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Guest Editorial: A message behind Shumlin’s pledge of no new taxes?

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Posted on December 17, 2012 |
By Emerson Lynn



When House Democrats gathered a week ago in a pre-session caucus the outlines of a new legislative session began to take shape. This is when legislators and their leaders being to share their thoughts of what could be.

The process is basic to the institution, but its significance rests with the fact that the Legislature is essentially a one-party body — the Democratic Party — with Gov. Peter Shumlin of the same persuasion.

And it’s the governor who will find himself the person responsible for applying the brake more than the accelerator.

As he stressed a week ago Saturday, the state still has a deficit and faces numerous hurdles on the path to fiscal prudence; it’s not a time, he said, to raise any broad-based taxes.

He said, “That (the no-new-taxes pledge) sets the foundation, builds the confidence and gives us the support of Vermonters that allows us to do the other things that I say other states don’t dare do.”

The “other things” he’s referring to is implementing the state’s health care law and moving to a single-payer system in 2017.

“We must focus like a laser on delivering on the promise of a single-payer, universal access, publicly financed health care system in Vermont where health care is a right and not a privilege,” he told the caucus.

This is the challenge that will not go away.

An example: Democrats were briefed by Rep. Mike Fisher of Lincoln, chairman of the House Committee on Health Care, and were told that about 20,000 Vermonters receiving state health care subsidies (VHAP) would be potentially tagged with large out-of-pocket expenses when they become part of the health care exchange in January of 2014. The impact could be as much as $10,000 for some families — which essentially makes it unaffordable.

As Mr. Fisher noted, “it’s about money, frankly.”

Yes, it is.

There’s not cash enough to go around, and when something as large as the state’s health care system is turned upside down the challenge becomes how to balance the trade-offs so that the pain is evenly spread and not disproportionate.

We are at the beginning stage of this debate and most Vermonters (as well as our legislators) are essentially clueless as to how all this will unfold, and at what cost, and to whom.

The governor is correct that legislators can’t raise broad-based taxes now and expect to be blessed if they have to raise them again to pay for the state’s single-payer, universal health care law. Vermont has a progressive income tax structure now; ratcheting things upward leaves no room for much else later on. It also acts as a brake on any other objective that requires a new source of funding.

The governor’s words are a bit disconcerting. Is he promising us in advance that his health care model will come with a hefty price tag and that we need to save now to prepare?

If that’s so, then our legislators will need to frame all issues with the governor’s words: Don’t spend now when you don’t know what will be needed later.

— Emerson Lynn, St. Albans Messenger

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