April 21, 2016

With just a few weeks remaining until the 2015-2016 Legislative Biennium concludes, various items are still being developed in both the House and Senate.  Unfortunately, none of the items being considered will put us back on a path of fiscal responsibility and real economic growth.

The Fiscal Year 2017 budget that passed the House raises General Fund spending by 4% this year, meaning a Comparable Annual Growth Rate over the last five years of 4.6%.    As most of us clearly understand, this is continues to be well above both the rate of inflation and the underlying economic growth in Vermont.

In fact, the total budget – excluding federal funds and education spending – is $2.45 billion in FY 2017.  This is an over $575 million increase since FY 2011.  And, how do we pay for this spending?  By instituting additional and higher taxes and fees on Vermont families and businesses over the last six years.  The tax and fee increases being proposed this year total $48 million, making a two-year total increase of $96.7 million.

 

While the Senate is still considering these various pieces of legislation, I do not expect numbers to change dramatically before everything is finalized.

For ten years, I have fought for fiscal responsibility and a smart, comprehensive strategy for economic growth.  Right now, however, as I look back on this last year, this biennium, and frankly, the last several years, I can’t help but think of missed opportunities, failed leadership and political agendas that put politics ahead of smart, long term public policy.

While we have been able to put together some modest proposals for economic growth over the last several years, they have been overshadowed by the increased cost to Vermonters in taxes, fees, energy, and the already burdensome regulatory process; in addition to the Vermont Health Connect fiasco, and the countless reasons why so many Vermonters just don’t trust our government anymore.

And this year, as many of us continue to try to make some additional progress on the economic development front, Governor Shumlin is hanging his leadership hat on the divestiture of our pension funds (on which our state’s retirees rely so much) from coal and Exxon-Mobil assets, and the legalization of marijuana. 

Regardless of how you feel about these particular issues, they are not what Vermonters have been pleading with us to do.  Instead, Vermonters have been asking us to reform state government in order to bring sustainability back; to reform our state’s education funding system in order to ensure property tax relief; and to put into place policies that will encourage private sector job growth.

Rest assured, I will continue to fight for sound public policy through the final weeks of this session, but I am also looking ahead at what we might be able to accomplish in the net Biennium. 

There are many changes coming to Montpelier next year.  With open seats for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, and both the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate leaving their posts as well, we can start to right this ship of state if we have people in there who share our desire to do so.

To be clear, we can make a difference.  We simply need to get involved.

Toward that end, I am hopeful that Vermonters who share my desire, and the desire of so many others, to put us on a path to fiscal responsibility and economic prosperity, consider joining me either by running for office themselves, or by getting involved.