Windham County legislators outline priorities
By Kevin O’Connor
Staff Writer | January 06,2014
Sen. Jeanette White speaks for fellow Windham County lawmakers when anticipating this week’s start of the state Legislature.
“The overriding issue we must all address is state expenses and revenues,” the Putney Democrat says. “My goal is to adopt a budget that does minimal amount of harm.”
How does one do that? It depends on whom you ask.
The Herald invited every state legislator from Vermont’s four southern counties to respond to the question, “What’s your single most important issue for 2014 and why?” Here are the answers, edited only to correct spelling and grammar, from Windham County senators and representatives.
(Responses from lawmakers in Bennington, Rutland and Windsor counties appeared in the Herald last week and can be found at www.rutlandherald.com.)
Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham:
I have introduced legislation to raise Vermont’s minimum wage to $12 an hour. This is a fiscally conservative measure to help low-income Vermonters while saving the taxpayers money. Vermont’s current minimum wage is, in inflation-adjusted dollars, almost 20 percent below what it was in 1968. A higher minimum wage means fewer working Vermonters receiving government benefits that are in effect a subsidy to low-wage employers. Working Vermonters should earn enough to support themselves and taxpayers shouldn’t help shoulder the labor costs of America’s richest companies.
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham:
The overriding issue we must all address is state expenses and revenues. My goal is to adopt a budget that does minimal amount of harm. Aside from that I have a number of priorities — government transparency, elections changes, improving access to dental care, state bank proposal, mental health issues, Windham County post-Vermont Yankee and all that means, use of temporary state employees and use of private contracts to replace state employees.
Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Windham-1 (Guilford, Vernon):
This year’s budget gap of $70 million, the economic impacts of the closure of Vermont Yankee, teachers’ retirement fund shortfalls, proposed increases in the statewide property tax and numerous other economic pressures have set the priorities for the Legislature. My first priority is always constituent service covering a wide range of issues: the restoration of Sweet Pond Dam in Guilford; the continued viability of ROV, a locally-owned company poised for expansion; the impacts of Act 148 on local business as well as a myriad of individual constituent concerns.
Rep. Valerie Stuart, D-Windham-2-1 (Brattleboro):
To create more good-paying jobs and ensure the effective implementation of the Flexible Pathways Initiative we passed last year. We need to ensure Vermonters take full advantage of the new opportunities now offered, including skills mentoring, dual enrollment and early college, to ensure every young person, and particularly first-generation college students, attends and completes some post-secondary schooling. Nationally, 81 percent of the fastest-growing high-wage jobs now require some post-secondary education.
Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Windham-2-2 (Brattleboro):
My most important legislative issues relate to transportation: emissions, funding, safety and accessibility. The highest priority is to find ways to cut transportation greenhouse gas emissions to address climate change. We also need to find new sources to fund our transportation system, as well as improve safety and accessibility for pedestrians, bicyclists and persons with disabilities. We have a transportation system that privileges, and invests more, in automobiles over people, while contributing heavily to environmental and climate damage. This trend can be reversed through increased investment in electric vehicle infrastructure, public transit and safe streets initiatives.
Rep. Tristan Toleno, D-Windham-2-3 (Brattleboro):
While there are many issues I anticipate working on, my biggest priorities are working with the Senate to pass the GMO labeling bill and continuing to work on expanding the use of the Results Based Accountability framework. RBA will improve the impact of government programs on people’s well-being and lead to greater transparency and clarity for Vermont citizens about how their money is spent.
Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham-3 (Athens, Brookline, Grafton, Rockingham, Westminster, Windham):
Perhaps the most important thing we will do this session is pass a balanced budget that protects our most vulnerable citizens and is mindful of our taxpayers. Beyond that, I would like to see the Senate pass, and the governor sign, the bill (H.112) regarding the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering.
Rep. David Deen, D-Windham-4 (Dummerston, Putney, Westminster):
The work to protect Vermont waterways is taking on a larger dimension with the anticipated issuance of total maximum daily load cleanup plans for Lake Champlain, Lake Memphremagog and the Connecticut River. Each is impaired for nutrient loading, and reducing the discharges will be expensive. The administration says the financial cupboard is bare. A truly bare cupboard is not having clean water to drink, play in, wash in and use to cook.
Rep. Michael Mrowicki, D-Windham-4 (Dummerston, Putney, Westminster):
The House Human Services Committee will consider a broad spectrum of ideas to serve our elderly, children in poverty, the disabled et al. Continuing with reform in our mental health system and making investments in our future through early education opportunities for preschoolers will also loom large on our agenda. The challenge in looking at all that, once again, will be to balance those needs against the economic realities of a tight budget and the still unfolding effects of federal budget sequestration.
Rep. Richard Marek, D-Windham-5 (Marlboro, Newfane, Townshend):
Obviously we all could name dozens of priority issues for this session, but I will choose one within the jurisdiction of House Judiciary since it’s in our committees and not with lengthy floor speeches we have the greatest real chance to influence legislation. We need to continue building on our strong highway safety work. DUI, lack of seatbelts, cellphones and texting continue to unnecessarily kill far too many Vermonters and destroy the lives of their families every year.
Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Windham-6 (Halifax, Whitingham, Wilmington):
We need a new conversation about public education and how we pay for it. One reason is that the world of work now requires different skills, no longer just the three “Rs.” Now critical thinking skills, ability to work in groups and using individual creativity are necessary. In response, there are some exciting changes in some Vermont public schools leading to proficiency standards, changing the 100-year-old school framework where time is fixed and student learning is variable into a framework where students become proficient regardless of how much time it takes.
A second reason is Vermont’s very high and growing dependence on the property tax to pay for public education. Many Vermonters believe that that property tax is the most onerous tax that they pay, and the only one for which you can lose your home. A new look at the education fund framework is needed to understand why the underlying principle of equity is the same for the revenue side of the equation, as it is for the spending side. In no other arena of state spending do we ask only whether the spending is equitable, we ask what is the need and what are the outcomes.
Rep. John Moran, D-Windham-Bennington (Dover, Readsboro, Searsburg, Somerset, Stamford, Wardsboro, Whitingham):
For the last six years our failed response to the great recession has been fiscal austerity, which has continued economic stagnation and economic inequality. My legislative priority is a people’s budget, based not on currently available revenues, but genuine Vermonter needs, and focused primarily on making Vermont a worker friendly state. I will push for a livable wage for all, paid sick time off, guaranteed employment and housing and equitable taxation.
Rep. Charles “Tim” Goodwin, I-Windham-Bennington-Windsor (Jamaica, Londonderry, Stratton, Weston, Winhall):
I have recently read with disappointment the report of the Public & Independent Schools Study Committee, which is a report falling out of Act 56 of the 2013 session, in which Secretary (Armando) Vilaseca makes recommendations unfavorable to independent schools. Four of my five towns hold the ability to voucher their students to independent schools. A high priority of mine will be to protect the best interests of my constituents in that regard.