Selene Colburn's blog

Letter to CCTA Management

On Monday, March 17th, three Progressive City Councilors and Progressive Councilor-Elect Selene Colburn issued the following open letter to CCTA management in support of the bus drivers' strike.



We, the undersigned members of Burlington’s City Council, are writing in solidarity with the Chittenden County Transportation Association’s organized bus drivers and calling on management to deliver a fair contract that improves public safety and working conditions.

Earlier this week, what’s now being called snowstorm Vulcan delivered up to two feet of snow around Chittenden County. Schools closed, businesses delayed openings, food bank deliveries were canceled, and people struggled to get out of their driveways. The only thing it didn’t slow down was the bus drivers who got us where we needed to be, safely and soundly, as a blizzard raged all around.

A strike will have a major impact on Burlington and the region. Over 9,700 riders a day rely on the drivers to receive transport to school, to work, to medical care, to grocery stores and drug stores, to visit and care for relatives who live one town over. The loss of these essential transportation services will disproportionately impact low income Vermonters, who may not be able to avail themselves of other options.

And yet, the support for the bus drivers has been unwavering. Riders are standing up and announcing their solidarity, day by day. Earlier this week, Burlington high school students delivered a petition to City Council in support of the drivers. In one day, they amassed 500 signatures -- almost half the student body. Environmental and social justice student activists at UVM are rising up with a unified voice. In a near unanimous vote, the Burlington school board voted to stand with the drivers in their efforts, rather than to hire non-union workers in the event of a strike. Working people are turning out to rallies and pickets on cold winter mornings and nights; sister unions including the Vermont NEA, the Vermont Federation of Nurses, United Electrics, United Academics and the Vermont State Employees Association are voicing unity.

Drivers are asking for basic rights that everyone understands: reasonable working hours, the security of full time work, and the right to collective bargaining in the face of management conditions that by many accounts include surveillance, bullying, and disrespect. Vermont needs more full time workers who can support families without having to juggle multiple jobs, not more part-time workers without benefits. Vermont and Burlington deserve drivers who can operate safely, without being pushed to the point of exhaustion or intimidation. We deserve a robust transportation system that helps us protect our environment, not one that undermines the principles of sustainability by devaluing the very workers who make it run.

When unionized drivers agree to strike in a unanimous vote, rather than accept the terms of a contract, despite the risks to their livelihoods and their families, it signals a deep concern for the existing working conditions. We call on CCTA to deliver a fair contract to drivers.

Sincerely,

Councilor-Elect Selene Colburn, Ward 1
Councilor Max Tracy, Ward 2
Councilor Vince Brennan, Ward 3
Councilor Rachel Siegel, Ward 3

My Turn: Campaign finance bill fails Vermonters

The late Molly Ivins said it well: “Either we keep corporate money out of the political system, or we lose the democracy.”

A new campaign finance bill enacted by state lawmakers late last month not only fails to do that, it significantly increases the amount wealthy individuals and corporations can contribute to Vermont’s political parties and candidates.

S.82 was signed into law by Gov. Shumlin on Jan. 23. It was originally intended as a campaign finance reform bill, but now, despite some measured improvements, looks more like a free pass for the 1 percent to influence Vermont elections. Under the new law, statewide candidates can receive up to $4,000 from an individual or corporation — two times the old limit. Political parties can now receive up to $10,000 per donor and can funnel unlimited amounts to candidates of their choice.

This was quite a departure from a version passed by the Senate last year that would have limited donations to parties at $3,000 and capped donations from parties to candidates.

An ultimately failed amendment would have prohibited corporate donations completely.

During Vermont’s 2012 elections, the Vermont Democratic Party, the Vermont Republican Party and their candidates for statewide office received over a hundred donations from corporations including Monsanto, AgriMark, Fairpoint, Pfizer, Coca Cola, and more.

A ban on corporate donations would have allowed lawmakers to debate important issues such as GMO labeling and the path to single-payer health care with the assurance that our policy outcomes weren’t tainted by corporate meddling.

In the end, like many bills, this one ended up on a conference committee since the House and Senate failed to agree on an initial compromise.

Their work was particularly mystifying. Faced with conflicting mandates to cap donations to political parties at either $3,000 or $5,000, the conference committee doubled the upper limit to $10,000. Faced with recommendations from the Senate to curb the amount parties can give to candidates, the committee opted instead for unlimited spending. This unfortunate draft was passed by the House in their first week back in session.

Perhaps they moved quickly because public opinion is decidedly against the path they’ve taken. Poll after poll reveals a populace that’s fed up with big money in politics and views politicians as corrupted by its influence. So it was no surprise that Gov. Shumlin signed the bill quietly, within a week of its passage. This, despite a grassroots call to veto the bill, which gathered over a 1,500 petitioners in a handful of days.

Clearly, our point of view is not valued, no matter how widespread.

Why didn’t Montpelier take the time to get it right? Lawmakers could have rejected the work of the conference committee; the governor could have vetoed the bill and sent it back to the Legislature. The expediency with which the bill was shoved through the Statehouse and the Governor’s Office should be an embarrassment to those involved.

Who does this bill actually help? Is it working Vermonters already struggling to connect to a political process they view as increasingly out-of-touch, or a handful of wealthy individuals and corporations with political agendas and the candidates they support?

I’ll let our friends in Montpelier field that question. Something tells me that deep down, they know the answer.

