Roll Call: Which Senators Chose Corporate Money Over Real Election Reform?

In an effort to keep you better informed about what’s going on in Montpelier, we’ve decided to start posting some of the key roll call votes this Legislative Biennium so you can keep track of who in the Legislature is really standing up for the people – and who is beholden to the rich and corporate interests.

On April 18th, in a shocking reversal, the Vermont Senate voted to remove a ban on corporate donations from a major campaign finance reform bill, despite having overwhelmingly voted to add it to the bill just weeks before.  This vote clearly shows which Senators are with the people and which were ultimately unwilling to wean themselves from the corrupting influence of corporate money.

The following Senators joined Progressives Tim Ashe, Anthony Pollina and David Zuckerman in standing strong against corporate influence in our elections:

• Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden)
• Joe Benning (R-Caledonia)
• Sally Fox (D-Chittenden)
• Peter Galbraith (D-Windham)
• Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden)*
    *Sen. Lyons originally voted against the ban, but on 4/18 voted to keep it in the bill
• Mark MacDonald (D-Orange)
• Dick McCormack (D-Windsor)
• Dick Sears (D-Bennington)

The following Senators voted for the ban initially, before ultimately deciding they were unwilling to part with their corporate donations:

• John Campbell (D-Windsor)
• Don Collins (D-Franklin)
• Ann Cummings (D-Washington)
• Bill Doyle (R-Washington)
• Bob Hartwell (D-Bennington)
• Jane Kitchell (D-Caledonia)
• Dick Mazza (D-Chittenden/Grand Isle)
• Norm McAllister (R-Franklin)
• Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland)
• John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans)
• Bobby Starr (D-Essex/Orleans)
• Rich Westman (R-Lamoille)

The following Senators have consistently voted against the ban, at least showing they are honest about being beholden to corporate money:

• Claire Ayer (D-Addison)
• Chris Bray (D-Addison)
• Peg Flory (R-Rutland)
• Eldred French (D-Rutland)
• Alice Nitka (D-Windsor)
• Diane Snelling (R-Chittenden)
• Jeanette White (D-Windham)

Progressives on the Rise

Dear Friends -

It may soon be even more difficult to compete in Vermont elections.  Under pressure from Democratic and Republican Party operatives, Legislators recently made changes to a formerly promising campaign finance bill that would more than double what statewide candidates can raise from a single source, and triple what political parties can raise.  Democrats and Republicans are attempting to use Legislators’ legitimate fear of what “Super PACs” might do in future elections to convince them they should be allowed to raise more money, that the solution to the flood of money in our elections is even more money.

As you and I know, we are not going to overcome the Super PACs and corporate interests by throwing more money into our elections.  Allowing the corporate-funded parties and their candidates to accept even more money from the likes of Monsanto, Coca-Cola, Pfizer, AT&T, and HP (all actual donors to the VDP last cycle), doesn’t fix the problem, it exacerbates it.  Please join me in calling on the Legislature to stand strong and pass a bill that will help rein in election spending, rather than increase it.  If you live in Vermont, find how to contact your State Legislators here, or you can leave a message for them by calling the Sergeant-At-Arms at 802-828-2228.

Update from Burlington: Over thirty-two years since Burlington first elected Bernie Sanders Mayor in 1981, the Progressive spirit is alive and flourishing in Vermont’s Queen City!  On Town Meeting Day last week, Progressive Jane Knodell was elected in Ward 2 and Progressive Vince Brennan was reelected in Ward 3, bringing Progressives’ total on the City Council to four.  Democrats were held to seven Councilors and, in a result reminiscent of November’s results, Republicans lost the only race they contested, leaving them with just one member on the Council.

Once again, Progressives continue to be on the rise in Vermont, even as the Vermont Republican Party continues its decline.  But these wins did not come easily last week in Burlington.  It takes a lot of resources to run the kind of strong, grassroots campaign needed to take on the Democratic machine and win.  And we can’t do it without your help!  Have you considered becoming a monthly donor to the Vermont Progressive Party?  Becoming a monthly donor is the best way to ensure our people-powered party has the resources to stand strong against the corporate-funded parties, but any contribution is very much appreciated.

Finally, I want to make sure you are aware of an upcoming event.  On Saturday, March 16th at 10:00 am at Montpelier High School, Senator Bernie Sanders (who has sure come a long way since he was Mayor of Burlington!) will be holding a Conference on Global Warming, featuring Environmental Activist Bill McKibben as the Keynote Speaker.  You can learn more about the event here.

Thank you for all you do,

Robert Millar
Executive Director


Legislative Update: Prohibition Has Failed
by Rep. Susan Davis

It's been nearly a century since Vermont first prohibited marijuana in 1915. It hasn't worked and it's time for a new approach.

Just like alcohol prohibition, marijuana prohibition does not eliminate the use of the product and simply steers all of the profits to the underground market. Given the fact that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol, it is time we have it produced and sold in a legitimate, regulated market.

Regulating marijuana like alcohol and allowing the production of industrial hemp would create hundreds of new, legal jobs and generate business for a variety of other Vermont industries.


