Public Assets Institute http://publicassets.org forward thinking for Vermont’s common good Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:56:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Vermont’s economy: Nothing to write home about http://publicassets.org/library/publications/vermonts-economy-nothing-to-write-home-about/ http://publicassets.org/library/publications/vermonts-economy-nothing-to-write-home-about/#respond Fri, 21 Jul 2017 15:56:31 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11517 Most Vermont counties are below average—at least when it comes to wages. The latest annual figures for 2016 show that only three counties had annual wages higher than the state average. Workers did worst in Orleans, Essex, and Grand Isle counties, where annual wages came in at more than 20 percent below the state average. Read more

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Most Vermont counties are below average—at least when it comes to wages. The latest annual figures for 2016 show that only three counties had annual wages higher than the state average. Workers did worst in Orleans, Essex, and Grand Isle counties, where annual wages came in at more than 20 percent below the state average.

 

 

 

Manufacturing decline
All corners of the state have seen a drop in manufacturing jobs in the last 15 years. Overall, about a third of the jobs have disappeared, falling from about 45,000 in 2001 to about 30,000 last year. Chittenden County, the state’s largest, lost the greatest number of manufacturing jobs. Its share of the state’s factory jobs has also shrunk.

 

 

 

Lagging GDP
For the second year in a row, Vermont’s economy has grown the slowest in New England. After adjusting for inflation, the state’s gross domestic product grew just 0.8 percent in 2016; the year before saw 0.9 percent growth. Meanwhile Massachusetts’ GDP increased more than twice as fast as Vermont’s last year. New Hampshire more than tripled Vermont’s growth rate.

 

 

 

 

 

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The state that loves refugees http://publicassets.org/blog/the-state-that-loves-refugees/ http://publicassets.org/blog/the-state-that-loves-refugees/#comments Mon, 17 Jul 2017 14:59:51 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11509 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.

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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.

The PBS Newshour ran a segment recently about Utica, New York, and how refugees have helped to revive that city. According to the broadcast, Utica lost nearly a third of its population when factories closed and the city fell on hard times. Now about one out of four Utica residents is a refugee, and the city is on the rebound.

Rutland’s plan to promote Syrian refugees last year ran into opposition, but Chittenden County has been welcoming people from Sudan, Somalia, and other war-torn countries for years. It’s time to think seriously about how to promote resettlement in other parts of the state. Chittenden County already has strong job growth, and school enrollments in Burlington are increasing. It’s the rest of the state that needs the help.

In this Trump era of xenophobia, it’s important that our kids gain a balanced understanding of the world. One of the best things we could do for them is to let them experience more races, nationalities, cultures, and languages in their communities.

Last year Vermont again ranked first in the number of current and former Peace Corps Volunteers per capita. The Peace Corps is as much about exposing Americans to the rest of the world as it is about helping the so-called underdeveloped world. By welcoming refugees in towns across the state, we could give Vermont kids—and adults—a greater sense of appreciation and tolerance for our global community.

Vermont has been struggling with a declining school-aged population for almost 20 years. The latest response has been to close schools through school district consolidation. Surely we can be more creative and take a more positive view of the future. The state needs to develop an active campaign to promote itself and recruit young, industrious families.

The PBS Newshour reported that Utica bills itself as “the town that loves refugees.” Vermont could distinguish itself by rejecting the notions that the world is a dark and dangerous place and that all foreigners are terrorists, and declare ourselves the state that loves refugees. If we did, we’d benefit our economy, our children, our communities, and ourselves.

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In the lead, Vermont women still catching up http://publicassets.org/blog/in-the-lead-vermont-women-still-catching-up/ http://publicassets.org/blog/in-the-lead-vermont-women-still-catching-up/#comments Wed, 05 Jul 2017 19:32:37 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11494 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.

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We’re number one. That’s what a recent survey of the best states for working mothers concluded. That’s good news. Vermont ranks high on the three areas the survey rated: child care, work-life balance, and professional opportunities.

But being the best in the country says as much about the rest of the country as it does about Vermont, which has some real challenges that disproportionately affect women.

Change the Story VT released a series of reports over the last year and a half on the state of women in Vermont covering work and wages, where women work, business ownership, and leadership.

These reports show that 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.

