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Posts tagged ‘politics’

Protecting the Little Guys

October 15, 2015

reptomstevens

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(This opinion piece appeared in the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus on October 15, 2015, and will appear in other media in the days ahead.)

Since the legislature adjourned this spring, my friends, neighbors and constituents have asked me what their elected officials did this year to help “the little guy.” In most cases, they are referring to middle and working class Vermonters who are striving to pay their bills, keep their families healthy and safe, and meet the day-to-day demands of jobs, homes, and communities. It’s an important question, and one that’s worth digging into.

Distinguishing the middle class​ ​in Vermont is ​difficult ​because our income groups don’t diverge all that much. Most of us consider ourselves “the little guy” and the facts bear that out. ​In a state of 314,000 income tax payers, ​most of us – about 270,000 ​ – make less than $100,000 a year​. More starkly, ​a​bout​ 200,000 of our Vermont taxpayers make less than ​$​50,000 – that’s 63%. It’s probably useful to point out that Vermont considers a “livable wage” income for an individual to be approximately $33,000. The balance of Vermonters, nearly 320,000 people, don’t file income taxes because they’re someone’s dependent or have income too low to file income taxes.

Using these figures, it’s clear that the great majority of us – nearly 80% ​of Vermonters – ​are​ middle and working class.  A cursory review of employment data indicates that we work as teachers, ​nurses, ​farmers​, mental health professionals, truck drivers, child care providers​, home health ​aides, hotel & restaurant staff, small business employees (and owners!), municipal employees, ​and more. That’s us! Read more

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With the New Biennium Upon Us

December 31, 2012

reptomstevens

Lantern FishOur 2013 biennium begins late this year — we are constitutionally required to start on the first Wednesday after the first Monday, and this year that means January 9. We have started to put together bills for introduction, and we will be hitting the ground running, once committee assignments are finalized.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I anticipate the following issues to be “front burner” over the next session:

  • The Budget. As seems to be the case since the beginning of the Great Recession, we enter the new session with an anticipated gap of $50-70 million. Some of this is related to Irene, and most of it is a continuation of the drop in revenues compared to anticipated expenses. We as a state choose not to operate with deficit spending, and that will not change this year. Our financial teams in the House and Senate, and the folks they rely on for updated information, have been with a percentage point or two of their projections from the spring, which is a very good thing. The early snow will help the resorts, and we will see a slight bump in tax revenue because of it, but we have a long way to go in this fiscal year. There is very little room to cut services, as we feel we have cut essential services to the bone over the past four years, and we will need to find ways to make ends meet in a way that is equitable.
  • The Health Care Exchange. Our reformation of the way we provide health care and health insurance continues with work on the federally mandated Health Care Exchange. When implemented, this will allow small businesses and the uninsured the opportunity to buy health care in way that resembles an online travel agency, where prices for similar plans are compared for price and value. This will also bring changes to the universal health care we already provide via VHAP or the market based insurance we provide through Catamount. The Health Care Committee will have their work cut out for them in balancing expected costs with expected revenues and what that means for all of us, especially those without insurance of any kind. The much talked about federal waiver, which would have allowed us to implement a universal or single payer system in 2014, does not seem to be forthcoming. This simply means that any attempt to create such a system will be ongoing, but will not be implemented until 2017 at the earliest. Reform in the insurance arena remains necessary, as we are seeing many local school districts experience double digit increases in their insurance costs this year.
  • Irene Recovery. We will continue to work with FEMA to bring back the funding expected to help rebuild our state office complex and state mental health care facility. The crises related to the flood still afflict some of us, and those of us in communities hit especially hard are worried that the work needed will be lost in the impending crisis of the instant.
  • Guns. The shootings in Newtown, Connecticut hit close to home for many of us, whether we have children in the school system, are teachers or work in the schools, or as citizens who view this slaughter as a high price to pay for what some consider “freedom.” I do not know yet the balance of legislation that may happen between the federal government and our state government, but I expect something will be done. I hope you will share your thoughts with me on this very volatile subject.
  • Permit Reform. There will be a bill that will try to make the permitting process more uniform and allow for shorter decision making processes. Only 2% of all Act 250 permits are denied, but the perception is far different. With our construction industry in the doldrums, now is the time to discuss these kinds of reform in a mature and even way.

Those are just samples of what lies ahead. I suspect we will see follow up discussions and legislation on labor issues, vaccination issues, and choice of vaccinations, code enforcement and affordable housing, as well as (to repeat!) the ongoing recovery from Irene, including rebuilding our mental health care system, our state office complex and our roads.

As always, feel free to contact me with your thoughts and concerns. 2013 promises to test us again in ways unanticipated. Stay in touch!

Context and Perspective

August 4, 2012

reptomstevens

One of the more interesting aspects of serving, be it in the legislature or on local governmental boards, is the need to rely on the context of a discussion, point of view or an argument, as well as the perspective of the person presenting it. Too often political conversation, or discussions about what should be done, don’t progress much beyond our initial biases because we, as advocates for our position, don’t see a benefit in giving ground or acknowledging there may be a common ground based on debate and compromise.

Take, for instance, our current discussion about health care or, more precisely, the cost of providing health care. Over the past 12 years, the amount of money we spend on personal health care has grown over 200%, and this increase is represented in our health insurance premiums, if we have employer-sponsored health care benefits or if we need to pay premiums for our state-sponsored health care. There are several arguments that are at play and unsustainable increases in cost is merely the latest and most visceral: how can we afford to keep our family covered if our costs go up X% every year and my salary doesn’t grow? Health care costs are not the only payment for a commodity that have risen astronomically–home heating with oil and propane have risen nearly 300% since 2000, as has gasoline. College tuitions have, at the least, doubled. Salaries for most Vermonters have remained static during the same time. Read more