Letter to the editor: Touting Vermont’s strengths key to retaining youth

An Open Letter to Governor Scott: With all the chaos happening at the federal level, it is difficult for me to focus on the issues within our state. However, that very chaos makes it imperative that we take the right course here. I applaud your stand on the immigration actions, but am concerned about other directions you are espousing. You want to improve Vermont’s economy. You want to increase opportunities for a younger demographic of workers in our state. Those are fine goals, but how do we achieve them?
I think we achieve them by building on and proclaiming our strengths. What would those strengths be, focusing on young people and young families? Vermont has been and continues to be a great place to raise a family. Nationally, we consistently rate high in this area. Why? Because of good schools, strong communities and access to quality health care. What else do we offer? Wonderful recreational opportunities, a healthy environment with clean water and air, as well as good, locally grown food.
This is a great place to live and to start up an environmentally friendly business. This is a great place for young workers who want this kind of ambience in their own lives and in the lives of their families. Instead of bemoaning the loss of a younger demographic, we should be actively singing our state’s praises as an idyllic place for them to settle. What do we need to do to attract young, vibrant young people to live and grow families in Vermont?
We need to keep our small communities strong and viable. This does not mean closing small schools and moving all our families to the population centers of the state. Sure, lots of people want to live in a city, but many would love to live in our small communities, except for the regressive absence of essential statewide broadband Internet and cell phone service.
It’s true, we are a mountainous state, but for years this need has received lip service at best. Growing our economy means enabling it to grow in all parts of our state, and businesses requiring good, reliable Internet service often pay well without negative environmental impact. You vow to veto a family leave measure, but family leave, paid sick leave, a livable wage, healthcare benefits — these are the very things that would make a person want to live here and work here.
Such advantages can balance out earning a little less or having a slightly higher cost of living. Importantly, our small communities can offer more affordable housing, and with their stronger, smaller schools can maintain and grow their share of this younger demographic. Just as our state’s agriculture has been strengthened through a widening diversity and improved technology, we need to bring new approaches to enhance our wider Vermont economy.
We may need to find new sources of revenue, including increased taxes. People are never thrilled to pay their taxes, but they also know you can’t get something for nothing. If they understand the benefits, they generally accept the price. If taxes for the wealthy are further cut at the federal level, we may need to de-couple our income taxes from the federal system. Vermont is never going to be a tax haven, so that will not be why people move here or stay here.
And while I agree there is a need for good early childcare and for more affordable higher education, it is a delusion to think that the way to achieve those is to take funding from one of our major areas of strength. K-12 education needs to continue to be funded at adequate levels, and if that means you have to adjust your thinking about tax increases, so be it.
Vermont is a wonderful way of life for most, but there are Vermonters for whom that is not true, and they are the very people who most need good education, good health care, jobs with decent benefits and a livable wage.
I do not believe it was your budget proposals that got you elected. It was primarily name recognition and the perception that you are a nice guy. If your Republican ideology were the significant factor, we would have a different party in majority in our legislature.
So it is time for you to be a nice guy for all your constituents. Brag about the things that make Vermont a great place to live and build upon them. Let’s not compete for the race to the bottom. Let’s leverage our strengths to the benefit of us all.
Laurie Cox

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