Legislative Update: Weekly Update
by Rep. Cindy Weed

Town meeting week signifies the traditional halfway mark of the legislative session in Montpelier. Typically, the first year of the biennium starts off slowly, as committees get used to new members and each other, and begin the work of taking testimony on and passing a variety of bills out of committee. Last week was the deadline to submit any and all bills. In total, approximately 500 bills will be introduced in the House and half that amount in the Senate. Naturally, with a part-time legislature, many will not get attention and literally die on the wall. Next year we will start all over again creating and introducing new bills.


In the Media: Vermont Democrats Want More Money in Politics
by Paul Heintz

On Wednesday, they settled on a fivefold increase for statewide candidates, allowing them to collect $10,000 checks from each donor. But after Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) protested, on Thursday, the committee scaled that back to $5000.

“There’s no reason why anybody should give $10,000 to a political campaign,” Pollina argued to his fellow committee members.


In the Media: Balance shifts in Burlington Council makeup
by Joel Banner Baird

Until the final vote count, Knodell said later, "I didn’t know if I was the underdog or not in this race. Both sides wanted it bad."

She credited a "classic, Progressive grassroots campaign" with her victory.


Vermont Economic Snapshot

Press Release: Progressive alternative funding sources

Progressives have pushed for a greater investment in childcare, higher education, student loan forgiveness, weatherization and clean energy for years, so it was encouraging to hear Governor Shumlin promote these initiatives in his state budget.

While we applaud his priorities, many of us across the state find his funding proposals detached from the economic reality of our neighbors. They are an insult to the working families of our state.

Take a look at this snapshot provided by Thom Kavet in his annual revenue summary prepared for JFO, which shows the change in income by income class for Vermonters over the past 10 years.

2001-2011 Income Growrth

The median household income in Vermont is $53,000. That is, half of Vermont households are on the top half of this chart and half are on the bottom. Given that, I think most reasonable people would look at this and conclude that any new sources of revenue have to come from the top half.

Gov. Shumlin seems to think it’s those living in the bottom half who should pay up.

Today, we present nine revenue options that draw from those on the top half of this chart. We present a package totaling $50 million and hope it will stimulate discussion and inspire legislative leaders to find ways to advance Shumlin’s priorities without hurting those who can least afford it.

Progressive Revenue Menu

1.    Bank Franchise Tax (pay higher of BFT or corporate income)     $5.0 million
       currently 0.000096 of the average monthly deposit
       banks have expanded into services, etc

2.    Tax capital gains as ordinary income                                       $11.0 million
        currently exempt first $5,000

3.    Property Transfer Tax per 0.25% value > $500K                         $1.5 million
       adds 3rd tier for high-value properties

4.    Estate Tax – reduce exemption from $2.75 to $1 million             $1.9 million
       brings into line with neighboring states

5.    Income Tax Top Bracket Collapse                                           $20.0 million
       brings actual rates closer to marginal rates

6.    Vermont Alternative Minimum Tax                                          $1.0 million
       parallel’s federal structure

7.    Escheat (unclaimed bottle deposits)                                      $1-2 million
       reclaim the nickels

8.    Natural Resources Extraction Taxes
       Groundwater extraction 28 cents per gallon                          $4.5 million
       Earth Resources extraction 2 cents per cubic yard
       We are one of only 11 states without one

9.    Eliminate Sales Tax Exemptions
       Bottled Water                                                                    $1.0 million
       Clothing > $100                                                                  $2.2 million
       We don’t need bottled water
       People buying $120 sweater can afford $7.20

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


• 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.


• 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.


• 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)

Shumlin’s New Tax on Low-Income Working Vermonters

Make no mistake: Governor Shumlin is proposing a broad-based tax increase on low-income working people.  Substantial cuts to the Earned Income Tax Credit are a tax increase by anyone’s measure. And a tax increase on the most vulnerable Vermonters, those who are working and raising children.

One example: A single mother of two small children who is self-employed and earns $27,000 a year.  She pays no income tax, but because she is self-employed, she pays $3,200 toward Social Security and Medicare (known as Self-Employment Tax on the Federal income tax return (1040), where it is collected from those who don't receive a W-2 from someone else).  Her Federal Earned Income Tax Credit is $3,200, which effectively pays that Self-Employment Tax.  Her Vermont Earned Income Tax credit is about $1,000.  That Vermont Earned Income Tax Credit effectively boosts her income for the year by $1,000 as an incentive because she is earning income and supporting her two children.

Obviously that $1000 makes a big difference in a household of 3 people, the difference between living on $27,000 or $28,000.  It is 3.5% of their income, so taking it away is essentially a 3.5% tax, which is really a 100% increase in their tax rate as the Vermont income tax rate on people of her filing status (head of household) making less than $46,000 is 3.5 percent.

Even Republican Lt. Governor Phil Scott said on the Mark Johnson show that he thought taking away people's Earned Income Credit was a bad idea because "this is money people use to buy groceries".

Governor Shumlin has said that he doesn’t want to raise taxes on the wealthy for fear they will leave the state.  I guess he figures low-income working Vermonters won’t leave, or does not care if they do.  Shumlin claims he is trying to incentivize people on welfare to get jobs, yet proposing now to penalize those who have jobs.  He claims he is trying to persuade young people to stay here and raise a family.  Someone should tell him that many young people are low-income earners when they first start a family.

This is the most regressive tax proposal to come out of any Governor’s office, Republican or Democrat, in recent memory.

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