So what are those taxes for anyway?
Well I'll save you from a macroeconomics diatribe on how federal and state spending operate differently and the very different role taxes play in the two systems because today we are talking about the State of Vermont. In our brave little state we've been operating in a "revenue box" for quite some time. . . that's how we talk about the competing interests that we're never able to fully fund or the tension between funding prevention vs treatment. Vermont has language in statute that requires us to develop a needs based budget (rather than a revenue based budget) however we haven't done that for a number of years. We actually have no idea of the full scale of our spending needs or what our communities might look like if fully resourced. Taxes are an agreement between citizens and government that there are projects better done together than apart. Taxes are an investment in the commons and the efficiencies and equities therein.
Policies that move us toward a Vermont that works for all of us. That’s what I’m working on— bills that build on each other to take some weight off of families so we can turn our attention to each other. I was happy to be MC for this Town Hall event focused on a true “people’s house”.
And we passed some of these bills in the last two weeks! You can always check out the action in the House Calendar (what’s about to happen) and the House Journal (what just happened). A dynamic childcare bill that increases eligibility for families, increases pay to providers, and helps recruit new people into the field. H__ was amazing in all that it accomplishes but also for its nuance. The committee was able to pull multiple policy levels simultaneously— pay for providers, cost for parents, and improving quality of programs while recruiting new folks into the field. Olga spoke to both Chloe Learey (Director of Winston Prouty) and me about the issue, and then spun out an article in The Commons with Representative Kelly Pajala.
Does your cellphone work at your house? Can you make a video call from your home computer? Did you hear about the PSD staff who drove around the state with six phones and mapped the real coverage of each of our carriers? Connectivity in Vermont has reached the point of a clear market failure and we need to try something different. Have you seen this amazing map? Last week we unanimously passed a comprehensive connectivity stimulus that supports communities and small firms to find municipal solutions, cooperatives, and get to the last mile.
Climate Change, the Weatherization edition. In our rural state the majority of our green house gas emissions come from heating and transportation. These behaviors are “inelastic” meaning that they don’t change based on cost. Essentially we’re all stuck buying oil whether we want to or not. What this means policy wise is two fold: a carbon tax (even a progressive one) will raise revenue but not change emissions, and two— we need to insulate homes and find transportation alternatives. The Vermont House voted to double Weatherization funding to community action agencies (this is SEVCA in Brattleboro. The vote was controversial as the weatherization fund comes from a fee on heating fuel (just as the efficiency fund comes from a fee on your electric bill) and the weatherization programs only work with households at 60% of the poverty line. This bill brings up many important issues for me regarding how we pay for “prevention” or upstream programs given that we still need to ensure that people and programs have enough resources today. Debate on this bill is ongoing in the Senate. Olga and I discussed in advance of my yes vote.
H59: Universal Family Medical Leave Insurance! As I said in my floor speech and in multiple conversations since— this is a policy that works for everyone— we will all need to care or be cared for at some point in our lives. As a member of the “sandwich generation” I’m well aware that care for elderly parents can be as pressing an issue as maternity leave. The bill (as passed by the house) creates an insurance plan housed in the Department of Financial Regulation— 12 weeks for “bonding” and 10 weeks for medical care. All Vermont employees and employers pay in, and any Vermont employee who has worked more than 6 months in a 12 month period is eligible. The bill is now moving over to the senate. We also passed three budgets (transportation, capital, and general) with investments in Reach Up, treatment beds, electric cars, and a million more things than I can recount in this already too long newsletter.
And the governor signed the first bill of the year: Ethnic Studies!! In addition to creating an advisory body to develop curriculum, this law directs the Agency of Education to collect data on acts of racial and ethnically motivated bullying.
So many fun things happen in the statehouse that aren't legislation. At least four different organizations/associations have events in the building every day. I’ve been wanting to tell you about them but it’s hard to know where to start. Here’s a sampler to get us started:
At The Commission on Women’s Equal Pay Day event (that's why everyone is wearing red) I discussed what it means to examine policy from the lens of gender and exhorted my colleagues at the absurdity of the pay gap (given that Women are more than half the population). I think I balanced humor and gravity fairly well, though I’m not sure it’s coming across in this story telling (I also helped introduce the governor).
On Outright Youth Day (they started the day with a “Gay Agenda”!!), gave testimony in committee, and I had the chance to answer some questions with a few other legislators in the House Chamber at lunch time. And the incredibly moving Climate March. After a few days of walking through the rain, the activists sang in haunting harmony together in the lobby of the Statehouse. You can listen to a video that I made here, and fear for our future.