While Vermont’s legislature is nearly 40 percent women, that number has barely budged in 24 years. Though Vermont’s wage gap is one of the smallest in the country, women still make 84 cents for every dollar a man makes. Female high school students are just as likely to take advanced placement courses as male, but then they don’t major in the sciences in college or enter those professions in large numbers.

And then of course there’s this:

Single mothers with young children have a poverty rate more than four times the statewide rate, and they earn almost $20,000 less per year than single fathers with young children (see chart). But the truth is, single parents struggle regardless of gender: more than two-thirds can’t meet the basic needs of themselves and their children.

What can Vermont do for these families?  Raising the minimum wage would help. Ensuring paid family and medical leave so that women, who are much more likely to be caregivers, don’t have to choose between their jobs and their other responsibilities would help. Investing in quality, affordable child care so that everyone has access to it would help. Investing in educational opportunities so that higher education is accessible would help.

And how about changing the conversation so that these are treated as necessities, critical to a healthy, vibrant society, and not just “women’s issues?” Maybe then we wouldn’t need the working mothers survey at all – or maybe the survey could be about ranking states based on how well they work for everyone, women included.

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Reduce school tax volatility http://publicassets.org/blog/reduce-school-tax-volatility/ http://publicassets.org/blog/reduce-school-tax-volatility/#respond Thu, 29 Jun 2017 17:46:13 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11489 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.

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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.

What taxpayers are likely to notice is $35 million of one-time money the governor and the Legislature agreed to spend in fiscal 2018. They are using all of the unallocated reserves in the Education Fund—$26 million—and they are lowering the so-called stabilization reserve to close to the statutory minimum. That’s another $7.8 million that won’t have to come from taxes in fiscal 2018. While these funds may make people feel better this summer and fall when they get their school tax bills, it sets the stage for some major headaches in fiscal 2019.

Many local school districts spent down their reserves in fiscal 2017 in response to ill-conceived tax penalties imposed by the Legislature on districts that spent more than a prescribed amount. Rather than curb spending, some districts used money from their reserves to avoid triggering the penalties. But now they no longer have funds saved for the next rainy day. And assuming the projections hold, there will be not a cushion in the Education Fund after fiscal 2018, either.

It would be one thing if the reserves were being used for one-time expenditures. But they’re not. They’re being spent on routine, continuing operations, which means taxes will have to increase in fiscal 2019 just to maintain current spending. Any increase in spending will require further tax increases.

Much of the debate this year and the unnecessary upward pressure on property taxes that the governor’s and Legislature’s decisions will cause next year could have been avoided.

An independent advisory committee or board could help the Legislature avoid the roller-coaster effect on tax rates caused by depleting reserves. Such a committee could take the long view and encourage stability of the Education Fund and school taxes over short-term expediency.

The Legislature has adopted sound policies like this in the past. Years ago, the Legislature and the administration used to do separate revenue forecasts and conveniently used whatever numbers suited their immediate needs. If the budget didn’t balance, one solution was to adopt a rosier revenue forecast.

Now we have a consensus forecast. The Legislature and the administration have economists who do separate estimates, but then the two sides come together and agree on one set of numbers that everyone uses. It has reduced the game playing that undermines public trust in government.

It’s time to do the same for the Education Fund.

 

 

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Act 60 turns 20 http://publicassets.org/press/op-eds/act-60-turns-20/ http://publicassets.org/press/op-eds/act-60-turns-20/#comments Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:52:58 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11483 The Equal Educational Opportunity Act, better known as Act 60, is 20 years old on Monday. On June 26, 1997, at an outdoor ceremony in Whiting, Gov. Howard Dean signed into law Vermont’s unique and groundbreaking education funding system.

As we face tensions over school consolidation and who should determine teachers’ health insurance benefits, it’s worth remembering what Vermont has already achieved in school funding.

Vermont has taken a huge step toward solving a problem that still plagues other states: educational disparities between kids born into wealthy communities and those in cities and towns with less wealth and fewer educational resources.

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By JACK HOFFMAN, Rutland Herald, June 24, 2017

The Equal Educational Opportunity Act, better known as Act 60, is 20 years old on Monday. On June 26, 1997, at an outdoor ceremony in Whiting, Gov. Howard Dean signed into law Vermont’s unique and groundbreaking education funding system.

