Getting ready for the session

Dear neighbor,

This Thursday, we’re hosting the first in a series of monthly conversations. Please join me, Molly Burke, Tristan Toleno, and many of your neighbors to talk about our community’s goals for this upcoming year. We’ll be at Amy’s Bakery at 8am and then Brooks Memorial Library at 6pm.

These conversations are the culmination of a few months of daily meetings with various constituencies in our region. As a delegation, we’ve heard from the courts, from crime victim services, from the early childhood community, from health providers of all stripes. I would love a chance to tell you what I’ve heard, and listen for what matters to you.

When the legislative session starts on January 9th, I’ll be sworn in along with 149 of my new colleagues. I’ll also be among a new supermajority of Dems and Progressives, and the largest, youngest, incoming “new class” of legislators in memory. I like to think that we’re mirroring the excitement of our new congress with a mandate for a green new deal, medicare for all, and a $15 minimum wage. But there are differences.

Your voice matters. We have a citizen legislature in Vermont. We don’t have staff or offices. I have another salaried job to pay my bills. I depend on you to tell me what works (and what doesn’t). As communities, we need to come together and puzzle our way towards shared priorities. I have a responsibility to speak with each of you, but you also have a responsibility to share with me. This project of democracy depends not just on your vote at the ballot box, but your continued participation through the year. And, I know you don’t have time for this. I know you have a job (maybe two), kids, a dirty kitchen, and friends who need you. We need to grow our wages, strengthen our communities, and rethink participation. Please join me in this project, whether from your couch on facebook or at a monthly conversation, or even a casual chat in the street—whatever works, just join me.

Vermont can’t deficit spend. We balance our budget every year, and that limits our ability to spend. Our state budget comes from a combination of tax revenue and federal grants. Vermont has been caught up in the same tidal wave of austerity as the rest of the country. Spending devolved from the federal government to the states who had much less ability to raise funds. Austerity (or scarcity) politics means a gradual shrinking of the public sector, through both privatization and cuts. What this looks like is fewer government jobs, a shrinking middle class, and a useless social safety net. Long term scarcity strips government so far down that it can’t deliver services well and we stop trusting it to do so. This distrust of government then leads to more cuts, more privatization, and we find ourselves where we are today. We talk about spending as a zero-sum game where we must starve seniors if we want to feed children.

This year in Montpelier I promise to turn the tide, but that might not mean all the new laws right away. What takes years to pull away might also take years to put back together. We need to slowly rebuild trust in state government. We need to remember what our taxes are for, and how they improve our communities. We need to build out the capacity of government to carry out progressive legislation. We need to look at the intersection of our laws—how one might bring in revenue while the other might be costly but will improve the economy or the environment in the longer term. These are the conversations I’m hoping to start in January.

Yours in solidarity, Emilie

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