Speaking with one voice on health care

Posted by Paul Cillo on August 4, 2017 at 1:09 pm | * Comments (1)

Vermont is lucky. Even with divided state government and occasional partisan spats, our leaders on both sides of the aisle can agree that taking health care away from millions of Americans is a bad idea.

At a conference I attended in Boise, Idaho last week, state-level policy leaders from around the country discussed the potential impact of the repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Read more

It’s the property tax that’s unfair

Posted by Jack Hoffman on August 3, 2017 at 2:25 pm | * Comments (4)

Economist Art Woolf wrote recently that Vermont spends too much on education because taxes are too low for many residents. Woolf was referring specifically to resident homeowners who qualify to pay school taxes as a percentage of their income rather than on the value of their property. According to Woolf, because their income-based taxes are less than their property taxes would be, these homeowners feel like education in Vermont is on sale, so they’re buying more of it.

One problem with Woolf’s hypothesis is that it assumes that the value of a primary residence is a fair and rational indicator of how much each Vermonter should be contributing to the education of our children. It may have been 200 years ago, when the value of a person’s property and possessions was the best measure of his ability to pay. But that isn’t true today, and the system should be brought up to date with today’s economy.

It’s past time for paid family and medical leave

Posted by Stephanie Yu on July 25, 2017 at 4:33 pm | * Comments (1)

Washington State is better than Vermont. Well, on one measure anyway: paid family and medical leave.

This month Washington became the fifth state to enact a paid family and medical leave program, offering up to 12 weeks of time off to care for a new child or a sick family member, or to take care of personal health issues. The program is paid for through an insurance program funded by both employees and employers.

Washington’s program is similar to the one proposed by the Family and Medical Leave Coalition in Vermont last session.

The state that loves refugees

Posted by Jack Hoffman on July 17, 2017 at 10:59 am | * Comments (3)

Despite the recent turmoil in Rutland, Vermont owes it to itself to take a good, hard look at the benefits of welcoming the world’s growing numbers of refugees. We have excess capacity in our schools, and refugees’ families could fill many of the empty classroom seats while bringing diversity to our communities. It’s not just the right thing to do, it would also give a boost to the state’s economy. Vermont should lead the way—like we did with same-sex marriage and equitable education funding.

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.