As we face tensions over school consolidation and who should determine teachers’ health insurance benefits, it’s worth remembering what Vermont has already achieved in school funding.

Vermont has taken a huge step toward solving a problem that still plagues other states: educational disparities between kids born into wealthy communities and those in cities and towns with less wealth and fewer educational resources.

About five months before Act 60 became law, the Vermont Supreme Court had ruled the funding system in place in 1997 unconstitutional. At the time, Vermont, like many states, relied heavily on local property taxes to support public schools. The problem was that towns with lots of valuable property could easily raise the money with low property tax rates to educate each student in town, while poorer communities struggled with high tax rates and still couldn’t raise enough to give their kids a decent education. The Legislature provided state aid to try to even things out, but the court found it inadequate.

In Brigham vs State of Vermont, the court said public education is a fundamental right, and the state is responsible for seeing that all schoolchildren have equal educational opportunity.

“Equal opportunity does not necessarily require precisely equal per-capita expenditures,” the court said, “nor does it necessarily prohibit cities and towns from spending more on education if they choose, but it does not allow a system in which educational opportunity is necessarily a function of district wealth.”

Act 60 largely did away with the idea of local educational resources. Instead, it recognized that we—all of us in Vermont—have a responsibility to see that all Vermont children—not just those in our town—get a good education. For the kids, it’s a matter of fairness. They all deserve the chance to get the skills and learning they need to live happy, productive, fulfilling lives. As a practical matter, if a child in the next town grows up to be our doctor or mechanic or electrician, we want her to be at least as well educated as our own children.

Act 60, in effect, pools all of the state’s education resources in one fund, and all school districts have the same opportunity to draw on that money. Before Act 60, it was chaos—there was no correlation between tax rates and per-pupil spending. It’s now a rational system.

For resident homeowners, the level of per-pupil spending in their town determines their payment into the pool. Towns with the same education spending per pupil have the same school tax rates, and towns that spend more have proportionally higher tax rates than those that spend less.

A 2012 study of Vermont’s Act 60 funding system commissioned by the Legislature stated: “The state has designed an equitable system. We found virtually no relationship between district fiscal capacity (measured by either by district property wealth or personal income) and spending levels.”

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. About two-thirds of Vermont resident homeowners pay an income-based school tax. However, high-income homeowners still pay property-based taxes. The system would be fairer if all Vermonters paid school taxes as a percentage of their income.

We also have an achievement gap that has its roots in poverty. As the Vermont Supreme Court said 20 years ago, “Equal opportunity does not necessarily require precisely equal per-capita expenditures.” In fact, equal educational opportunity requires additional resources for some children to ensure that they have the same chances to succeed as their peers.

Act 60 was a big step forward for Vermont kids. We now have the challenge of ensuring that all Vermont children can succeed in school.

 

Jack Hoffman is a senior analyst at Public Assets Institute, a non-partisan nonprofit in Montpelier (publicassets.org). Before joining Public Assets, Jack was a reporter with the Vermont Press Bureau for 20 years and wrote extensively about education funding and Act 60. He attended the Act 60 signing in Whiting.

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2017 Con Hogan Community Leadership Award Nomination Deadline is June 29 http://publicassets.org/press/press-releases/2017-con-hogan-community-leadership-award-nomination-deadline-is-june-29/ http://publicassets.org/press/press-releases/2017-con-hogan-community-leadership-award-nomination-deadline-is-june-29/#comments Thu, 22 Jun 2017 18:13:04 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11481 Middlebury, VT – The Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial Community Leadership continues to seek nominations for its 2017 award. Now in its third year, the annual award is a tribute to Con Hogan’s life’s work and commitment. It’s intended to encourage and reward leaders who share his vision of a better Vermont—one that places the highest value on the public good—and who seize the responsibility for making that vision real by using data and measurement, monitoring a plan of action, and making adjustments along the way. Read more

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Middlebury, VT – The Con Hogan Award for Creative, Entrepreneurial Community Leadership continues to seek nominations for its 2017 award. Now in its third year, the annual award is a tribute to Con Hogan’s life’s work and commitment. It’s intended to encourage and reward leaders who share his vision of a better Vermont—one that places the highest value on the public good—and who seize the responsibility for making that vision real by using data and measurement, monitoring a plan of action, and making adjustments along the way. The $15,000 award may be spent in any way the selected individual chooses.

