It is Still About the Economy.
The state of the economy for most people, in Vermont and across the country, is bad. Median income is down $5000 from 1999. Prices are up, wages are down, college is unaffordable and half of graduates are under-employed and saddled with debt. The Wall St. economy is booming, but here on Main St. we are waiting for the trickle down that comes in fits and starts, but never seems to be enough.
It is a fearful thing, living paycheck to paycheck and there is no relief in sight. We are working all the time to afford the basics while commerce advertises baubles of unimaginable brilliance that are out of reach for most of us.
If we could vote on the price of gas, the price of food, the price of cars and iPhones and all the other stuff we want, we would vote those prices down. We can't do that, but we can vote on our taxes. It is the only thing we feel we can control in what is increasingly an out-of-control economic situation.
So in these troubling times, when money is tight, voters like to hear we are going to cut taxes, that we will eliminate programs that benefit "others." The legislative leaders have made it clear that the ax will swing. They say the voters demand it. Our education system seems to be first on the chopping block.
My fear is that our hard-working elected officials will go forth and cut taxes, cut programs, cut spending and eliminate every program designed to enhance our long-term prospects for a short-term gain. They will miss the point that our problem is not the tax rate, it is the underlying economic system.
I implore the folks in Montpelier to show leadership and make the case that it is not taxes that are the problem, it is the economic system.
I believe that people are happy to pay for good schools, good roads and good health care if they feel they can afford it. I believe it is time for people to earn more money. It will help businesses and it will help pay taxes.
The economy needs to work for working people. Right now it is either broken, or it is "fixed."
Instead of gutting our schools, giving up on universal access to health care, letting roads and bridges rot, and cutting off people who need state services, let's insist our legislature and the administration focus on the economy. Specifically, focus on making the economy work for working people. Let's focus our energy, taxes and government on things that will strengthen our communities and improve our quality of life.
To be clear: focusing on the economy does not mean making Vermont better for business owners through tax breaks, incentives and give-aways. It does not mean cutting essential programs, deregulation and other gifts to established businesses, despite the pleas of the various chambers of commerce.
If we are to invest in business, community-owned businesses serve a dual purpose of providing jobs and returning profits back to the community. Employee-owned businesses provide more money, and long-term job stability, to the working people who own them. Investing in micro loans to start up businesses stimulates all kinds of jobs and economic activity. This is where we should focus our efforts.
We must invest in ourselves. Vermont can take steps to keep more money in state rather than allowing investments to go to Wall St. We are already taking steps to allow Vermonters to invest in Vermont businesses. That must be expanded as quickly as possible, and advertised, to make it easier for Vermonters to invest some of their retirement funds right here at home. It will help Vermont-based businesses to grow without using tax incentives, which are in fact a tax cut paid for by the rest of us.
Borrowing money is cheap because Vermont has a great bond rating and interest rates are near zero. Now is the time to invest in cleaning up Lake Champlain, even if we have to borrow the money to do it. Most lake pollution comes from farming, and most of that is livestock. We need to invest in helping dairy farms make changes to how they manage their operations. Dairy farms operate at the margins of sustainability and we as a state should support them if we want to see cows on our hillsides.
Investing in dairy farms is essential to our tourist industry and cleans up the lake; both are important to our long-term economic well-being.
A state bank will keep more money in Vermont, reduce the cost of banking and borrowing, and return profits to the general fund. To those who call a state bank risky, I will make two points: Wall St. banks are doing very well, and there is no better investment than the people and businesses of Vermont. We should create a small state bank and let it grow over time to minimize the risk.
Keeping money in Vermont and paying fair, livable wages will boost our economy. Give a dollar to a low-income person and it will be spent almost immediately and usually close to home. Give a dollar to a wealthy person and it is likely to be invested or saved, often out-of-state.
Increasing in-state economic activity will generate more tax revenue to allow us to pay for the programs we want. Keeping money in Vermont means more jobs, more business activity. Keeping money in Vermont can lead to a stable, sustainable economy. It's pragmatic, it's frugal ... it's Vermont.
We have already seen promising results from the recently passed legislation to invest 10% of our daily balance in Vermont, most of which has gone to energy efficiency investments, but some has been used for student loans and business investment. The legislature should at minimum double that mandate to 20%. I suggest increasing investment in affordable housing and mass transit as two places to begin. Both will provide long-term economic stability.
In short, let's replace the simplistic message of "cut taxes" with one of "increase wages." Let's replace "Wall St. banks" with "Main St. banks and co-ops." Let's stop talking about "good jobs" and talk about "better paying jobs."
In short, let's build a "sustainable economy that works for most people" to replace the "unsustainable economy that works for a few people."
PO Box 454
Jeffersonville, VT 05464