Together, We Will Move
I’m offering alternatives to the general goals that everyone uses (and everyone agrees with) like “Boost the Economy” and “Create Jobs”. I’ve been running small but specific ads in the Lakes Region Free Press. They are called, “Where I Stand…” and offer voters short policy positions; more than a bullet point but less than a full report.
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The 2017 legislative session has been one of great uncertainty so far. We have new administrations in Montpelier and Washington DC, both of which are making some sharp policy distinctions from the previous administrations. While we are forging ahead here in Vermont working on our own budget issues, there is a sense of waiting for the axe to fall in Washington, wondering what challenges in both budget and policy will be handed down to us. It is hard to plan out a ten-year health policy when we don’t know what the next three months will bring.
Budget – While we monitor closely what is happening in Washington, we face our own financial challenges. The budget proposals sent over by the governor were defeated because they didn’t make economic sense and didn’t balance the budget. Despite the difficulty of wrestling with budget gaps, we do not deficit-spend, and we do not pass an unbalanced budget. The governor’s proposal to shift $112 million in costs to the Education Fund while providing $62 million to pay for it was an unbalanced proposal that shifted additional cost onto the K-12 school budget, while insisting that schools level fund their budgets from last year.
The House is working hard to craft a very tight budget that doesn’t raise taxes or fees, yet funds the vital programs Vermonters depend on. Every committee has been tasked with scrutinizing their jurisdictions for savings.
Technology – I serve on the newly reconfigured Energy and Technology Committee which oversees energy, telecommunications, and IT systems. At the same time that we are tightening belts, we also need to make substantial investments in computer technology to create a 21st-century statewide system. Last year the legislature commissioned an independent evaluation of Vermont Health Connect. It determined that the basic system is sound, identified the problems, and laid out a multi-year plan to fix them. The evaluators were very clear that the best option is to move ahead with fixing Health Connect rather than pursue any of the other options available. It turns out that health care is extremely complicated.
Act 46 – Wells and Middletown Springs will vote March 7th on merging into a single district, while Pawlet and Rupert plan to form a new study committee to look at merger options for the second time. Districts all over the state are struggling to meet the terms of Act 46. There have been close to 100 bills introduced to reform portions of the law, and I am supporting bills extending deadlines, lowering population requirements, and making “alternative structures” easier. What the legislature as a whole will do remains to be seen.
Water Quality – Following the State Treasurer’s report in January, the House continues to pursue an all-in approach to funding clean-water programs, not just in Lake Champlain but across the state. Clean water is both an environmental and economic imperative and the contamination has many sources and requires a broad array of responses. Work continues on both short term and long range planning; how to come up with the needed money is causing a lot of head scratching and creative thinking.
Ethics – Vermonters like to believe that our state is a small and trustworthy community. While that is true for the vast majority, the unfortunate actions of a few demonstrate the need for a statewide Ethics Commission. Senator Pollina and I introduced similar bills in the House and Senate to create one. The Senate is about to pass their version, so I have real hope to see this enacted into law this year. Vermont is one of only six states without such a commission.
Perhaps my proudest moment in the legislature was last month when I stood with the Republican Governor, the Progressive Lt. Governor, the Democratic Speaker, and Democratic/Progressive President Pro Tem, to pledge to fight for the human rights of all Vermonters. I am a sponsor of the House bill (with an identical one in the Senate) which declares that we will not participate in any kind of registry based on race or religion. The times when we have done that – institutionalizing slavery, creating Indian reservations and Japanese-American internment camps – are the absolute low points of our history. It must not happen again.
Quick Facts About Vermont:
Unemployment rate: 3.1% – 5th lowest in the country.
Uninsured rate: 3.7% – 2nd lowest in the country.
2,300 jobs added in 2016
High school graduation rate: 88%
Free or reduced school lunch rate: 44.2%
Maine and Vermont are the most rural states at about 61%Read More
I have been hearing from concerned residents about Act 46 administrative mergers, both the proposed Wells/Middletown Springs union and what the future holds for Pawlet and Rupert. A common question is how I intend to represent all my constituents.
Good question. Middletown Springs and Wells are voting for choice, while Rupert and Pawlet are electing designation. Tinmouth already chose and enacted a merger with Mill River. Obviously I can’t choose either position or the other and still represent the majority of my constituents in all towns. So I stand by what I said in my campaign: these are community decisions, and that is what I support.
As a Middletown Springs resident and taxpayer, and as an individual, I support school choice for a number of reasons. However, representing Pawlet and Rupert I support the community’s decision to designate Salem and Granville (though the real questions appear to be not about designation or choice, but about how much tuition money will follow students if they choose to go somewhere else, and what may or may not happen to tax rates).
So what does “support the community’s decision” mean? It means that when I get a phone call or email from a constituent I will respond, as I do for anyone and everyone. When I get a specific request, for example, to make an email “introduction” between a constituent and a legislator, I will make that introduction. What I won’t do is introduce legislation that acts against ANY of the towns I represent. Nor will I actively advocate for choice in Pawlet and Rupert, because the community has already voted the other way. In that respect I have been a disappointment to the pro choice people, many of whom are friends – just as I have friends on the designation side.
As your State Representative I am walking a tightrope on this issue, as are many legislators whose various towns have chosen different and conflicting solutions to their problems. So my public support cannot be for “choice” or for “designation”. My support must be for a clear community process and the community’s decision.Read More
This week Montpelier spoke with one voice as we took steps to prevent establishing any kind of government registry based on religion or race. The tri-partisan bill introduced at the Governor’s press conference Thursday is designed to block compliance with a muslim registry or other similar blatant discrimination.
Our actions balance our opposition [to discrimination] with the need for all of the valid data collection that happens routinely: drivers licenses, voter registration, medical information, Selective Service registration. The intent is to oppose hasty and unconstitutional edicts like President Trump’s executive order on immigration, as has been upheld by the federal courts.
Further, the Governor will need to approve federal requests to deputize state and local law enforcement to enforce federal law. As a state with an international border, Vermont has a long and mutually beneficial relationship with customs and immigration services. These actions do not affect those relationships, but add a level of review to changes to the status quo. As divisions and discord continue in Washington we can savor a rare moment of unity here in Vermont.
And it was indeed a brief moment of unity, until the Governor’s education funding proposals were killed in the legislature. Opposition centered on two elements; the timing (moving school budget votes to May 23, after months of work by school boards and supervisory unions to meet existing deadlines), and requiring school budgets to level-fund last year’s budget. Level funding actually would require cuts because of regular inflation and multi-year contracts which account for inflation. And that is not taking into account the the Governor’s proposal to move Pre-K, Higher Education, and teacher retirement commitments to the Education Fund, reliant on property taxes.Read More