Community Forum: Consider what Vt. needs before voting

This week’s writer is Bruce Lisman of Shelburne, a native Vermonter who founded Campaign for Vermont following a career in the financial services industry. Campaign for Vermont is an independent policy and advocacy organization.
Our economy has struggled. The high and rapidly rising cost to live, work and raise a family is squeezing the middle class. Many young people are leaving the state. Expensive, short-term solutions to budget gaps have severely limited our government’s capacity to invest in critical areas.
Conventional politics and partisanship are not the answer. We need to find a different way to solve problems and overcome challenges that Vermonters face. If we work together and collectively tap into Vermont’s grit, its true character, we can change course and thrive.
As a founding officer of Campaign for Vermont I have had to opportunity to travel across our state for the past four years speaking with all sorts of Vermonters from different geographical areas and backgrounds. I heard great stories of success, but I also listened to a narrative of deep concern.
The challenges that many face are formidable. Vermonters are concerned, indeed worried, and want to see innovative, flexible solutions that are moderate and independent of conventional political thinking and approaches. This is particularly the case on the following key issues.
Jobs and economic renewal. The fire drill that surrounds IBM today reflects many of the very issues that burden most of our employers. Many of these issues were created by poorly constructed policies or have been left unattended for too long. Unemployment is low, but underemployment, our shrinking workforce and the dramatic loss of employers are issues that must be addressed.
Education and funding reform. Our elected officials failed to see the growing frustration with rising property taxes and were surprised by voter protests. In response, they offered up a hastily designed reform proposal that would have done little to solve the fundamental challenge: We spend a lot and only get better than average results. I am deeply concerned that Vermont is taking for granted its intergenerational education funding partnership.
Performance-based budgeting. Growth in the state’s budget has far exceeded the rate of economic growth. The spending increase by the Agency of Human Services is a major reason, but few Vermonters are confident in the quality of that spending. Our state needs a better approach to management, and if we are to make strategic investments, we need a strategic budget.
Ethics standards. Vermonters deserve to know more about the politicians that govern us. Vermont ranks poorly in transparency, and we continue to be one of just three states without ethics standards for government officials. The House of Representatives made a modest step last session in changing their internal governing rules and the Senate took no action at all. Ethics standards must be enacted so Vermonters can be confident in their elected officials’ disclosures of potential conflicts of interest.
While I considered running for governor with the support and urging of many Vermonters, I chose not to run because I believe a nontraditional, nonpartisan approach is a better way forward. Our state needs change that will usher in a new political culture. The most effective change will start from the ground up. Our problems also run deep, and will not change by one election or even a major new law.
As Vermonters conduct a performance review of Gov. Shumlin and other elected officials between now and November, it is also the time to consider the strength of working together to create a better Vermont, and to do so for our children.

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