Op-Ed: Setting 2018-19 legislative priorities

We ask a lot of our legislators. They’re part-time, have little staff, often have other jobs, and have to confront hundreds of issues every year. As they head back to work, they’ll be trying to figure out how to tackle all the issues in front of them.

Prioritizing the state’s challenges is hard. There are immediate issues facing the state, but long-term investments are important too. When children, the mental health care system, the environment, and workers all need attention, it can be difficult to know where to start.

Public Assets’ two recent reports try to help policymakers and citizens make sense of these competing issues and suggest practical, workable solutions to top the list this biennium. Recently released “State of Working Vermont 2018” measures the state’s progress – or lack thereof – on a number of indicators affecting Vermonters’ lives and is designed to answer three questions: Did the overall Vermont economy grow, and who benefited? Were Vermonters able to make ends meet? How was the job market for Vermonters, and who was working?

“A Framework for Progress,” the companion report to “State of Working Vermont,” was updated in November 2018. Framework recommends actions policymakers can take right away to start moving the indicators in “State of Working Vermont” in the right direction. Public Assets has identified three priority areas for progress in the next biennium: make work pay and ensure that all Vermonters can meet basic needs; make smart, evidence-based investments in programs and infrastructure; make state government more effective by increasing public engagement, fairness, and transparency.

Under each of these initiatives, the report provides concrete steps that policy makers can take to move Vermont closer to being a state that works for everyone. These policy recommendations will strengthen families’ economic security, boost the state now and into the future through strategic investments, and improve our economy and our democracy with better state budget processes.

Taken together, “State of Working Vermont” and “A Framework for Progress” can help to bring some order to what can be chaos at the start of a new biennium. The Legislature has a lot to do and not a lot of time or resources to do it. But legislators can make real progress this biennium to make life better for Vermonters.

Vermont is part of a rapidly changing region, country, and world. Business as usual isn’t going to solve Vermont’s 21st century challenges. A course correction is needed to do that.

  Written by Stephanie Yu, Public Assets Institute, www.publicassets.org.

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