Thank you. It isn't over.
Shumlin squeaks by Milne. Corren gets creamed. Democrats lose nine House seats and two Senate seats. Surprised?
Some pundits admitted they were wrong and now say that Democrats missed the big issue: property taxes. Some tag Shumlin with the character issue, pointing at the Jeremy Dodge land deal. Some say trying to create a fair, affordable health care system is over-reaching.
I think it is deeper than that.
The state of the economy for most people, in Vermont and across the country, is bad and getting worse. 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. 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 our society dangles baubles of unimaginable brilliance just out of reach.
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 can control in what is increasingly an out-of-control economic situation. Shumlin, Corren, etc. weren't talking about lowering taxes, they were talking about increasing them, to pay for a health system that does not work.
Never mind that Vermont Health Connect is the website that doesn't work. Never mind that universal access will eliminate the system that made the website necessary in the first place. Never mind that the taxes will replace money already being spent on healthcare.
So in these troubling times, when money is tight, voters like a guy who says we are going to freeze taxes for two years. Wow, that's great, because taxes have gone up so much in the past two years. I can understand that.
Except it can't be done. It is as impractical as it is simple.
The guy with that simple message will win voters because he is talking about their pocketbooks. He is not talking about adding more taxes with a scary, unexplained heath care reform idea that is going to raise more taxes. It is easy to understand, easy to repeat and wrong.
My fear is that our hard-working elected officials will no 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 the underlying economic system, not the tax rate.
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.
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 focus on the economy. Specifically, let's 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.
Cheaper transportation, affordable housing, and livable wages are obvious approaches. 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, within the reach of working people. This is where we should focus our efforts.
Finally, 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, but they are baby steps. That program should be expanded as quickly as possible to offer make it easier for Vermonters to invest some of their retirement funds right here at home.
Finally, 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.
Keeping money in Vermont and paying fair, livable wages will boost our economy and 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.
So let's replace the simple 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."