Green Up Day May Get Trashed If Lawmakers Don't Find Money
For the past 43 years, volunteers have spent the first Saturday in May plucking litter from Vermont’s roadsides. Green Up Day has become an unofficial holiday in Vermont, one that embodies the environmental ethic of a state defined by its natural beauty.
But it takes money to put on the event. And if lawmakers don’t come up with more of it soon, then those telltale green garbage bags that appear on the side of the road every spring could disappear for good.
"We really are facing the reality that if something positive does not happen, that after Green Up Day 2015, we will face planning an orderly shutdown of Green Up Day." - Melinda Vieux, president of Green Up Vermont
“We are now at a point where we really are facing the reality that if something positive does not happen, that after Green Up Day 2015, we will face planning an orderly shutdown of Green Up Day,” says Melinda Vieux, the president of Green Up Vermont.
Vieux heads the nonprofit founded in 1979 to administer Green Up Day. (It was run by state government prior to that.) Vieux says declining corporate sponsorships have opened up a huge hole in her organization’s approximately $120,000 annual budget.
Seventh Generation, Ben & Jerry’s, and most recently Green Mountain Coffee Roasters have all dropped their annual charitable gifts to Green Up Day. Those three grants alone accounted for about 20 percent of the Green Up operating budget.
Spokespeople for Seventh Generation and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters said the decision to end their grants was the result of new criteria for charitable giving. And Vieux says she’s been unable to convince them otherwise.
“We’re a one day a year event,” Vieux says. “Foundations don’t like to support events and they certainly don’t like to support a one day a year event.”
Vieux says efforts to supplement fundraising with appeals to residents and smaller Vermont businesses have largely fallen on deaf ears.
“I go on the radio every year and have this conversation and make this statement that Green Up day depends on two things: it depends on volunteers and it depends on money,” Vieux says. “But that conversation has not led to money coming in to Green Up day.”
So Vieux is turning to the Legislature, where she hopes lawmakers will increase the $10,500 in taxpayer money that currently goes to Green Up Day annually. Vieux spent $12,000 last year on the garbage bags alone; they distributed 46,000 of them. About half of the Green Up budget goes to pay for two part-time staffers, including Vieux, who coordinate the Green Up Day events.
Vieux says the organization’s finances are an open book, and that she’s eager to show lawmakers how the money is being spent. She says she’s also happy to show legislators the list of duties for which she and her part-time assistant are responsible.
Vieux may have found a savior in Rep. Janet Ancel, D-Calais, the chairwoman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Ancel has introduced legislation that would create a new box on Vermont income tax forms, which tax filers could check off if they wanted to donate to the Green Up cause. The bill has more than 40 sponsors.
“It gives people an opportunity to put, you know, a dollar, $10, $20, whatever it is they decide, out of their own pockets – it’s not part of the state budget – into a program I think Vermonters really support,” Ancel says.
Ancel says she thinks the money would “reinvigorate” the Green Up program, and allow Vieux to bolster outreach and education in public schools and elsewhere.
Lawmakers last added a check off box to income tax forms in 2010 – it goes to benefit the Vermont Veterans Fund. That move boosted annual revenue to the veterans fund by about $40,000 a year. Vieux says an additional $25,000 t0 $50,000 annually would save Green Up Day.
The legislation is currently in Ancel’s committee, and might be folded into the miscellaneous tax bill.