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By Keith Thompson
Most Vermonters would say that we are in a tough situation right now, and those who wouldn't are naive. The struggle between Vermonters, the Legislature and the governor on our budget is warranted. We know that we need to make cuts to programs; we know jobs will be lost, and we know that there are going to be tax increases for people. So let us assume that we are all in this together and we all need to lose something, but what?
Vermont is a special place made up of independent strong-minded people
in vibrant, diverse communities set in a landscape rich with
agriculture, biological diversity and recreational opportunities. As a
young Vermonter (still living in the town I grew up in) out of college
and running a business, I do not see the budget proposed by the
governor as a way of preserving the potential of my state.
Through the reduced state commitment to the Education Fund, the governor is indirectly increasing the property taxes on landowners in towns unwilling to sacrifice the quality of their children's education. In addition, the budget proposes to shift teachers' retirement into a cost of Education Fund, a line item that has been in the cross hairs of Governor Douglas for quite some time.
The governor is restricting the eligibility for a long-running property tax prebate by lowering the threshold from $90,000 of annual household income to $75,000. This has the effect of a tax increase for everyone whose household income is between $90,000 and $75,000. By eliminating the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, the governor is significantly reducing the state's ability to support our agricultural community and our ability to provide affordable housing opportunities in the state.
I see a lot of sad results from the direction of the governor's proposed budget. I see hardworking Vermonters arguing at Town Meeting over the education they are willing or able to offer their children. And in that scenario, I see children without art, home ec., sports, wood shop or metal working attending larger classes taught by overworked teachers. I see Vermont natives leaving to find work where property taxes are manageable in a state that supports their child's education. I see the farm down the road selling land instead of milk or syrup, soon replaced by a few $425,000 homes, since developers had no incentives to build low-cost housing. While only potentials, these scenarios are closer to reality through the governor's budget than through the Legislature's budget.
I am not saying that the budget passed by the Legislature is perfect; it never could be, and we will all lose something if it passes. The losses we experience through the Legislature's budget are spread out and we all share the burden. A lot of hard cuts were made by our legislators to get a budget through and I applaud them for it. The budget passed because our legislators heard us, their constituents. I hope they will hear us again. "Block the governor's veto and move forward on the good work you have done for us."
Keith Thompson lives in Waterbury.