STATE BUDGET: Regrettably this is not a new problem. Over the past three fiscal years we have successfully mopped up $753 million in red ink spilled as a result of the great recession. We’ve made program adjustments and we’ve cut budgets but we have also stood by Vermonters in a time of great need.
The 2012 budget deficit will, admittedly, be tougher to work through. Federal (ARRA) support will start drying up and we have made all the easy budget cuts as well as many of the difficult ones.
My eight years in the House have taught me that budgeting is much more than simply choosing between “budget cuts” and “tax increases.” Our Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) staff provides us with amazing support. Our Appropriations Committee members work harder than anyone else in the building. Next year we will simply rely on JFO and Appropriations to pull us through again.
EDUCATION FUNDING: In 2003 I voted for Act 68 because it provided property tax relief for folks living in the towns I represent. Act 68 continues to provide value to Addison County.
Most importantly Act 68 provides tax fairness. The towns I represent do not have large grand lists. Under Act 68 a penny raised in one of these towns provides the same funding level as a penny raised in Stowe or Manchester.
Income sensitivity allows most of us to pay property taxes based, in part, on our income. Rather than eliminating income sensitivity (and increasing property taxes for the middle class), I would move toward providing income sensitivity for all residential taxpayers.
Property taxes are placing a strain on everyone right now. The answer to this strain is not in simply declaring, “Act 68 is broken.” The answer lies in the tough budget work being performed right now by local school boards.
ENERGY: As things stand right now I have a number of fundamental problems with extending Vermont Yankee’s license.
First, we are being asked to extend VY’s license (and to continue buying its power) without being told how much that power will cost. In my book that is no different than being asked to renew a lease without being given the new monthly rent figure.
Second, the decommissioning fund remains underfunded by about a half a billion dollars. While the rest of the country has realized that Wall Street returns cannot be relied upon, VY’s management continues to cling to hope that its investment returns will close this gap.
Though it is a large generator, VY amounts to about 2 percent of the New England power pool. There is more than enough excess power in the pool to make up for the loss of VY.
AGRICULTURE: Our hardworking dairy farmers deserve better. They deserve better than being paid less than their cost of production. We will continue to work with our federal delegation as they craft a new dairy price formula that provides a reasonable income to hardworking dairy farmers.
But we can’t sit around and wait for a federal solution. We need to look outside the traditional dairy economy for solutions.
I will work to promote a more localized food system. Increasing local food purchases from 3 percent (current) to 13 percent would add about $500 million to Vermont’s economy. I will promote greater diversification in our farm economy. And I will support value-added food processing.
HEALTH CARE: The quality of our health care here in Vermont is outstanding but the cost of that care and the way we pay for it has become a massive drag on our economy and strain on our pocketbooks. Double-digit annual premium increases are busting budgets of small businesses, families, towns and schools around the state. Completing our health-care reform work is a matter of economic survival at this point.
The Legislature has commissioned Professor Dr. William Hsaio, a Harvard health policy analyst, to design three separate health-care finance models. These models will include: a) a state-run single-payer system; b) a public-option system; and c) a system designed wholly by Dr. Hsaio. This last system will be designed within Vermont’s political and institutional constraints.
Dr. Hsaio’s report will be delivered in January 2011. I am confident that Dr. Hsaio will provide us with the next practical steps in health-care reform.
JOBS: Our small towns contain really bright folks who want and need to stay connected to the rest of the world. Unfortunately promises that we would all have access to broadband by 2010 have proved empty. We need new commitment, new strategies and new energy to make universal broadband a reality.
We have authorized the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) to raise $40 million through bonds. We now need to combine those bond funds with federal funds to deploy 4G technology to all four corners of the state. The last rural mile remains a tough problem and we will likely have to provide subsidies to succeed in this area.