By: Corey Parent – St. Albans, VT
If I were to tell you the story of a proud place that was built on the backs of its hard working citizens that grew destitute where crime and drug use ran rampant, you would most likely come to the conclusion that I was talking about Detroit. This once shining beacon of American prosperity has been plagued by an unresponsive ideological government which created programs that drove business, young people, and the tax base required for those programs away, as a result exasperating social and economic problems. As concerned citizens, we learn to follow current events, as well as study history in our school systems so that we can learn from the mistakes of others in order to provide ourselves and our children a better future. However, here in Vermont our Legislature has failed to learn from others and is more content chasing ideological trophy legislation than providing Vermonters a safe and secure foundation to build their lives and raise their families.
It has been recently reported that the State’s Joint Fiscal Officer predicts yearly budget gaps of $50 to $70 million to be the “new norm” in Vermont. These recurring budget shortfalls should be at the center of focus for the State Legislature. Unfortunately, we know the response from Montpelier will be to reach their hand out and ask for more from Vermont’s businesses, entrepreneurs, and working citizens. These actions will ultimately force hardworking Vermonters to reevaluate why they live and work here, leading some to leave, fueling a continual cycle of budget shortfalls. We can already see this happening on two important public policy fronts: Human Services and Education. Since FY 2000, the State’s Human Services budget has grown by an average of 6.8% annually from $863.1 million to $2.2 billion, yet the percentage of our population living below 125% of the poverty line has not decreased; in fact it has increased slightly from 15.9% to 16.1%. A quick analysis would conclude that we are not fixing a problem; just prolonging one. Our public education system, simply put, is too expensive and too top heavy for the product we receive. Vermont spends 55% above the national average, yet we pay our teachers below the national median. On top of that, enrollment in Vermont has decreased almost 20% since 2000.
Vermont also has to deal with an underfunded public employee and teacher pension system, a single-payer health care system that will raise taxes on workers and business alike, and a drug epidemic. The impact of bad public policy has not only impacted what you and I pay in taxes but also how we make a living. Good paying jobs have and are continuing to leave Vermont, from IBM in Essex, to Vermont Yankee in Vernon, and even Energizer here in St. Albans. Despite this, the news isn’t all bad and the Vermont story does not have to have the same ending as Detroit’s. Vermont is a small state and because of that we can be dynamic in public policy changes. All it takes is leaders with courage. Leaders who will go to Montpelier to improve the lives of ordinary Vermonters instead of chasing fruitless ideologies.