March 6, 2014
As far as major issues were concerned, the towns of Waterbury, Huntington and Bolton passed everything put before them — all municipal and school budgets passed, a bond to increase the fresh water supply at Harwood passed and the bond to fund a new municipal office building and library passed.
Each of these issues must now await the thirty day rescission period. Rescission, for Australian ballot measures, is the bane of progress in Vermont. I agree wholeheartedly with keeping it for votes off the floor, but the required process for Australian ballot issues means that there are no surprises on voting day, you vote on what was warned, and that should be that. Rescission, as it has been used in Waterbury, is a “two bites at the apple” weapon that has been abused in the past. It is, in my opinion, an antidemocratic tool when applied to Australian balloting. Strong words, I know, but it is completely disrespectful of the process the community goes through to develop plans and bonds to pay for them, sometimes over a year, only to have it win (perhaps) by narrow vote questioned and voted again by a rescission vote.
I am happy that we passed all of our school votes, in all three towns. This was a tough year, which followed a tough year, with our education finances. It is clear that the system will need to be adjusted to acknowledge the difficulties we are facing, namely the large increases in tax rates when the districts are keeping their budgets spare. While it is easy to say that the Great Recession is still playing a role (with our mostly level property values over the past four years), it is also playing a role in keeping the common level of appraisal even. But the situation isn’t that simple. Our role in Montpelier will be to find an adjustment that works, while not dismantling our excellent public school system.
We must be careful to not overreact…the number of budgets voted down were the highest in ten years, but nowhere near the most in one year. There are still 19 towns left to vote their budgets, and we expect a couple of them will reject the budgets the first time through.
And we must be careful not to celebrate the passage of the bond in Waterbury. Many of us see it as another step in the road to recovery from Irene, which means it has not been easy. Our tradition of rescinding votes is one of drudgery, but one that has been marked with hope. The margin of victory on this vote was substantial, and the selectboard and the building committee did their job in presenting an affordable project, made more so with a $1 million grant from CDBG-DR. If April 4th comes and goes without a petition to rescind, we can break out the champagne and then get to work raising the money necessary to pay for it. If we must vote again, we must do it before we lose the grant.
Thanks to everyone who contributed to making our democracy as powerful and messy as it is. We have a special brand of it in Vermont, and I am so very lucky to be able to witness the wonderful variations of it in Waterbury, Huntington, and Bolton.
March 6, 2014
March 2, 2014
For someone as chatty as I normally am, especially in my role as a legislator, I have certainly been quiet on my webpage. And in the opinion pages. There are only a couple of reasons for this: the intensity of the work this year and the lack of time. That’s about to change!
First, we are on our annual Town Meeting break, which means representatives will be attending their towns’ meetings over this weekend, through until Tuesday. Unless they don’t have one (Burlington!) or have one later in the month or year (Brattleboro!). Rebecca and I will be attending Bolton’s town meeting on Monday night, and Huntington’s and Waterbury’s on Tuesday. Here is a link to our Town Meeting Report, which gives a thumbnail sketch of the work we have done thus far in this second session of the biennium.
I think I can speak for Rebecca when I say we are proud of the work we are able to accomplish, and frustrated by the work we cannot. The changes in the depth of work we do are getting larger every year — the sense of “business as usual” is long gone. Ways of thinking and ways of doing have been seriously adjusted because of the Great Recession, Tropical Storm Irene, and the ongoing federal funding shenanigans in Washington, DC. This is the sixth year (my whole tenure in the State House) where the anticipated budget gap entering the year has been $70 million or more. Our spending levels on necessary programs are still at pre-recession levels (in real dollars), and we are still seeing the repercussions of the recession in important calculations, such as our statewide education property tax. Federal stimulus funds are long gone, and federal programs like the emergency heating program (LIHEAP) have been cut, leaving the burden to state tax dollars.