Mike Mrowicki: The long and winding road for the Legislature and Vermont
With another Legislature adjourned, we finally have the breathing room to look back — and look ahead. Trying to squeeze a year of work into four months, your part time citizen Legislature has moved ahead with supports for protecting children, the elderly, the environment and growing the economy with green jobs that also address global warming.
A top priority is how much we value our children in Vermont, and because of the opioid problem, more children need our protection from unfortunate, dangerous circumstances. We addressed that and, similarly, the workers assigned to help keep them safe and help families in crisis. After the murder last summer of a state social worker, we realized that threats against state workers are increasing and they deserve our support in seeing their workplace is safe.
As much as our children depend on us, our elders likewise need our help, especially in protecting their finances. This year, we passed legislation that speeds up the investigations when financial predators are suspected of misusing access to the accounts of those, they were supposed to be looking out for.
Democracy works when people vote. While other states were looking for ways to limit voting and participating in democracy, Vermont made it easier, with automatic voter registration.
Women deserve easy access to health care and family planning options. That's why we voted to make sure women — and men have access to birth control-in stark contrast to those red states that are trying to limit this access — even as the numbers of unplanned pregnancies, and abortions in those states rise.
In other states, laws were passed that tried to continue prejudicial actions on our fellow citizens who identify as LGBTQ. Vermont stood up and said, "Not here!" Banning conversion therapy on minors sends the message that hate has no home here, and we all deserve being accepted, as we are.
Legislators also affirmed support for access to birth control, as other states were trying to restrict such services.
And, with climate change still the issue clouding our future, Vermont took steps to address our warming atmosphere and do it in a way that promotes our green economy and creates jobs. Alongside our diverse, long-range energy plan, we brought more balance and deliberation to how and where large renewable energy installations are located.
Now with the ink still drying on bills signed by our Governor, the narratives are starting to rise up out of the experience of this legislative session.
Getting back home, I was reminded of a conversation after Tropical Storm Irene devastated Vermont. A constituent asked why we were focused on repairing all the roads, rather than just the main roads, that were most commonly used. My reply was simple — every road and bridge was a necessity for someone. Just like the roads leading to their house was important, other families across the state,, felt the same way. How do we tell someone they don't deserve to have their road fixed, when we fixed yours?
Similarly, how the Legislature and state government serve Vermonters can be seen as a maze of many long and winding roads that lead to the doors of all Vermonters. All of them needing regular maintenance and repair (as we are reminded every spring, when winter's ravages are fully revealed), and all important to members of our community.
But there are loud voices across the state saying that there's too much spending and we can't afford all our roads — and services — figuratively, and literally; that we need to start cutting, to close the less important roads or let them fall into disrepair.
And, there's the rub. What roads would they do away with? Yours? Mine? Theirs? Which roads will stop being repaired? They're not answering those questions, and only gilded generalities are mentioned. If there's a belief that we need to make cuts, what would be cut? Child protection and family services? Meals on Wheels? Telecom infrastructure? Public education funds?
Governing is not about empty headlines or slick slogans. It's making tough decisions that ensure the roads get paved, the potholes get filled, and the services that are necessities exist for those who use them today or may use them tomorrow.
As Vermont heads into the 21st century, and the Democrats in the Legislature work to move us forward, you will be hearing much from those who will say we don't need all the roads we have. That we need to go back to the way it used to be. But going backwards will just push us back into the economic hole we've worked so hard to dig out of.
Some will point to spending or taxes and then say we should be more like New Hampshire. But according to the fiscally conservative Tax Foundation, New Hampshirites — and all the states/provinces that border Vermont — have a higher tax load.
And that's not to say that taxes don't hurt, especially when you're elderly or out of work. As my grandfather used to say, a dollar is a lot of money if you don't have it. But that's why I, and other legislators, don't for one minute take any tax dollar from Vermonters for granted.
It's why we take such care and deliberation when we parse each line of the budget and offer recommendations to work together with the Appropriations Committee. It's a long, tough process but works — and as Moody's Financial Services says, "... reflects Vermont's strong financial management which features conservative fiscal policies, consistent governance and a proven commitment to maintaining healthy reserves." It's why Moody's gives Vermont its AAA rating.
So we need to ask ourselves, as the Legislature winds up its work for 2016 and with another election on the horizon, do we want to go backward into a past with policies full of empty promises that got us in trouble? Or do we build on the progress we've made to take us forward? That's the direction that will take us into a future that is fair, sustainable, greener, more prosperous -and compassionate to all.
Mike Mrowicki represents Windham 4 District — Putney, Dummerston, Westminster — in the Vermont State House. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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