been closer to $500 rather than $5000 — a much more manageable number, for sure, if he wanted to save his farm.
Governor Shumlin, on the other hand, does understand how the property tax system works. Given that Jeremy Dodge is Peter Shumlin’s constituent as well as his neighbor, Shumlin had a fiduciary responsibility to help the man to the best of his ability. He didn’t. Rather than show Dodge how to file a homestead exemption to reduce his tax burden, for example, Shumlin put his own personal ambitions first and treated Dodge as a patsy.
All this raises a critical question: if our governor is willing to abuse the vulnerable position of one constituent, what’s to stop him from tossing the rest of us under a bus if it so suits him?
Here I am specifically thinking of all of those CVPS customers who, thanks to Shumlin’s machinations and manipulations, were hoodwinked out of the $21 million promised to them after that company’s buy out by Gaz Metro. In the end, that politically favored corporation, which is run by Shumlin’s Inaugural Chairwoman, got to keep the cash and spend it on other politically favored projects, like weatherization. The customers received the vague compensation of “societal benefits” in lieu of money, and, like Jeremy Dodge, were assured that this deal was somehow really as good for them as it was for Shumlin and his cronies.
I am also thinking specifically of all the Vermont communities that are now looking at industrial wind towers sprouting atop the ridgelines near their homes. Governor Shumlin told the Public Service Board (PSB) that his goal is to get wind turbines placed, “as fast as we can build them.” So far, the PSB and the legislature, which quashed a popular uprising calling for a moratorium on industrial sized wind projects during the past legislative session, have obliged.
This, of course, is great news for big-time Shumlin donors who happen to be in the wind turbine business and for Shumlin’s national reputation and fundraising prowess as a “green” governor. The rest of have to live with assurances, like the ones given to Jeremy Dodge, that radically altering Vermont’s signature ridgelines in exchange for higher than market-value electric bills and is somehow a good deal for us.
And, I am also thinking specifically of every Vermonter who is on track to be living under a single payer health care system by 2017. Our governor refuses to tell us how he intends to pay for this system. He refuses to tell us how much it will cost, or what it will cover. In keeping this information from us he even defied the law he helped to pass (Act 48) when he refused to release a detailed funding plan back in January. He is now insisting that no such plan will be forthcoming until, conveniently for him, after the next election.
Never mind. Governor Shumlin tells us not to sweat those pesky details. Don’t bother with the fine print. Trust him. In the end, all of this will really be as good a deal for us as it will be for him. I can’t help but feel that in the governor’s eyes we’re all a little bit Jeremy Dodge.