(in alphabetical order)
At the most fundamental level, I see one of my responsibilities as getting everyone to the proverbial table – not just the people who are already there but also those who have valuable expertise but may lack access to established channels of influence and communication. We cannot come up with good solutions if we do not take a range of experience and situations into account. This kind of collaboration is needed as we face not only the issues addressed below but the many other equally important issues before us.
ACT 46 (School Consolidation)
Like many Vermonters, I support the rationale behind Act 46: providing substantial equity in the quality and
variety of educational opportunities statewide, leading students to achieve or exceed state standards, maximizing operational efficiencies, promoting transparency and accountability, and delivering education at a cost that taxpayers value. There are communities for whom consolidated school governance makes sense as a way to achieve these aims, and some of these communities have already voted to consolidate.
As a former school board member in Roxbury and a member of school communities in Middlesex and East Montpelier, I appreciate the differences across towns. For this reason, it is important to drill down into this legislation and to understand how it might impact the range of communities. The pursuit of equity may lead to unintended consequences that actually undermine it, such as long bus rides for our youngest students, closing schools in poorer or more remote communities, and eroding community engagement as control is shifted to a central entity.
At a minimum, Act 46 needs to be revised to provide greater flexibility on locally devised alternatives to the preferred model outlined in the legislation. Citizen working groups are coming together to create local, creative approaches to the problems posed by Act 46. In East Montpelier and Middlesex, there is a vibrant group working on alternative models to the legislation. Modifications to Act 46 need to encourage this kind of thinking and more explicitly recognize that critical information flows from those closest to students. The challenges of budget pressures and high property taxes are real and deserve legislation that is specifically and prudently targeted to address them.
I believe that health care is a basic human right. Without good health, Vermonters are limited in their pursuit of all other goals. Families, schools, businesses, and state budgets are struggling under the weight of rising healthcare costs, and our current system of health insurance risks becoming a disincentive for Vermonters to explore self employment and entrepreneurship.
Knowing that prevention is the cornerstone of sound healthcare policy, we need to work to provide primary care
for every Vermonter. We must also continue to collaborate with federally qualified health centers (FQHC) to
improve access. With a focus on these fundamentals, we will be better positioned to address and curb the use of costly emergency rooms services and meet the needs of those with chronic conditions. We must also continue reforming our system of payment and incentivize health outcomes in a way that seeks to decrease visits, prescriptions and procedures.
Finally, health care reform must take into account how health care services are grappling with a wide range of
other determining factors that impact health and thus requires an integrated approach with social services. This includes homelessness, mental health challenges, substance abuse, domestic violence and more.
I support gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Those who work full-time need to be able to make ends meet.
I recognize this is not an easy issue. My conversations with small business owners illustrate the complexities.
One major employer in our district has told me that competitive wages and a supportive work environment are fundamental to reducing turnover. This translates to lower training costs and novice errors and thus greater productivity for the business, which can in turn allow for expansion and more hiring. I am interested in exploring additional ways to build support for this kind of productive cycle.
At the same time, another small business owner has explained that increasing wages would likely result in a
cut-back to some employee hours. Still another business voiced concern about the upward pressure across
the spectrum of skilled labor while also acknowledging that we are all subsidizing low wage employers--including large corporations-- through a range of other programs that are needed when employees are not
paid a fair wage. I am committed to raising the minimum wage but want to do so in a way that recognizes the perspectives of these businesses and eases the transition.
The related topic of closing the wage gap between men and women needs our attention and action, especially when the poverty rate for women has stayed consistently higher than that of men. The necessity of access to quality childcare -- as well as support for those who provide this essential care -- is also of paramount importance to any economic development strategy.
STEWARDSHIP OF NATURAL RESOURCES
An important part of Vermont’s identity is defined by the extraordinary natural resources that surround us. Vermont relies heavily on its natural resources -- most obviously in the agricultural and tourism sectors -- and
we owe a debt of gratitude to those who have cared for these natural systems over the generations.
Many of these ecosystems now face increasingly urgent pressures, especially our waters. I am troubled by the growing revelations of groundwater contamination. We have made progress in cleaning our water, but there is clearly more to be done. Without action, we risk further impairing this vital resource upon which public health depends and also face a growing host of federal mandates and associated financial penalties.
Addressing climate change is another imperative of our time and deserves action on multiple fronts. It not only threatens to negatively impact sugaring operations and ski resorts in Vermont but also vital ecological systems across the planet. Greater renewable energy output is an important path to meeting our state goals; this sector
also serves as an important engine for job growth. I support responsibly sited renewable energy projects that take into account community input. Our leadership on regional initiatives that have made measured progress on carbon reduction should continue through expansion of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative to include transportation fuels.
More must also be done in term of energy conservation and efficiency as the returns cited for each dollar invested are impressive, there is untapped residential and commercial opportunity, and we have significant local talent and knowledge in East Montpelier and Middlesex available to us. We also need to cultivate public transportation, bicycle and park-and-ride infrastructure, alternative ride-share programs, and other creative approaches to meeting our transportation needs. Finally, continued adaptation planning to improve resilience is critical to our future well-being.
I support a ban on any more hydraulic fracking infrastructure, including pipelines. Not only do these projects risk contamination to groundwater and consequently human health, but mistaken cost estimates threaten a dramatic utility rate increase. We need to strengthen laws to give local communities more influence over where this kind of project is sited.
TAXES & AFFORDABILITY
There is no question that affordability needs to be a top priority.
We know that education costs represent the largest proportion of our property tax bills. One factor contributing to these increases is the legislature’s practice of borrowing funds from the Education Fund for other priorities.
To the extent that any amount restored to the Education Fund is less than that borrowed, a recommendation is made to increase the education tax rate. This practice is not sustainable.
The Joint Fiscal Office and Tax Department released a study on a proposal from Senator Pollina seeking to ease the cost of property taxes and more equitably balance payment by income Currently, a lower percentage of income is typically paid by those with high incomes who instead tend to pay by property value. Discussion of these findings will hopefully bring a fuller range of tax issues to the forefront.
TRAINING & EDUCATION
Through my work at the Association of Vermont Independent Colleges, I know how important training and education are to individual and state prosperity. Given the many national and state proposals on free college,
I would like to explore whether there are viable options for making higher education in Vermont more affordable.
It is also clear that high rates of retirement within the trades translate to a need for greater participation for those entering the workforce, especially for women. Workforce certifications – in areas ranging from cosmetology to auto mechanics – also offer greater economic opportunity.
Higher education is a top reason that people move to Vermont and therefore a significant part of growing Vermont’s economy and expanding our tax base. After spending their college savings here, these individuals create a pool of talent for employers. Many also start businesses of their own. This is how some of our well-known companies began as well as more recent start-ups, not to mention an array of non-profit organizations working on social, ecological and economic fronts.