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...

Budget numbers

Posted by Stephanie Yu on March 31, 2017 at 5:32 pm | * Comments (1)

143 to 1. That was the headline last week. The House budget plan that closed a $70 million gap without raising revenue had near-unanimous support.

The House’s version of the budget cobbled together $48 million in transfers, $17 million in savings and cuts, and $5 million in enhanced tax collections to create a budget that virtually everyone could agree on. While the plan appears to be popular inside the Statehouse, this budget does little to address the real issues Vermonters are facing outside.

Here are some other Vermont numbers worth thinking about:

47%: the share of single mothers with young children living in poverty

12%: the amount the middle class has shrunk since 1980

$304,465: the difference in income between a Vermont family in the bottom 20% and one in the top 5%

Another attempt to lower property taxes by raising them

Posted by Paul Cillo on March 22, 2017 at 11:40 am | * Comments (4)

It should be obvious by now: You can’t provide property tax relief by raising property taxes. In fact, it should have been obvious long before now.

Yet that is exactly what the Legislature included in Act 46, the school consolidation bill, in 2015. (It then repealed that provision in 2016.)

And that is exactly what the House Education Committee is proposing again this year. The committee voted on Friday to introduce a committee bill (H.509).

This latest attempt at property tax relief would increase taxes for about half of Vermont towns—the half that has the highest property taxes already—and lower taxes for the towns that have the lowest property taxes.

Seriously. I’m not making this up.

State can help Vermonters save for retirement

Posted by Stephanie Yu on March 15, 2017 at 8:43 am | * Comments (6)

Most Vermonters do not have a big enough nest egg for retirement. In fact, for many, the nest has no egg at all. And the problem is worst for women and people of color. These were just some of the findings in a report released earlier this year by the Vermont Public Retirement Study Committee. Read more

We can’t afford more giveaways to high-income Vermonters

Posted by Paul Cillo on March 9, 2017 at 12:01 pm | Comments Off on We can’t afford more giveaways to high-income Vermonters

Each year the governor and Legislature go through the handwringing exercise of closing a projected state budget gap. The projected General Fund gap for fiscal 2018 is about $70 million.

As usual, much of the conversation has been about reducing spending to get the budget to balance. Read more