In the lead, Vermont women still catching up

Posted by Stephanie Yu on July 5, 2017 at 3:32 pm | * Comments (1)

In many ways, Vermont women are stuck.

Stuck in the same professions as 40 years ago.

Stuck with higher rates of poverty, both for single mothers with young children and for the elderly.

Stuck with wages persistently below men’s.

Stuck with limited opportunities for leadership and lower rates of business ownership.

Reduce school tax volatility

Posted by Jack Hoffman on June 29, 2017 at 1:46 pm | Comments Off on Reduce school tax volatility

While press and public attention focused last week on the feud over who should negotiate teacher health insurance benefits, the Legislature was making more consequential changes to education funding that will affect schools and taxpayers in the 2018-2019 school year. It’s not clear yet how to mitigate these shortsighted changes next session. But there is an obvious step that needs to be taken to ensure the Education Fund is thoughtfully managed in the future.

We need a formal body, similar to the Emergency Board (which determines the consensus revenue forecasts) or the Debt Affordability Advisory Committee, to recommend education tax rates and use of Education Fund reserves. An Education Fund Stabilization Advisory Committee could help to ensure the long-term fiscal health of Vermont’s education finance system and avoid dramatic school tax increases like we can expect to see next year.

The health care feud ended up being a fight over $13 million, spread over two years. That’s not to be ignored. But out of total school tax collections of more than $2 billion over the next two years, the savings will be barely noticeable.

Let Vermonters weigh the budget options

Posted by Jack Hoffman on June 15, 2017 at 9:46 am | Comments Off on Let Vermonters weigh the budget options

The state’s 2018 fiscal year hasn’t started yet, and already the administration is considering cuts. Vermonters deserve to know what’s at stake and have a chance to consider alternatives.

Vermont’s 2017 fiscal year ends on June 30. Technically, because of a gubernatorial veto, the state doesn’t have a budget yet for next year, but should have one in place after the June 21 special legislative session and before the end of the month. Nevertheless, Gov. Phil Scott’s administration is making contingency plans to cut spending for fiscal 2018, which will start on July 1.

At this point, it appears the administration is being cautious. Both the administration and the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office anticipate that the economists who forecast state revenues will lower their estimates for the coming year. Late last month, the commissioner of finance and management asked various agencies and departments in state government to develop plans for absorbing cuts of 2 to 4 percent.

The fight we should be having

Posted by Stephanie Yu on June 2, 2017 at 12:52 pm | * Comments (4)

In case you missed it, the governor and the Legislature are in a showdown over the budget. Or unions. Or both, depending on whom you ask. But no matter how you see it, it’s the wrong fight.

Instead, the Legislature should be taking significant steps to make life more affordable for Vermonters. Fighting about $26 million in teachers’ health insurance savings, which will probably show up without the governor’s involvement, is not one of those significant steps.

Governor Scott says Vermont has an affordability problem. But it’s not state taxes that are causing the squeeze for low and moderate income Vermonters. It’s stagnant wages and rising costs for essentials.

Stay out of the swamp

Posted by Jack Hoffman on May 23, 2017 at 3:14 pm | Comments Off on Stay out of the swamp

For the most part, Vermont has been spared the kind of the political dysfunction that has paralyzed Washington for an embarrassingly long time. But Montpelier is at risk of sliding in that direction if the current dispute between the governor and the Legislature ultimately leads to a veto.

A gubernatorial veto is a legitimate political tool, although it is rarely used. Both sides try to avoid a veto showdown because the loser usually comes out looking weaker, and who the winner will be is never a sure thing.

In the past, governors have used the veto to prevent a legislative action they didn’t like from becoming law. In the extremely rare cases of an appropriations bill veto, governors were trying to force some cuts when they thought the Legislature wanted to spend too much.

More state control is not the answer

Posted by Paul Cillo on May 18, 2017 at 9:27 am | * Comments (3)

Two years ago, I wrote an op-ed that opened: “The Legislature can work with local communities to improve education, or it can push them around.”

This is the fundamental choice that the governor and lawmakers continue to wrestle with this session.

In 2015, the debate was over school district consolidation. This year, the discussion hinges on savings from lower premiums for teachers’ health insurance, which have already been set for 2018. Both issues involve the state imposing control over local school management, and both have profound implications for communities.

Don’t mess with success

Posted by Jack Hoffman on May 10, 2017 at 9:21 am | Comments Off on Don’t mess with success

The Legislature postponed its planned adjournment last week ostensibly over a disagreement with the governor about health care for Vermont’s local teachers. A lot of numbers have been thrown around—and I’ll get to those in the minute—but the crux of the dispute is that the governor claims he can drive a better bargain with the teachers than local school boards can. He’s not trying to make himself out to be Donald “Art of the Deal” Trump, but he says he has a plan to save $26 million.

The thing is, the plan the governor is promoting is a variation of one already underway.

Vermont’s a great place to raise kids – for now

Posted by Stephanie Yu on May 2, 2017 at 1:44 pm | Comments Off on Vermont’s a great place to raise kids – for now

A new study ranked Vermont the #1 state to raise healthy kids. That’s the good news. Vermont often ranks high on quality of life surveys. The question is: Can Vermont stay on top if it continues to cut state services and postpone investments?

The study looked at three broad categories: 1) kids’ health and access to health care; 2) kids’ nutrition, physical activity and obesity; and 3) kids’ oral health. Vermont ranked #1, #1 and #5 respectively.

Vermont made the choice to invest in children’s health, and it’s paid off – both in terms of the impact on kids’ actual health and on Vermont’s reputation for citizens’ well-being. There’s a lesson here.

Everyone loves the property tax

Posted by Jack Hoffman on April 25, 2017 at 4:29 pm | Comments Off on Everyone loves the property tax

For all of their public hand-wringing over property taxes, legislators and even the governor seem almost cavalier in their willingness to ask property owners to pay more.

- The tax incentives proffered by Act 46 to induce school districts to merge are being funded by higher property taxes.

- The Legislature imposed property tax penalties last year in an effort to reduce property taxes.

- In January, the governor declared property taxes “one of the biggest contributors” to what he called Vermont’s “crisis of affordability.” He then made a proposal that would have shifted $50 million in additional costs onto the property tax.

Letter to Legislative Leaders

Posted by Sarah Lyons on April 14, 2017 at 8:48 am | Comments Off on Letter to Legislative Leaders

Dear Speaker Johnson and President Pro Tempore Ashe,

We’re writing with a plea for bold action. Last fall’s election demonstrated one thing loudly and clearly: people want political leaders to act, to address the problems that are all around us. Across the political spectrum, people feel ignored by government and left behind by an economy that rewards those at the top.

Vermonters want a vision for what the state can be in five or 10 or 20 years and a path to a more prosperous future. The state budget should be part of that vision, but for over a decade Montpelier has focused on immediate, yearly budget gaps...