The award honoree will be selected by a committee of individuals with a broad range of interests and experience including health and human services, the arts, government service, early care and education, agriculture, and civic duty. The honoree will have demonstrated the following characteristics: a track record of making a difference, focus on data-driven results, community connection, generosity, and enthusiasm. The honoree must be an individual who is a Vermont resident and has not previously received the award.

“Con Hogan is somebody who has always said ‘what is the problem and how can we break it down into smaller parts’… and then to not let the typical things get in his way,” said Michael Monte, winner of the 2016 award. “That’s the kind of person you want to honor with this award. It’s leadership, but it’s also leadership with an attempt to bring new ideas to light in a way that is both fact-based and community-based.”

You can view an interview with Michael Monte about the Con Hogan Award and its impact here.

Nominations will be accepted through the Vermont Community Foundation’s website until 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 29th, 2017. The award will be presented at a public ceremony on October 4, 2017 in Montpelier. For more information or to submit a nomination and to learn more about Con, visit www.vermontcf.org/conhoganaward.

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The workforce shrank. The gender divide persisted http://publicassets.org/library/publications/the-workforce-shrank-the-gender-divide-persisted/ Fri, 16 Jun 2017 18:45:12 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11468 After trending up for 14 months, the labor force—people working or actively seeking work—decreased slightly in April and more in May. The losses came from the ranks of the employed, leaving the workforce below its 2009 peak by nearly 15,000 workers. Read more

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After trending up for 14 months, the labor force—people working or actively seeking work—decreased slightly in April and more in May. The losses came from the ranks of the employed, leaving the workforce below its 2009 peak by nearly 15,000 workers.

 

 

 

 

Women: Stuck in a few fields  The share of women workers in any field has not changed much in a decade. Women comprise the minority in most sectors and are especially underrepresented in construction, utilities, and transportation. They make up the majority in many service-oriented jobs, such as health care and educational services, but tend to be more equally represented in other service fields, such as accommodation and food services and retail stores.

 

 

 

. . . and still paid less
Although the gender gap in earnings has closed in certain sectors—including wholesale trade, utilities, and arts, entertainment, and recreation—women’s average pay lags behind men’s across the board. In 2016 women in management and in finance and insurance earned about half as much as men. Women’s earnings exceeded 90 cents on a man’s dollar in only one sector out of 23. The gap may reflect both lower wages and fewer hours worked.

*For readability, the charts include only 20 of the 23 sectors for which the Vermont Department of Labor collects these data. Find the full list at the VDOL website.

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Let Vermonters weigh the budget options http://publicassets.org/blog/let-vermonters-weigh-the-budget-options/ Thu, 15 Jun 2017 13:46:52 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11463 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.

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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 picture should get clearer after the current fiscal year is closed out and the new revenue forecast is released in mid-July. Some areas of the budget will be exempt from the potential cuts. But Commissioner Andy Pallito told vtdigger this week that the agencies and departments affected could see spending reductions between $15 million and $30 million.

Whatever cuts are being considered, Vermonters should get an accounting of the consequences of the reductions. While the administration undoubtedly will find some legitimate reductions, for the most part, when positions are cut or resources are reduced, government services suffer.

Gov. Jim Douglas used to talk about doing more with less. But when he proposed across-the-board cuts, he drew criticism from an unexpected source—the then president of Ethan Allen Institute, John McClaughry. It wasn’t the cuts that McClaughry objected to; he thought it was unfair to give state employees fewer resources and expect them to do the same amount of work. In McClaughry’s view, for government to spend less, it has to do less.

But do people really want reduced public services? That’s the question Montpelier should be asking Vermonters if the economists conclude that revenue will drop off next year. Vermonters need to hear what services or programs the state will curtail. And they deserve to hear the options for increasing revenues if they decide they want to maintain current services.

Ideally, the state would have this kind of discussion each fall, when the administration is beginning to draw up its budget plans. We would have a current services budget, which the Scott administration published in greater detail this year than previous administrations had. It is an estimate of the cost of delivering all of the services the state is obligated or committed to provide. We would get the governor’s budget, which is the amount the administration proposes to spend. And where the governor’s budget falls short of what’s needed to meet the state’s commitments, we’d get an accounting of how the reduced budget will affect specific programs and services.

