STATE BUDGET: Facing a $120 million gap is significant. Balancing the budget, as Vermont does every year, will require Democratic and Republican lawmakers to work together with the governor. Vermont has just come through two tough budgeting years, during which a gap caused by revenue shortfalls created a $753 million budget gap. We need to approach the next budget using great fiscal responsibility and an overarching set of goals. Most Vermonters can’t afford to pay any more in taxes, and many Vermonters still need state services.
Next year, I will support the examination of the state’s practice of giving away close to $1 billion in tax revenue prior to budget setting. Additionally, I support the efforts of state agencies to identify programs that no longer serve Vermont. My goal is to make sure the budget does not undermine the health and well-being of Vermonters and builds a balanced and responsible budget while addressing future fiscal challenges.
EDUCATION FUNDING: The Vermont Supreme Court requires equal education throughout Vermont, regardless of a town’s wealth. We pay for education through property taxes, and Act 68 brought a level of fairness to property taxes by creating income sensitivity, which allows 70 percent of Vermont households to pay for education based on their income rather than the value of their property. Income better reflects ability to pay. This past session the Legislature limited income sensitivity to the first $500,000 of the homesite value. The Legislature will continue to work with recommendations for a tax system that provides sustainability, appropriateness and equity. Vermont’s local school boards have done an incredible job and have kept the state wide tax rate from requiring an increase in 2010. Vermont is ranked near the top nationally for the quality education we deliver and we need to find a way to educate our children without bankrupting our families.
ENERGY: Given the almost weekly announcements of problems (radioactive chemicals in well water; leaking underground pipes; collapsed building, etc.), Vermont Yankee is struggling to make it to the end of its license, never mind continuing to operate beyond that. It has been an eye opening experience to listen in on calls from inside VY while investigating crews tried to locate leaking pipes. We need safe, affordable power, but Vermont Yankee is old, and is falling apart, and the owners do not seem able or willing to improve the plant or assure that there will be enough money in the “decommissioning” fund to shut down the plant safely. Decommissioning VY is as important an economic question as power, and all Vermonters should be watching this fund with interest. As you drive along Route 7 in Ferrisburgh, you’ll see a solar “farm” that will be the largest solar generating facility in Vermont. This is what Vermont’s energy future can hold.
AGRICULTURE: Agriculture is the back bone of Addison County, and I’ll continue to fight hard for farmers. When the Champlain Bridge closed family farms located on both sides of the lake endured even more economic hardship than what they were already suffering. Their ability to rise above this huge obstacle is a testimony to their resolve. I recently attended the Addison County Farm Bureau’s annual meeting, at which they established their 19 legislative priorities for next year, including strengthening the Current Use program and the Vermont Seal of Quality program. I will work to support both of those priorities.
HEALTH CARE: Affordable, quality health care is no longer a privilege, it’s an economic necessity: Large and small businesses across Vermont are desperate for the economic relief that will come with real health care reform. Employers can’t or won’t hire more employees because of the skyrocketing cost of providing health insurance for their workers. I believe we need an integrated system of care that is decoupled from employment. The Health Care Commission established by the Legislature this past session will design at least three different models to help us achieve a logical, comprehensive, efficient and affordable system in Vermont.
JOBS: We need to continue to invest prudently to encourage the creation of jobs that fit with our landscape. This past session the legislature invested in efforts to increase broadband access; high-speed Internet access is critical to retaining and recruiting jobs. The Legislature also passed within the Jobs Bill increased access to working capital; we need to continue this effort, because capital is critical for our small businesses. Finally, we need to invest in the new “green technology,” including green energy; this will bring high-paying jobs to Vermont, while preserving our beautiful scenery and providing us with affordable energy.