By Bill Schubart
First, thank you all for your willingness to serve your constituents and all Vermonters. You are appreciated by most of us. But please remember, you serve both the special wants and needs of your constituents … and of all Vermonters whose needs sometimes differ. Foster the balance.
The bill-drafting process is broken. You haven’t started yet and the hopper is filling fast. Don’t let the hopper fill up with special interest and fix-it bills until the legislative leadership and committees establish statewide priorities.
Vermont is an array of complex systems that previous legislators have tweaked and made more complex and expensive over time: the judiciary, education, human services, tax code, state colleges, criminal justice and public safety among others. Stop tweaking, step back, agree on the strategic outcomes you want from each system and reinvent them for today. This will lower the cost of government, simplify regulations and free up revenues for new endeavors.
Public servants shouldn’t set their own salaries. Align your interests with Vermonters’ whose average per capita income in 2015 was about $48,000. If you work for six months, raise your salary to half that amount and don’t game the system for per diems. If you earn a pauper's wage, only the well-off can afford to serve. File an expense report like everyone else. Be accountable.
Establish a real ethics commission as a trust-building resource. (P.S. You don’t have one.)
Scrap the two-year term. It’s a loony artifact of the past. Who would take a job as complex as yours at your salary and have to reapply in 18 months? Expensive, counter-strategic and wasteful. Move on.
Vermont has a progressive tax code. Establish a progressive minimum wage. The company that owns 18 gas stations has a different net asset balance and payroll capacity than the owner-operated convenience store in Glover. Scale a new minimum wage to the net worth of the employer.
If I buy a lawn mower, I pay sales tax. If I can afford to have someone else mow my lawn, I don’t. We need a consumer services sales tax.
Surely, 178 legislators representing 620,000 can allocate $5.5B in a way that meets our needs. That’s $9,000 per Vermonter. The key challenge will be to clean the attic of accumulated tweaks and fixes, agree on outcomes, consolidate where appropriate and reinvent.
Bill Schubart lives in Hinesburg, VT, and writes about state and local issues.