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Top Lawmakers Huddle on Burlington Telecom

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Burlington Telecom's financial troubles — including this week's credit downgrade by Moody's — have drawn the attention of some of Montpelier's top lawmakers and officials.

Two Burlington city councilors and one councilor-elect were called to Montpelier today to talk about what, if anything, the legislature can do to help ensure Burlington Telecom's financial difficulties do not further endanger the city's — and state's — credit rating.

Burlington Telecom's $17 million debt to the city's checking account, along with an unsure financial future, fueled the Moody's downgrade. The rating agency also put the city on a 90-day negative credit watch, essentially giving it three months to pull together a plan to rescue BT.

The downgrade, and the ongoing financial predicament, have caught the attention of Montpelier in recent weeks.

Today's half-hour special meeting, hosted in House Speaker Shap Smith's office just before midday, included Speaker Smith; President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin (D-Windham); Sen. Vince Illuzzi (R-Essex/Orleans); Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden), himself a former Burlington city councilor; City Council President Bill Keogh (D-Ward 5); Councilor Karen Paul (I-Ward 6); and Councilor-elect Kurt Wright (R-Ward 4), who is also a state representative. Also in the meeting was State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding.

"We are trying to get a handle on what is going on with Burlington Telecom, but at the same time we are coming up on a limited amount of time that the legislature could help in any way," Smith told Seven Days. With the legislature poised to adjourn by the end of April or early May, the window of opportunity to pass legislation that could help the city work its way out of the fiscal mess will soon close.

Smith and others said such help would not come in the form of loans or grants. In fact, everyone involved said the message is clear: City leaders will need to come to the legislature quickly and speak with one voice if they want any legislative assistance.

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