STATE BUDGET: If the Legislative majority chooses to override the governor’s veto of a balanced budget, as they did in 2009, or increase spending by $120 million, as was the case this year, then the solution to Vermont’s budget crisis is an easy one — continue to increase spending, raise more taxes and deficit spend. We can continue the status quo or do what Vermonters expect us do: Work together and do what’s good for all Vermonters.
I have a few simple, commonsense ideas: 1. Focus first on oversight of every state service and department in Vermont. A panel of legislators, governor staff appointees and citizens charged with ferreting out waste, fraud and other general abuses in every department. The group would be non-partisan and led by Tom Evslin or the auditor of accounts. They would report to the Legislature and governor every month.
2. Consolidate services where feasible. Duplication of services is unnecessary and a costly way to do business.
3. Legislative leaders must reach out to all legislators in a tri-partisan manner and consider all possible solutions to the budget crisis. Party affiliation should not be the top consideration in doing what’s best for Vermont and Vermonters.
4. No new or increased taxes or fees should be presented for consideration. Examination of the tax code with an eye toward revising it should be the top priority of the Ways and Means Committee.
EDUCATION FUNDING: By far the most important commitment Vermont has is to provide a quality and useful education to our children. The funding sources are limited; consequently, so is the revenue. It’s clear that some schools are innovative in their classroom approach to curriculum and class management.
School boards across Vermont have made difficult decisions in their budgets and they’ll need to make even more in the next five years. Without sacrificing quality, I would offer these ideas: 1. Allow the money to follow the student. If some students and their parents choose a less expensive school, Vermont has saved money. 2. Phase out the rebate program over three years. It was a good idea to begin with but it is providing an unfair picture of the cost of education to many Vermonters. 3. Consolidate school districts. Over the next two years we could get the number down to 14-15 superintendents. 4. Continue to support the pre-k to 16 education council, which is key to educating and preparing our students for their future.
ENERGY: Concerning the relicensing of Vermont Yankee, safety is my only concern. The latest tritium found in a well is at best, very troublesome. If the next NRC report shows Vermont Yankee to be unsafe I won’t support its relicensing. Having said that, the problem is the lack of a bridge between Vermont Yankee closing and the new energy sources. Wind and solar energy should be encouraged, but they can’t begin to meet Vermont’s power demands. Hydro-Quebec is a good source of power, but it can’t meet all our demands. Geothermal and hydrogen are being discussed and developed, but in the interim they won’t meet our needs. We should encourage the development of all energy sources including nuclear power because new technology may help us meet our energy needs but if it’s not affordable many Vermonters may be at risk of losing power.
AGRICULTURE: Vermonters want farmers to succeed. We love to see the open spaces and the cows grazing. Agriculture is part of our culture and we hate to see farmers selling out because they can’t make a profit. At the very least we should have a moratorium on capital gains taxes and property transfer taxes if the property is being transferred within the family. 2. A moratorium on permits as they apply to agriculture use. Development of land would not be included in this moratorium. 3. Continue the farm viability program started several years ago. 4. Buy locally.
HEALTH CARE: Vermont needs to explore every option available in order to provide accessible and affordable health care to all Vermonters. Catamount health care should be reviewed and changes made to keep up with changing demands. Dr. Dynasaur should continue to be funded and preventative health care should continue to be encouraged at all levels of health care.
JOBS: The Legislature has ignored the pleas of Vermonters to lower their taxes for several years. Higher taxes and fees have become the norm. We’ve spent more time discussing creative ways to raise taxes and fees than we have on thinking how we could cut taxes.
My thoughts: 1. Continue supporting VEDA and other Vermont agencies that support business expansion and counseling. 2. Provide tax incentives through tax credits to companies who expand their business and hire new workers. 3. Support government/business partnerships that hire the unemployed on a temporary basis to see if the job fits the employee and employer (New Hampshire is trying this idea). 4. Reform the permit process so startups and business expansions can get started more easily. 5. Reform the tax codes so that workers and businesses keep more of the money they’ve earned. It’s business leaders and entrepreneurs who create jobs and government needs to support their creativity, not inhibit it.