Vermonters and their hard-earned dollars are exhausted from experiencing the roller coaster ride that is our government’s approach to economic policy. Despite repeated pleas from Vermonters to address affordability and avoid upward pressures on tax bills, this session has once again left them with a feeling that no one is listening to them, leaving them holding the bag.
It’s not that our political leaders and lawmakers can’t get things done. Just look how quickly they passed recreational marijuana and firearms legislation this session. In fact, Vermont has a long track record of pushing social issues through at a rapid pace, but the sand really gets into the gears, as soon as economic and fiscal issues hit the road.
And this year was no different. The session adjourned with a budget that included moderate tax increases and the governor’s insistence of a veto to keep his promise on no new taxes. He’s asking legislators to work with him to leverage $58 million in one-time funds that he claims will be paid back through savings over five years.
Many in the Legislature felt those funds could be used in more efficient ways and showed it by passing their own budget with different priorities on spending. Elements of this budget include a $9.8 million dollar transfer to shore up education fund reserves, using $34 million toward unfunded teacher’s pension liability which law makers say will ultimately save nearly $100 million in interest, investing $5 million in workforce development, around $5 million toward mental health facilities and programs, another $4 million toward programs for Vermonters with disabilities, and $7 million toward child welfare programs.
While conscious efforts to cease upward pressure on our taxes is a laudable endeavor, and one that Campaign for Vermont has been pushing for since 2011, true solutions for property taxes have been the subject of political “kick-the-can-down-the-road” for longer than one can recall.
One-time money is not a solution to compensate for their inability to develop a long-term plan of action. According to the governor’s Information, Referral and Assistance Office, the Administration put out several plans, which were ignored by the Legislature. While the Legislature is saying they didn’t have the time or the data to fully consider his plans. The Administration responded with several last-minute press releases condemning the Legislature for refusing to work with them on an agreeable solution.
The talent to solve this problem resides here in our state. Find the right people with the requisite skills, regardless of their politics, and they will address this issue once and for all. Vermonters should demand nothing less. The governor and the Legislature should work to resolve this chronic issue with clear data and facts, that balances the short-term and long-term impact, with broad support, and that is transparent and accountable to all Vermonters.
As CVF’s website has stated for years: “Policy initiatives should be well thought through and have validated, comprehensive data supporting them. Too often our inadequately resourced lawmakers, dealing with insufficient, out of date data, and under pressing time constraints, succumb to politically expediency and opt for the policy easiest to implement. This type of decision-making either reinforces the status quo or creates unnecessarily complicated, confusing, or inadequate legislation, failing to open up the discussion for real progress.”
Campaign for Vermont urges our political leaders to step back from their political maneuvering and put the children and taxpayers of the state first as they head into the upcoming Special Session.
Written by Pat McDonald, president of Campaign for Vermont. Pat McDonald has served in various leadership positions throughout state and local government. Pat resides in Berlin, Vt.