STATE BUDGET: I am very concerned about the state budget shortfall! However, I do not believe that raising taxes is a solution! My first solution to this problem would be to call for a complete outside review of all state expenditures. The last time we did this was in 1977, and it saved our state millions of dollars.
Secondly, we need to tackle the rising cost of education. Over 50 percent of our property taxes and over 40 percent of our income taxes fund education. Last year the governor proposed several cuts including only one new hire for every two retirees and a pay freeze for teachers. This would be a great place to start! I also believe we need to have greater accountability over the services we provide to people, as there are many abuses to the system.
EDUCATION FUNDING: Yes, I do believe that Act 68 is broken. I believe the spiraling increase in property taxes attests to that. I do not think that there are any simple solutions to education funding other than starting from scratch. Any new educational policies and funding need to center around local control. Let the people decide what is best for their communities. I believe that Vermonters really want a quality education for their children, who are our future.
This failure of Act 68 truly is merely a symptom, though, of a much larger problem, which is that employers and families are moving out of our state, thereby shrinking our school population as well as our tax base.
ENERGY: I believe that Vermont Yankee should be closed today if it is deemed unsafe by nuclear energy safety regulators, not by the legislators. If it is said to be safe, then I believe we should definitely look at renewing its contract under the condition of mandatory system upgrades that would bring them into the 21st century, and we should also look at the possibly of renewing for five or 10 years, not 20. I am very concerned about how power supplies would be met and the cost people, whose pocketbooks are already hurting, would have to pay for other forms of energy. I believe we should use renewable sources of energy such as solar, wind and cow power, if we can prove that they are cost effective and efficient. Vermont also needs to modify and update existing power plants as well as to build new ones.
AGRICULTURE: I believe that Vermont tourism largely depends on our farms surviving. I think it would be great to take a portion of our rooms and meals tax and give it back to our farmers. I also believe that our small farms need to diversify their products in order to survive, which many are already doing. I believe the state could help these farmers by marketing these “new” products out of state. I also think that we need to revise current use so that it will continue to be a help to farmers as well as reducing property taxes.
HEALTH CARE: I believe we need reform in health care and that it needs to come by allowing other health insurance companies back into Vermont. I know many small business owners who cannot afford health insurance, because all the competition has been forced out of the state. One plan does not fit all, we need to have choices. The Catamount Health and federal health care programs may sound great on the surface, but someone still has to foot the bill. I believe it will be unsustainable to a state already overburdened by taxes.
JOBS: Vermont needs to be small-business friendly. This means we need to streamline regulations and the permitting process, so that entrepreneurs know what to expect in starting a new business. The state should also seek to help Vermont businesses find out-of-state markets for their products and services in order to bring more revenue into the state. This will help to preserve the businesses that are already here and therefore help to preserve our scenic and agricultural identity.