A letter to the governor

Thursday February 14, 2013

Dear Governor Shumlin,

In your first two years, you have done a tremendous job of energizing state government and ending the doldrums of the decade of Jim Douglas' do nothing approach to governing. Kudos to you for moving us towards universal health care, which is no small feat. And you are to be congratulated as well for taking global warming seriously, unlike your predecessor or many of your contemporaries. But you seem to be glossing over some devilish details that merit frank discussion without any preconceived conclusions.

Increasingly, studies and experts agree that preschool access for all children is vitally important to ensure future success in school. You recognize that and you have called for an increase in funding for these programs. But your revenue source, taking money away from the Vermont earned income credit payments to our state's working poor, acts to undermine the very benefits that you are trying to promote. Every Vermonter who receives an EIC payment, by definition is working hard at a job that does not pay a livable wage. The EIC is a way to reward hard work that does not pay adequately. It helps make a low paying job more worthwhile and is an incentive for people to work even if they barely make any more than they might if on government assistance without a job. These are the people who cannot afford good quality day care and pre-school services and will benefit from your proposed increased funding. But these are also the very people who have no money to spare. So while you may give them better access to child care, you are simultaneously taking away some of the income that they need to feed those children before they send them off in the morning. You are increasing the chances that the next time the car breaks down, they will not have the money to make the repairs, putting them at risk to lose their jobs. As you have said, in any budget, there will be winners and there will be losers, but why must the losers be the ones who are already the most vulnerable?

When you came into office, you made a pledge not to raise any broad based taxes. Doubtlessly, you understand that if a state is going to embark on an ambitious plan to provide universal health care, grow jobs and improve our education system, it will be in the crosshairs of those who do not want government to be so involved in these issues. If you immediately started to introduce new broad based taxes or tax increases, you would be targeted as another tax and spend liberal and your vision and programs could be put at risk by political blowback in this age of all Americans hating government and taxes in general. But as you zealously guard against the tax and spend label, you are asking the poorest among us to foot the bill. You indicate a willingness to go along with a proposed gas tax increase, and a gas sales tax, but these revenues will also come largely from those who can least afford it. There are not many Vermonters today who can saunter down to the car lot and upgrade their vehicle to one that gets substantially better mileage. So to add to the burden of keeping our 10-year-old cars repaired and on the road, we will be paying disproportionally higher gas taxes than our more affluent neighbors who are tooling around in their hybrids getting 40 mpg or more.

It's true that Americans have a mistaken obsession that we are a heavily taxed nation, but that is not necessarily as true for the state of Vermont. We are smart enough to know that while our taxes will rise with universal health care, we will save an even greater amount of money by no longer being held as prey by the insurance companies who raise our rates (read taxes) every year while reducing coverage and care. Vermonters are not especially proud of the vast inequalities of wealth that are becoming more extreme with each passing year. Indeed, there have been groups of wealthy Vermonters who have asked for higher taxes so that our values as a state can be realized for the benefit of all. Perhaps you have your eye on a future presidential run and so don't want to create any political liabilities in the eyes of the American populace. But you must remember that President Obama campaigned in part on a promise to raise taxes on the wealthy. Congress effectively watered down his promise and the rich have emerged essentially untouched. But the electoral results should give you solace and the resolve to allow Vermont to have a more equitable tax burden within the state. We can raise taxes on those who can best afford it and the state will be stronger for it.

You are a leading voice in promoting a serious response to climate change. And while we are at a critical juncture where we must start acting to reduce our carbon outputs, we don't have to do it while wearing blinders to avoid seeing any unfortunate consequences or, in current parlance collateral damage. There is talk at the statehouse of a three year moratorium on industrial wind projects, While wind opponents will seize on this as a way to stop further wind development forever, many Vermonters see a short moratorium as a sensible way to be able to assess the impact of wind development before we find ourselves overwhelmed by something that may have more negatives than positives. It is not constructive when your allies accuse all Vermonters who are considering a moratorium to be deniers of climate change. Remember, we have already approved several large scale wind projects. Only one has been completed so far and it has generated great controversy. Simply taking a breather to allow the other projects to be completed and then be assessed is not a vote against future wind projects. You may not change your mind about moving ahead immediately, but you and your allies do the state a disservice when you declare that an interest in a moratorium is the same as being against all future industrial wind projects.

Keep up the good work, but please don't let your ambitious agenda prevent you from hearing and really listening to some of the voices that you now may see as merely bumps on the road. We are a state of thoughtful people and all of our thoughts won't necessarily line up exactly with yours. Listen carefully and we will all be stronger and more successful for the trouble.

Dan DeWalt writes from Newfane. He is also a contributor to www.thiscantbehappening.net.


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