The following editorial was written by Rep. Heidi E. Scheuermann is a Republican House member from Stowe.
Since the 2015 legislative session came to a close, I’ve watched curiously as state leaders and Gov. Peter Shumlin pat themselves on the back for the great things accomplished this year. Just after adjournment, in fact, the governor told VPR he “was thrilled” with the session.
But does this rhetoric match with what really happened? Are Vermont’s families and businesses as “thrilled” as Speaker Shap Smith and Governor Shumlin seem to be? I don’t think so.
Let’s first take the state budget. Year after year, the administration and legislative leaders have knowingly overestimated economic growth and tax revenues, and failed to make the structural changes required to balance the budget. The result has been multiple years of chronic, structural deficits in our state budget of about $100 million and new and higher taxes (almost $60 million this year alone) on working Vermonters just to slow the bleeding. Claims of a “balanced budget” are simply not true.
To be clear, this financial situation was predicted and preventable, as Democratic leaders have had us on an unsustainable path for years — knowingly spending more than revenue has been growing, and far more than the growth in Vermonters’ paychecks.
Montpelier must do a better job balancing the needs of Vermonters within our current economic and revenue realities.
We must rethink our spending decisions in a smart, strategic way and measure the value of every department and agency based on the results we’re getting out of them, not how much money we’re putting into them. If a program is efficiently getting the desired results — keep it. If it’s inefficient, duplicative or cannot measure its outcomes for the Legislature — reform it or cut it. By taking this approach, we not only control budget growth, we also bring a 20th-century state government into the 21st-century economy.
We also need to get education reform right — for kids, taxpayers and our long-term economic growth.
Throughout the 2014 campaign season, Vermonters clamored for education reform and property tax relief. And candidate after candidate promised that it was their number one priority. So how did they do?
Montpelier’s “solution” is to consolidate more power over the education of our children in the hands of the state, and put us on a path toward eliminating local school boards — changes that have unknown academic consequences and have no measurable impact on your property tax bill.
Finally, when they had an opportunity to make health care reform work for Vermonters — to stop digging the $200 million hole that is Vermont Health Connect — they chose to continue down the same failed path.
Indeed, there were some positive developments. We concluded the session with a modest economic development bill. While not a comprehensive, long-term strategy for economic growth, the law includes some provisions that will help our struggling economy. And the Legislature took a meaningful step forward in addressing the cleanup of our state’s waterways and lakes. But these developments are simply not enough — Vermonters expect, and deserve, more from us.
Now, with the decision by Governor Shumlin to bow out of politics in 2016, Vermont has an important decision to make: Should we continue down the road of the past five years, or should we chart a different course?
I’d like us to chart a new course, led by a smart, thoughtful leader who listens and can build the innovative, energetic team it is going to take to tackle these challenges and get the economy and wages growing again.
Vermont faces big challenges and has profoundly positive opportunities. But we need leaders who value balance and progress, not bravado and partisanship; leaders who are willing to tell us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear; leaders willing to acknowledge that the politically motivated policies of the past several years are not the solutions we need for our future.
With the right leadership and a strong team, we can have a comprehensive strategy for real economic growth and prosperity; a 21st-century government that works for the people it serves; health care reform that works for Vermonters; and the nation’s best education system at a cost Vermonters can afford.