November 30, 2017
I am sitting in my seat in the House of Representatives listening to our annual fall report on the fiscal health of the State of Vermont, and the early review is that, overall, our statewide fiscal health is reasonably good, within the confines of the policies we have put in place (expenditures) and the income we take in (taxes). The report is current, in that it does not and cannot fully contemplate any possible effects of tax and spending policies by the federal government. So-called tax reform bills are possibly coming to a vote this week or next, and we still don’t know what the full effects will be on our state revenues, and won’t until some bill passes and becomes law.
This recap also does not contemplate some of the ongoing and pressing issues and troubles for the residents of Vermont, the most important being the slow but sure gap between the ability to earn enough money to pay our share of the expenses needed to maintain a basic way of life.
Due to the great unknowns in Washington, it is hard to really summarize what our personal or caucus-wide priorities will be. Why? Vermont has an all-inclusive budget of just over $5 billion, 40% of which comes from the federal government for a number of services, from education to health care, from human services to housing, from environmental clean-ups to roads. If tax reform passes, as proposed, great portions of those federal funds will be at risk and will make an impact on Vermonters that we do not yet fully understand. From a state government perspective, we may need to completely rewrite our own tax code in order to fill in the gaps because so much of it is tied to the federal tax system. If it changes, we need to change.
If we are allowed to focus on issues important to Vermonters, there will be plenty to work on: passing paid family leave, cleaning Lake Champlain, addressing the opiate and fentanyl infiltration in our communities, minimum wage, decent housing, racial equity, balancing a difficult budget, education quality and funding, providing postsecondary education options besides college, equitable taxation and so on.
As I sit and listen to this recap and update, I am humbled by the sheer amount of work that we have in front of us. It is the same every year, of course, but the priorities and needs shift annually. These issues are never fully solved, whether due to the fact that time is a continuum, or whether due to politics, or whether due to the lack of money or commitment. I remain dedicated to doing the best I can to make sure my constituents — and for all Vermonters — as we move forward together.
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