I am running for the Legislature because I feel passionately about many of the issues we face in Montpelier. Health care, property taxes, jobs, wages, energy, support for small businesses, voting and campaign finance reform just begin the list. We should strive for common sense solutions. Montpelier should reflect the priorities of the working families that make up the majority of our state.
Health care is a straightforward reform, in my mind, because there is only one solution that will cover everyone and save us money. State studies repeatedly echo the experience of countries all over the world: the cheapest, most cost-effective system is a single risk pool for everyone. We should eliminate premiums and fund health care through a broad combination of taxes. This would save money compared to what we spend today, and cover everyone. Why wouldn’t we preserve doctor choice, reduce prescription drug prices, cover everyone and save money? That we haven’t reflects poorly on the leadership in Montpelier.
We must change the way we pay for education and dramatically reduce our property tax burden. The income tax is a better indicator of wealth compared to the market value of your house.
I would like to see economic development shift away from luring giant out-of-state corporations to Vermont and instead go to promote small business creation and growth. These guys drive Vermont’s economy and are less likely to ship jobs to Mexico or China.
Farmers are similar. Without a viable farm economy we all lose. We lose our open fields and gorgeous landscape. We lose an important tradition, and more families will leave the state to find employment. The state should buy Vermont farm products in its institutional purchases. Schools have begun to buy local foods but we should go further. If we increased our food production by 10 percent (reducing our reliance on imports), experts estimate it would generate $69 million in new personal earnings and create more than 3,000 jobs.
Then there’s the state of our environment. Global warming and clean water are likely to become even more important in the coming decade. After all, if climate change persists as it has been, we are likely to face dramatic changes, and soon. Many important issues will seem trivial when we watch our country struggle with the impact of millions of environmental refugees forced to evacuate costal areas.
Vermont should build on its environmental leadership. We must develop a strategy to close VT Yankee in 2012 and replace that energy with renewable sources and expanded efficiency programs. We should invest to make it easier for families and communities to devise solutions that work at the local level. We should invest in our state colleges so we become a national leader in research and development for a renewable energy economy. We can lead the nation standing up to this problem, but we need to get aggressive quickly.
Of course, all these priorities come with a price tag. If we shifted to a universal health care system recent estimates suggest we would save $60 million compared to what we spend today. Energy efficiency programs pay for themselves within a few years as we saw in Burlington in the early 90s. Additional investment in renewable energy and small businesses need not be new expenses. They should just shift from the broken system of tax credits for giant companies for job creation. Last year we spent about $43 million to “create” fewer than 800 jobs — that’s $54,000 a job! This is an absurd policy. That money would do more if it were used to promote small businesses and the renewable energy sector.
In general I favor income over property or sales tax. Income better reflect a person’s wealth. When someone earning $18,000 a year pays $1,200 in sales tax it’s a significant amount. Someone spending $1,200 on a sales tax who earns $60,000 doesn’t feel the same pinch. Property tax is similar. A retired couple that has owned their house for decades might have a valuable piece of property but live on a tight budget. Seniors shouldn’t be forced out of their home just because they have a modest retirement. It’s not right. Taxes should be based on your ability to pay.
The issues we face in Montpelier are often complex and sometimes frustrating. I hope to measure each decision against the principles I’ve outlined here. And in the process, I hope to invigorate a healthy discussion about our future.