Making Vermont More Affordable

Many Vermonters are experiencing a crisis of affordability. Wages are stagnant, while taxes and other costs of living are rising. We have to work together to address the factors that are driving those costs, especially the costs created by state government.

Here are three examples:

01. Education: First, we will always keep in mind it’s about both cost and quality. Our focus will be on creating an affordable and sustainable system that allows communities to invest in classrooms and children.

  • Structural reform has to happen. Unfortunately, for the last 20 years, we’ve been losing about 1,000 kids per year from our public school system. At the same time, fixed costs have been rising. That means structural reform is necessary to get property taxes under control and, at the same time, continue to invest in kids and classrooms. It’s a difficult discussion, but we have to have it. If we don’t, we’ll have to continue to accept rising taxes or compromises in the quality of our children’s education. And I’m not willing to settle for either.
  • We need to encourage more innovation in education. Flexible and individual learning plans, sharing resources, and making better use of technology can help us achieve efficiencies and increase academic opportunities for all students, no matter the learning style.
  • We need to improve Act 46. The new law has created an opportunity for positive change, but is falling far short of the cost containment and property tax solution Vermonters are looking for. The Legislature must also clarify that districts with school choice can preserve it in the event of a consolidation. Finally, we should find ways to let communities keep what they save from mergers, and other efficiencies, returning the savings to local taxpayers or local schools – whichever their voters choose – instead of sending it back to Montpelier.

02. Healthcare Reform: We need to get and keep healthcare reform on track.

  • Fix the Exchange. Vermont’s healthcare exchange, Vermont Health Connect, is still not fully functional, and plans are unaffordable to many. I’ve repeatedly called for a transition to a better, less costly model that allows Vermonters to buy lower-cost health insurance from the federal healthcare exchange or approved multi-state partnership exchanges with more affordable choices. Vermonters deserve a system that works for both their household budgets and the state budget.
  • Eliminate the mandate. Small businesses should not be forced into Vermont’s exceedingly expensive, dysfunctional exchange. The website doesn’t work for them and small businesses are losing more control over a competitive benefit they were once able to offer employees.
  • Return savings to you. We have to continue to transition from the old fee-for-service model to a payment system that compensates providers for outcomes and value. We also need to share our successes in cost containment with the businesses and families that pay insurance premiums. After three years of historically low growth (about 2-3 percent per year) in hospital budgets, Vermonters still haven’t seen any savings show up in their insurance bills.

03. The State Budget: Balance the budget and maintain fiscal discipline.

Budgeting is about making choices, and I acknowledge that some of these choices will be difficult. To make Vermont affordable and get our middle class growing again, we must have the courage and the discipline to live within our means – just like working families have to do. Any candidate who suggests otherwise is not being honest.

  • Set responsible limits. Our economy has been growing at about 2 percent each year and low- and middle-income wages aren’t really growing at all. Meanwhile, state spending has been growing at a rate of about 5 percent each year for the last six years. We cannot tax our way back to a stronger economy. Over the near term, we must not raise taxes and fees. State government must stop spending more than it is taking in. Providing a stable, less costly environment for working families while growing the economy and lifting wages are the best ways to balance the budget and generate revenue to invest in programs and services.
  • Eliminate the structural deficits. We need to stop using one-time money to plug reoccurring budget holes. We must also stop borrowing money to pay salaries and fund short-term projects. We’re currently borrowing about $142 per minute. We need to be more responsible and more disciplined with our use of bonding.
  • Modernize state government. I will begin by ordering an independent audit of all agencies, departments and systems to streamline services, improve outcomes and reduce operational costs. We will make better use of technology and use the lessons learned from the health exchange and best practices from the private sector to ensure IT projects are managed well, finish on time and stay on budget.

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