STATE BUDGET: With the expected state budget shortfall now at around $112 million for the next fiscal year, I expect that as one of 30 senators we will look at many solutions to close this gap. We will need to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of all state-run programs. Those programs that are not performing will need to be removed. This is not an easy task, as we need to continue essential services such as human services, education, public safety and transportation. We can reduce the budget through attrition and streamlining of services, such as cross-training of personnel.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Act 60/68 has fundamental flaws. As legislators, we have a constitutional and moral obligation to assure that property taxes are assessed fairly and equitably. Either we need to provide the Division of Property Valuation and Review with the resources to do a better job or we need to find a fairer source of revenue than state property taxes to fund education.
Any new funding system created by the Legislature in the coming biennium will have to consider several factors, such as school choice, consolidation and cost containment. Any one or a combination of these factors will be a part of the conversation. If we are serious about quality education while containing the associated costs, we must consider all of the options. As legislators, we need to work with school boards and municipalities to create a new education finance system.
ENERGY: Vermont Yankee currently generates approximately one-third of the power that Vermont uses. The loss of this power supply will increase our electric bill significantly. The state of Vermont should look at the reports issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and follow those recommendations. If the NRC states the plant is unsafe, then we should not wait until 2012 to close it. If, however, the NRC states the plant is safe we need to renew its license. The question then is do we renew for 20 years or is there a shorter term that we should consider, while still getting an affordable rate for the power.
The state is currently a leader in clean and green energy. We need to continue to encourage development of renewable energy generation such as solar, wind, hydro, and cow power. As the technology evolves, the cost of these sources of energy will become more reasonably priced.
AGRICULTURE: The Current Use Program should be a tax policy, not a selective program that taxes the farmers on the use of the land. Currently, we tax residences and commercial businesses at the value of that use. However, when it comes to farms we tax at the value of its potential use unless they are enrolled in the Current Use Program.
We need to continue the Farm to Plate and Farm to School programs. We should work with UVM on programs such as the Farm Viability program that helps farmers with business plans, diversification, and transferring the farm.
HEALTH CARE: The state needs to reintroduce competition to the insurance industry. This will reduce the cost of health insurance, reducing the state and employers’ cost of health care. The state needs to reduce the burden on the employers and look at the premium structure that covers those that are uninsured and underinsured. We need to look at the cost associated with administering the Catamount Health program and reduce costs where permissible.
JOBS: In order to create new jobs while preserving the state’s scenic and agricultural identity we need to provide strong incentives, such as streamlining the permitting process for establishing business in locally designated growth centers, downtowns, town and village centers, and Vermont Neighborhoods, assuring that such business development is permitted pursuant to the same standards as those in the existing community. Consolidating the Designated Downtown, Growth Center, and Vermont Neighborhoods programs into one cohesive program that has conditions that are easy to fulfill and logical would also create business growth without complicating the permit process.