It’s prudent for the administration to be looking ahead and anticipating problems. And an early jump on fiscal 2018 insures there is plenty of time for Vermonters to hear and consider all of the options for addressing a drop in revenue.

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The fight we should be having http://publicassets.org/blog/the-fight-we-should-be-having/ http://publicassets.org/blog/the-fight-we-should-be-having/#comments Fri, 02 Jun 2017 16:52:06 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11456 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.

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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.

What could Vermont do to make life more affordable? How about significant investment in making child care and college more affordable? How about raising the minimum wage? How about ensuring there’s enough affordable housing to go around?

These ideas and more were part of Public Assets’ A Framework for Progress report last summer. They’re also included in the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ aptly named The People’s Budget, which is a blueprint for how to make smart investments at the national level. The People’s Budget provided a clear plan to reallocate resources for a better health care system, family economic security, jobs, infrastructure, and education. It shows that the resources are there; we just need to decide that making these investments is a priority.

The governor has threatened to veto the appropriations bill over a statewide contract for teachers’ health care, which the Legislature adamantly opposes. Both sides say they won’t allow a government shutdown, but seem no closer to a deal than they were before the Legislature adjourned two weeks ago. While protecting local control is important, this game of chicken is distracting everyone from the larger issues facing the state.

Neither the House nor the Senate did anything drastic with the budget this year. Each cut a little here, added a little there, and ultimately agreed on a budget that relied on one-time funding and changed very little about what the state does for Vermonters. The governor made clear from the beginning that he would not sign a budget that raised taxes or fees, so the Legislature chose to work within that constraint. And the ongoing veto fight is unlikely to change the budget plan significantly. It’s just the hostage in an unrelated power struggle.

In 2012, the Legislature codified Vermont’s idea of a “People’s Budget,” which clearly defined the purpose of the state budget: to “address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity,” and “recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment (32 VSA § 306a).”

Does this budget move the state forward on those goals? It funds many critical services, though many of them have been eroded over the years. And the Legislature took some small positive steps that improve economic security for some Vermonters: implementing the Green Mountain Secure Retirement Plan, raising the asset cap for receiving Reach Up funds, investing modestly in affordable housing, and increasing the child care subsidy.

But these small steps ultimately won’t make the big difference that Vermonters finding life unaffordable need. In this national climate, we probably shouldn’t hold our breath hoping the federal government acts to help average citizens. Instead, the state should be doing all it can to address the needs of Vermonters. That will take bold leadership. Instead of “to veto or not to veto?” the fight we should be having in Montpelier is over how to make investments in a better future for Vermonters.

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Stay out of the swamp http://publicassets.org/blog/stay-out-of-the-swamp/ Tue, 23 May 2017 19:14:37 +0000 http://publicassets.org/?p=11446 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.

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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.

This year, for the first time in memory, the governor is threatening to veto the budget to force the Legislature to pass something he wants, outside of the budget—namely, the authority to negotiate a single contract with all Vermont teachers over the terms of their health insurance coverage.

The authority to negotiate teachers’ health insurance benefits is not intrinsically tied to the budget. The governor isn’t claiming that the budget is too big because it allocates too much for teachers’ health insurance. Rather, he’s threatening to hold the budget hostage unless the Legislature passes a bill that gives him powers he doesn’t currently have.

This is an ominous moment in Vermont politics. It is akin to the government shutdowns we’ve seen in Washington—both threatened and realized—over issues unrelated to the budget or the national debt. We don’t want to go there.

As a matter of sound fiscal policy, budget battles need to be confined to matters of government spending. If a governor thinks the appropriations bill is too big or allocates money for something that shouldn’t be funded, by all means he or she can veto the budget and fight it out with the Legislature. The same goes for revenue bills. If a governor doesn’t want to raise taxes, then veto the tax bill.

But it begins to smack of extortion when a governor starts threatening to kill bills out of spite or in an attempt to force the Legislature to do something unrelated to the bill under threat. It’s bad enough that Washington has sunk to such tactics. Vermont should stay out of that swamp.

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