‘Tis the season

There’s snow in Montpelier. The menorah and Christmas tree are up at the Statehouse. And it’s time for a lesser-known Vermont tradition: Public input on the state budget.

If you haven’t heard of this tradition, you’re not alone. Last year, fewer than 500 Vermonters filled out the public survey or submitted online comments. 

The governor is required by law to solicit public feedback on the budget before submitting it to the Legislature in January. Over the years, this has taken the form of regional meetings, webinars, and most recently, an online survey and public comments online or by mail.

It’s worth taking a little time out of your holiday preparations and celebrations now to weigh in on how the state will invest public dollars beginning July 1 next year. And while the survey doesn’t provide a whole lot of room for nuance, written comments can be more detailed. Like a letter to Santa, you may want to send the administration a wish list of what Vermont needs to spend money on. But—especially if you find the current input survey frustrating—consider starting your list with a better public input process.

The way the survey is currently structured, respondents are asked whether they want to increase or reduce various existing budget areas or revenue sources. But already, that’s limiting the feedback to what the state is doing now. Vermonters should be able to suggest state needs that require new investments or new ways to fund existing state services.

Public responses have not been surprising: most respondents want to protect all areas of the state budget, including pre-K-12 education, health care, housing, environmental protection, and higher education, among others. Vermonters recognize that what government does is important to our lives.

However, the input process is flawed, limited, and not well advertised. This year we could ask for change.  We could insist that Montpelier listen to Vermonters’ priorities.  We could suggest a more robust budget process that respects the will of the voters.  So take a minute and make your voice heard on the critical subject of how to invest public funds to make the state we want. 

And before you return to your revelry, add your two cents for improving the process by which you weigh in on how Vermont will spend millions of dollars of the people’s money each year.

Posted by Stephanie Yu on December 10, 2018 at 3:27 pm

3 Responses to “‘Tis the season”


    How do I access this survey?


  2. Rick Hubbard says:


    Regarding the budget process itself: Since the state budget is designed to serve the needs of Vermont citizens, it just makes sense that the budget process should seek public comment in a manner that fully enables citizens to provide input on all the issues each might care to raise or give comment on. At present your process falls far short of this. Asking respondents whether they want to increase or reduce various existing budget areas and revenue sources is way too limiting – the ability to make suggestions about other areas of citizen interest should always be provided. You can do much better and I encourage you to do so.

    Similarly, if you really desire substantive public feedback, you need a process to adequately spread the word to all Vermont citizens about both the possibility and importance of participating. I’m a native Vermont of almost 77 years who follows public policy quite closely, yet this is the first time I’ve ever heard of your desire for public input, and that only came about indirectly through another outside organization. Similarly, if you’re going to solicit public input there should be a transparent process that explains how and to what extent you will consider the input given. Nothing will reduce response rates faster than for word to spread that the input citizens take time to give isn’t being taken seriously.

    More substantively, one area that is not currently effectively funded relates to the way we finance campaigns to select those who will represent us in various state positions. Currently some 97-98 percent of all Vermonters do not directly give as much as a dime directly to any Vermont candidate or political party. Nationally, where similar percentages apply, it is well documented that candidates, who need the donations to either get elected, or get re-elected, are “leaning to the green”, when enacting law, regulation and policy, thus putting the interests of narrower special interests ahead of all of the citizens they were elected to represent. This among other negative effects, moves huge amounts of money out of citizen pockets and into those who benefit from this type of campaign financing.

    While we like think of our Vermonter representatives as doing a better job of serving all citizens, it’s quite likely that our present method of financing campaigns creates the same incentives here in Vermont that it creates nationally. We can and should do much more to strengthen the way we structure and finance our political system at a time when, nationally, our Republic and its representative democracy are under great threat.

    Financing the process by giving each registered voters a small voucher from public funds that can only be used by that voter to donate in small increments to the candidates who have positions on issues that appeal to each individual voter would completely reset and strengthen incentives. Those who wish to be elected, and to raise the necessary funds, would nave great incentive to demonstrate that they are a serious candidate by having positions on issues that appeal broadly to large numbers of voters.

    I hope I’ve encouraged you to think broadly about how to improve this budget process.

  3. Sarah Lyons says:

    Hi Merry,
    There are live links in the blog to the survey as well as the place to submit public comments. The links are a different color than the text, but if you can’t see them, run your cursor over the likely words and they will pop out. Thanks for your interest. -Sarah