The next American Revolution takes place at the ballot box. I need your vote so that we can work together to make Vermont a more socially, environmentally and economically just place to live for ourselves and future generations. In January 2017, when the new legislature is sworn in, it will need to move forward in a significant way on the following issues:
Healthcare for All
A major hardship for Vermonters is affordable health care. Vermont has not switched to universal health care despite the savings it offers. Universal healthcare will require a cost shift from individuals to the State budget, plus technology which is already under construction through Vermont Health Connect.
Currently, many Vermonters continue to face significant financial barriers. Even with Obamacare, the Vermont exchange sells health insurance rather than healthcare. This keeps people away from their doctors because they cannot afford the premiums of high deductible plans.
Universal primary care for Vermonters would improve the health of the entire population. It would reduce costs , reduce emergency room visits, and reduce hospitalization while freeing up medical staff to spend more time on patients. The estimated annual costs are $500 per person. Vermont needs to raise $160 million to fund this program, which is roughly a 1.3% payroll tax. We hate to raise taxes, but this will mean immediate benefits to all Vermonters. It will also reduce co-pays and deductibles and lower the cost of municipal budgets.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour is crucial to the livelihood of many Vermonters. As a letter carrier every day I saw workers and their families struggling to make ends meets, keep a roof over their head, put food on the table, and educate their children. With so little opportunity to save, many Vermonters face a retirement of poverty.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the real average weekly earnings — terms of the amount of goods and services that can be bought — rose from $462 in 1947 to $637 in 2016. But if wages were tied to productivity, the current weekly wage would be $1137.
Raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour reflects the value of the American worker. It will also raise the standard of living for many families.
Reducing contaminants, pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions means commitment to an environmentally sustainable infrastructure – and this infrastructure can also help create good jobs for Vermonters. We need look no further than the contaminated water crisis in Bennington County to understand the damage that human activity can cause the environment.
Climate change is a real game changer to our daily existence in Vermont. Our current legislation lacks consistency. I applaud the Vermont ban on fracking gas. However, we still allow fracked gas to be piped through Vermont even though it is associated with increased greenhouse gas emissions, water contamination, and earthquakes. Many Vermonters feel locked out of the decision making process. Protests and legal challenges, now centering on Geprag Park in Hinesburg, have plagued the pipeline. Just as the Sioux Nation gathered to fight General Custer, they are currently gathering to protest frack gas pipelines. Vermonters should stand in solidarity. We need legislation that not only talks the talk of fighting climate change, but one that walks the walk.
Ending Worker Misclassification
The misclassification of employees as independent contractors presents one of the most serious problems facing affected workers, employers, and the entire economy.
Many misclassified employees often are denied access to critical benefits and protections to which they are entitled. This can include the minimum wage, overtime compensation, family and medical leave, unemployment insurance, and workplace safety equipment. Employee misclassification generates substantial losses to the federal government and state governments in the form of lower tax revenues, as well as to state unemployment insurance and workers’ compensation funds. It hurts taxpayers and undermines the economy.
We need to ensure that the Vermont Department of Labor has the means to enforce our current laws and address the changes in the workforce, such as working remotely from home.
Vermont ranks 46th in tax fairness in the nation. Vermont’s progressive income tax is offset by its regressive sales tax and property tax. What is the appetite of Vermonters for sustainable property tax reform?
If we continue our current tax policy that favors the wealthiest Vermonters, out of fear that otherwise they will move out of state, too much of the tax burden will continue to be shouldered by those of us who cannot afford to drop everything and leave.
Instead, we should ask the wealthiest vermonters to pay the 3% of their income in lieu of property tax, as two-thirds of Vermonters already do.
The marijuana industry is estimated to be a 100-200 million dollar untaxed and unregulated business in Vermont. Even though marijuana is a Schedule 1 controlled substance, it is universally available to Vermonters.
Opponents of marijuana legalization will cite driving under the influence, access to minors, and overconsumption as challenges created by legalization, but with over 70,000 Vermonters openly admitting to monthly consumption of marijuana, these challenges already face us.
It is better to tackle them openly than to stick our head in the sand and pretend they do not currently exist. Legalization and taxation of marijuana will provide much needed revenue for public health and safety.