In its work on Vermont’s tax and budget policy, Public Assets focuses on three areas: health care finance, education finance, and family economic security. We provide facts, analyses, and policy ideas to inform and stimulate public discussion about how Vermont can be a state that works for all of its residents.
We all need and deserve access to quality, affordable health care services throughout our lives—from prenatal care to doctor’s visits, surgery to long-term care to hospice. No one should face bankruptcy in order to stay well.
But Vermont’s health care system, like the whole country’s, is struggling, in part because it is not a system at all, but a scattering of uncoordinated, competing pieces, some inadequate, others redundant, and many working at odds with the needs and interests of the people the system is meant to serve.
It must be a priority of government to provide the public infrastructure that helps citizens stay healthy and get care when they are ill. This responsibility includes public funding, planning, regulation, professional licensing, and service programs.
“Whenever the people are well informed,” said Thomas Jefferson, “they can be trusted with their own government.” Education is necessary not just to live a satisfying and productive life, but also to participate meaningfully as a citizen in our democracy. In this spirit, our public school system is open to everyone, regardless of wealth, ability, race, or religion.
Vermont is fortunate in its public school financing system, which provides an adequate, sustainable source of funding through the Vermont Education Fund and is fairer to both taxpayers and pupils than any other system in the country. But since the Education Fund was established in 1997, policymakers have proposed to divert its revenue to other state functions or saddle it with new responsibilities without new revenues. These actions would increase property taxes and undermine public education. It is up to Vermonters to be watchdogs—to ensure the continued integrity and health of its school funding system. The state should also make higher education a priority, ensuring that all students can afford college either instate or out.
Family Economic Security
All Vermonters want and need sufficient income to give their families a decent home, provide nutritious food, and pay for health care, transportation, childcare, and other essentials. Yet many working Vermonters earn less than what they need to live—and taxpayers end up filling the gap. Furthermore, while Vermont’s per capita income has been rising since 2000, not all Vermonters have shared in these increases. In fact, the income disparity between those at the top and everyone else has been growing since the early 1980s.
The ability of all citizens to live decently is fundamental to the cohesion of any society. When Vermonters can’t pay for basic needs even working two or three jobs, they feel hopeless, alienated, and disenfranchised — and that hurts everyone. Government can and should ensure that workers are paid fairly and treated with respect; that affordable childcare is available for working parents; and that taxpayer money intended to put Vermonters to work is spent wisely.