STATE BUDGET: Anyone who builds and lives by a budget on the family, community or state level knows that we continue to be in tough economic times. We cannot and will not spend more than we have. Having said that, we must be smart about how we downsize state government. We must not make cuts that will only push costs to the local level or only lead to much higher expenses in the short term.
I am frustrated by politicians on all levels who promise to preserve what is most important in state government, promise to make new investments and promise lower taxes. This kind of campaign speech is not honest.
Businesses, local governments, and families need a high functioning state government to partner with. Our work in the Legislature is to find the balance of how to accomplish this with the most efficient use of your tax dollars. We have dealt with similar budget shortfalls for a few years in a row. I am confident that we will find the best way through these tough budget times.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Our locally elected school boards and our school administrators have a very difficult task to build a yearly budget that supports the best schools possible, and lives within the taxpayer’s means. Our local school board members deserve a big thank you for their work. I will continue to resist one-size-fits-all or Montpelier-knows-best answers. If anything, the state needs to get out of the way and let school boards and school communities find the best answers that keeps educational quality, the taxpayer, and our kids at the center of the decision making process.
We must also listen to the frustrations expressed by property tax payers and work to assure that people are asked to contribute a reasonable share of the cost of running our schools. We have to attack the cost drivers including health care, energy costs and personnel. These represent a significant part of school spending.
ENERGY: The question of whether Vermont Yankee should be allowed to operate for another 20 years is largely unrelated to the issue of power supply and the price of that power. There is a surplus of power in the New England grid and the current contract with Entergy Louisiana is over no matter what happens in Vernon. Entergy has not been willing to entertain a reasonable, long-term power contract. At the same time, our negotiations with our neighbors to the north at Hydro-Quebec have been fruitful.
I will not support continued operation of VY until Entergy, a multi-billion-dollar company, demonstrates an ability to be honest with regulators, and makes good on its commitment to fund the closure fund. I am very fearful that taxpayers will be left with the bill to clean up after Entergy leaves. This could cost taxpayers more than $500 million.
AGRICULTURE: As I talk to people around our community, I often hear “I would pay a little more for milk if I knew it would help the farmer.” We value the heritage of living in a farming community. Thankfully, today farmers are getting a better price for their milk.
We must actively pursue all available leads to protect our dairy farms on the state and national level. We must also support farms as they experiment with diversifying to alternatives that have a potential for a strong economic future.
HEALTH CARE: There is no doubt in my mind that we can do a far better job here in Vermont in health care financing. I am excited to see the outcome of the work Dr. William Hsiao is currently engaged in. Dr Hsiao will present three models of health care financing to the Legislature in January. I have been in touch with his team and believe that they are looking at some interesting directions that could be of huge benefit to Vermonters.
I know that the high cost of health care is a crisis for many families in our community. While the idea of developing a uniform cost for all payers for medical procedures may be a positive step, it does not constitute the kind of system change that we desperately need.
JOBS: Vermont, like almost every state in the nation, is dealing with the direct impacts of a global recession. If we are smart about it, we will hold together as a state and in our local communities to launch ourselves into true economic growth. We will build an even stronger private sector if we use our Vermont assets and maintain consistent and fair tax and regulatory policies that promote economic growth and maintain the Vermont ethic of protecting the environment, the economy and strong communities.