Governor Loses Vermont Veto Fight

In a victory for middle class workers and farmers, the Vermont legislature on June 2 voted to override governor Jim Douglas's veto of the $4.5 billion state budget. No governor had ever vetoed the budget. In his own budget proposal, offered in January, Douglas attempted to hide a major tax increase: $63 million dollars in new property taxes. His budget would have frozen the state’s education reimbursements at last year’s levels, even though most Vermont towns have already passed school budgets for next year.

Besides the hidden tax increases that he didn’t want the public to know about, Douglas’s budget proposal relied heavily on laying off state workers.

House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Peter Shumlin have negotiated in good faith. The Legislature’s budget includes some aspects of the administration’s proposal. It combines spending cuts with moderate tax increases for wealthy Vermonters.

President Obama and Congress passed the federal stimulus bill to stimulate the economy by spending money now when we desperately need it.

As in President Obama’s tax proposals, the Vermont legislature has created a structure that decreases income taxes on Vermonters making less than $250,000. Only people in the top 3 percent of earnings will see an income tax increase.


Howard Dean, we need you

Howard Dean, we need you now.

Michaela Harlow

by Howard Dean, former

by Howard Dean, former Vermont governor

A severe national recession has gripped our state and resulted in a major reduction to state budget revenues.
Speaking from experience, I understand the difficult choices our leaders must make to bal ance the budget. The Legislature has passed a bill that makes major cuts to state spending while at the same time using the federal stimu lus funds as President Obama intended — as a bridge to better times.
We should all now support the difficult deci sions that our Legislature has made to balance the need to cut our budget, harsh as those cuts may be, and invest in our future.
The Legislature has been forced to slash spending on many things: education scholar ships, state employees, investments into con struction of affordable housing and invest ments into farmland conservation.
Investments into economic and community development are vital to our future and some thing we must remain true to in good and bad times.
One of the most effective economic invest ment strategies Vermont has used for the past 20 years is public investment into the construc tion of permanently affordable housing and conservation of our farms and forests.
We were reminded how important these investments are by the recent work of the Council on the Future of Vermont.
After two years of work and contact with more than 4,000 Vermonters, the Council high lights the intense value Vermonters place on our working lands, towns and village centers.
An independent poll found that 97 percent of Vermonters rated our working and open land scape as their most important shared value.
That landscape is also an economic engine and the heart of our distinctive “Vermont Brand.”
The Vermont Housing and Conversation Board’s economic development program is the main way our state invests in these key values. It is proven as both a great tool for economic stimulus and a way to improve our long-term future.
It creates construction jobs by building and renovating affordable housing, while helping to revitalize our downtowns and village centers.
It allows a new generation of dairy farmers to gain access to land, while laying the foundation for agricultural diversification, valued-added food products and the local food movement.
The Legislature’s budget includes a major, and, perhaps, disproportionate cut of 50 per cent in its state appropriation. But, while this investment level misses opportunity to stimu late the economy, it at least keeps this valuable strategy moving forward during these tough times.
The governor’s proposal reduces the state’s commitment to the housing and conservation effort by an alarming 85 percent and calls for the total elimination of the working land con servation investments. This goes too far. Here is the likely result:

• The creation of new affordable housing will drop from 400 units annually to under 100, los ing the opportunity to create construction jobs at a time they are badly needed.
• Farms revitalized with conservation invest ments will drop from 20-25 annually to zero.
• Vermont will return $5 million in unused farmland protection money to the federal gov ernment instead of putting it into Vermont farm businesses.
• Farm business viability assistance will drop from 45-50 farms a year to zero.
• Community conservation investments (town forests, recreation areas) will be eliminated.
• The lead paint mitigation program (which protects young children from high lead levels) will be eliminated resulting in the loss of $1 million of federal funds.
• Forty Americorps workers, for which Ver mont receives $1 million in federal funds, will probably have to be laid off for lack of a $215,000 state match.
Going this far does not make sense, and it would effectively tear apart the community infrastructure that has served our towns and our farmers so well.
I hope the Legislature and the governor will take the long view of the budget dilemma we find ourselves in. When I was governor, I always said the Vermont Housing and Conser vation Board is part of our “100 year plan.”
Budget fights will come and go over the next century, but expenditures for affordable house and conversation of our forests and farms will make the kind of lasting changes in Vermont our grandchildren will judge us by.

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