STATE BUDGET: The state budget shortfall is currently projected to be around $120 million, but the shortfall will likely be larger than that; the proposed savings from the Challenges for Change, if successful, will not begin immediately but will phase in over time.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle agree that the people of the state are already at capacity in taxes and fees. The state’s economy is at the breaking point. The legislature and administration must meet at the non-partisan kitchen table, as thousand of Vermont families have had to do, and decide what needs to be done to make ends meet. That meeting needs to begin on Nov. 3 and continue unabated until we finally balance our long-term budget by reducing spending to equal our revenues.
EDUCATION FUNDING: I can remember a fellow House member remarking soon after Act 68 became law that the education fund would be the “mother of all state funds, eating all the money we could feed it.” How prophetic.
Act 68 is not broken, but we must decrease education spending to reflect the continued decline in enrollment in our schools.
In some parts of our state, school mergers make sense and should be explored. However, such decisions should be made at the local level and not dictated by the state.
ENERGY: If Vermont Yankee is safe it should remain open and if it is not then it should be closed tomorrow, not at the end of its license. Some would like to see what contract rate Entergy would offer before making any decision as to its future. Rate should have nothing to do with a decision of safety!
Further, the Legislature does not have the knowledge and expertise necessary to make scientific decisions about the plant’s safety. We should rely on the unbiased knowledge of the regulatory system we created, with the proper involvement of experts on all sides of the issue.
We should make use of renewable generation to the utmost of our ability, but we must also realize that the key to our energy future is a well-balanced mix of all generating sources and a strong, reliable system of transmission.
AGRICULTURE: We must make efforts to ensure that more of the dollars paid for dairy and other farm products reach the hands of those producing the product. Buying and eating locally, and programs such as farm-to-plate and farm-to-school are great ways to achieve this. However, these initiatives cans only go so far unless we encourage and provide for adequate in-state slaughter, processing, bottling, freezing and storage facilities for the use of Vermont producers.
We must also realize that tourism-related enterprises in the state require healthy agriculture to maintain open land and provide viewsheds. Without them, Vermont would quickly lose its mystique.
HEALTH CARE: Far-reaching health care reform needs to be dealt with at the federal level. I will carefully consider any proposal for health care reform on the condition that federal and state governments calculate, budget and disclose accurate costs of providing the existing programs of Medicare, Medicaid, Catamount Health, Dr. Dynasaur and others. Government does not fully acknowledge and pay for the programs it currently offers, but rather shifts a sizable portion of the costs through doctors and hospitals to the privately insured and self-pay patients. Suggesting more of the same is not the answer.
JOBS: In order to create new jobs in Vermont, we must carefully consider every aspect of housing, telecommunications, tax policy, transportation, utility rates, and higher education and focus our efforts on growing our economy and removing impediments to responsible business growth. Businesses provide jobs and the economic engine that in turn provides revenues to fund infrastructure and services for Vermonters.
Similarly, we must make efforts to keep young people in the state. An active, young workforce will not only revitalize our economy but also provide the next generation of civic leaders and involved citizens.