This commentary original appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 5th.

February State Committee Meeting

Chair’s Welcome

Chair Martha Abbott welcomed all assembled and expressed her enthusiasm for the current state of the Progressive Party.  We are poised for our best year, ever.  It is extraordinary to note that there are three Progressives in the Vermont Senate and only six Republicans.  The Progressive Party is THE opposition party, offering a real alternative to the corporate parties, and we need to position ourselves as such.

Martha shared that the Progressive Party has important work ahead: challenging the influence of corporate donations in Vermont politics and providing meaningful resistance to the Governor’s current funding proposals, which target low-income support programs.  She closed by noting with enthusiasm that we had seven candidates for three positions on the State Coordinating Committee.  Candidates were encouraged to seek office again, if not elected this time.

 

Corporate Donations Petition

New Executive Director Robert Millar briefed us on a petition drive initiative, to be launched immediately, with special emphasis on upcoming Town Meeting day gatherings.  Petition signers will call on candidates for statewide office in the current election cycle (2013-2014) to reject corporate donations.  Signers also pledge not to donate to any statewide candidate that accepts corporate funds.

Corporate donations to the Vermont Democratic and Republican Parties and candidates in the 2010-2012 election cycle were numerous.  Both Parties received donations from Monsanto, Pfizer Pharmaceutical, Pike Industries, Medco Health Solutions, and Fairpoint Communications.  Donors to gubernatorial campaigns included Agrimark, Anheuser Busch, Honeywell International, Pepsico and Verizon to Shumlin; AT&T, Newsbank and Pike Industries to Brock; and Fairpoint to both, along with many others.

An online version of the petition will be available soon on the Progressive Party website.  We will be tracking donations this election cycle, with close attention to the upcoming June campaign finance reporting.  Petition signers will be apprised of corporate donations.  To obtain a copy of the petition in PDF form click here.

 

Legislative Updates

SENATOR ANTHONY POLLINA

• S.40: Advocates for establishing a committee to develop policies to restore the 1980 ratios of state funding for student tuition to state colleges (thus making higher education more affordable and accessible).  There is some support for this in the Senate Committee on Education, where it is headed.
• S.43: Would require that every increase to the state’s corrections budget would be matched with an equal increase in funding for state colleges.  Senator Pollina reported that its chances of passage were slim, but it was met with enthusiastic support from the floor.
• Senator Pollina shared information on other initiatives: a bill that would prohibit municipalities from shutting off water due to lack of payment by landlords; a meeting with workers in the gaming industry who have relocated to VT; and the possibility of limiting SuperPAC donations from individuals.

REPRESENTATIVE CINDY WEED

• Rep. Weed has been appointed to the House Committee on General Housing and Military Affairs, where she has been hearing testimony on the “break open” tickets that the Shumlin administration claimed would raise $17 million.  That estimate has been steadily reduced and at last count stood at about $1 million.
• The Committee is also interviewing applicants for Vermont Adjutant General.
• Rep. Weed signed on as a co-sponsor to H.99, a bill on equal pay that addresses gender-based workplace discrimination, prevents employers from retaliating against requests for flex time, and looks at solutions for paid parental leave.  It is currently in Rep. Weed’s committee and likely to be voted out on 2/12.

REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS PEARSON

• Progressives are in a great position with a Democratic Governor.  We have a real opportunity to communicate our value to voters and to offer a meaningful alternative.  Progressives now hold seats on 11 out of the 14 committees in the House and Senate.  We should actively be cultivating candidates for the next election cycle.  Let’s get that number to 14!
• The Governor’s budget proposal targets programs that specifically benefit low-income families, even as they purport to fund early childhood education and other initiatives that have long been important to Progressives.  We must draw a firm line in our protection of these programs.
• Rep. Pearson talked about the Climate Caucus, which he co-founded.  The first meeting of the session had over 40 elected officials in attendance.  Bill McKibben recently spoke to the House and Senate.  The Climate Caucus is definitely influencing debate in the Statehouse.
• Rep. Pearson will be proposing means of raising revenue that redresses income disparity, without taking from the working class.
• Rep. Pearson is on the House Committee on Health Care, where much of the focus is on complying with federal mandates for health care reform.  He cited the example of contracting to create a web portal for health care exchanges, to be funded with millions of federal dollars.

 

Gwen Hallsmith and the Vermont Coalition for a New Economy

Guest speaker Gwen Hallsmith talked about the theory that is guiding the work of the newly-formed Vermont Coalition for a New Economy.  We discussed resilient and sustainable economies, with micro-examples such as alternate currencies, time banks, the local food movement, community–support models, and of course, public banking.  TD Bank currently handles the state’s money.  In 2008, TD Bank loaned $4.29 million to Vermont.  Since then it has reduced its lending to Vermont-based entities by about 90%, down to $416,000.  Gwen shared the idea of a state lending institution called Resilient Energy, Food and Infrastructure (REFI).  One of the advantages of a state bank or a consolidated lending institution is that it could be used to finance renewable energy models currently in need of investment.  Gwen serves on the capital gap study coordinated by Treasurer Beth Pearce, alongside representatives from VEDA, VSAC, and VHFA.  They are investigating some of these issues.

 

Coordinating Committee Vacancies

The following individuals were elected to fill vacancies on the Coordinating Committee:

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Treasurer)

Selene Colburn (Vice Treasurer)

Katherine Sims (Member-at-Large)

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