Shumlin's Budget & Democrats’ Courage

If Jim Douglas had proposed the budget we heard from Peter Shumlin, Democrats would have eaten him for lunch. Cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would have been a non-starter. And trimming “Reach Up” benefits? Democrats would have screamed, "This is about the kids!" When a Republican wants to cut programs helping parents (you have to have dependent children to be on Reach Up), Democrats defend their natural constituents with vigor.

The good news is the EITC idea seems to have fallen flat in the relevant committees in the Statehouse. And, within a week of its presentation, the Speaker of the House told Seven Days he had serious concerns about this source of funds. Now we have to make sure it's a straight up "no way," instead of becoming a "just a little bit" approach in the end.

Cuts to Reach Up, on the other hand, haven't met with much public outcry. That should be a concern.

"Liberals" like Doug Racine and Dave Yacovone both work for Shumlin, but the scuttlebutt around Montpelier is that they have drank the Kool-Aid. That is, apparently they actually believe we are being too generous to those who use the Reach Up program. Earth to the Shumlin administration! Please note how the growth in our economy has worked over the last year (measured in thousands of dollars):

2010-2011 Income Growth

And over the last ten years:

2001-2011 Income Growth

We Progressives are accustomed to standing up against these kinds of cuts. It's easy for us to fight for Vermonters who aren't "booming" as Bernie likes to say. But it sure is more fun when our allies in the Democratic Party are there with us.

Let's protect those who don't see the economy working for them. Come on, we'll have fun and at the end of the day we'll help Vermont families who are already struggling. Rest assured, defeating these proposals will be rewarding, no matter which Party's Governor has put them on the table.

Livable Wage Waiver

I penned the following to Mayor Miro Weinberger (cc'ed members of the Finance Board) after the Finance Board voted in favor of an exemption of the livable wage ordinance to Skinny Pancake.

December 3, 2012

Dear Honorable Mayor Weinberger,

As co-chair of the Legislative Working Vermonter's Caucus, it is important that I work to promote a progressive, working families agenda and support justice for all Vermont workers. Burlington's livable wage ordinance is a model that political leaders in Vermont should be touting not exempting. It is a family friendly policy and makes good economic sense for Burlington and Vermont because it puts the spending power into the hands of regular people (in particular women, who traditionally have worked in the lower paying jobs).

Burlington can be proud of such a good policy that helps to give Vermont's working poor a better chance to eventually rise up into the middle class. Your policy is an excellent example of an act of justice for working Vermonters.

Sadly, it is my understanding that you and the board of finance recently approved the Skinny Pancake's request for an exemption from the city's livable wage ordinance. I am concerned that your defense of the exemption sets a troubling precedence for hard working families who have already been hammered by a financial crisis they didn't create. These families need political leaders who will fight for hardworking people, not undermine policies that give them a chance to live a dignified life.

I urge you, as Mayor in one of the greatest cities in our state, to do the right thing and reconsider your decision or look at alternative ways to work with Skinny Pancake to uphold the existing ordinance. I'm sure you will agree that the greatest aspect of Vermont's economy is our hardworking families. There is still time for you to support Vermont's economic future and do the right thing. Anything less sells working Vermonters short.

Thank You,

Representative Susan Hatch Davis
Co-Chair Legislative Working Vermonters Caucus

Resolution on Vermont’s Divestment from the Fossil Fuel Industry

WHEREAS; the economic and human cost of the climate crisis is increasing in the US and around the world,

WHEREAS; a large area of the Midwest experienced serious drought
this past summer,

WHEREAS; Hurricane Sandy demonstrated the consequences of rising ocean temperatures combined with increasingly powerful storms,

WHEREAS; the Arctic sea ice is melting at an alarming rate, contributing to a cycle of warming and rising ocean water which threatens islands and coastal areas.

WHEREAS; 20% of the US population lives on the coasts within range of the expected effects of the ocean’s rising,

WHEREAS; the world is currently on the track of a catastrophic 6 degrees Celsius of warming, despite 3 decades of increasingly desperate warnings from scientists,

WHEREAS; some estimates predict that 100 million people across the globe could die in the next 18 years because of climate change and the impacts of fossil fuel use,

WHEREAS; the US is 6% of the earth’s population but consumes 25% of the earth’s resources,

WHEREAS; scientists say that Vermont is likely to be impacted by a lack of snow and serious damage to maple trees and maple syrup production from numerous invasive species,

WHEREAS; both snow and maple trees are the foundation of a significant part of Vermont’s economy,

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the State Committee of the Vermont Progressive Party calls on the elected leaders of the State of Vermont to join with colleges and universities in Vermont and across the country and with the campaign led by to divest its reserves, retirement funds and any and all other public funds from the top 200 publicly traded companies that own the majority of fossil fuel reserves and invest in energy conservation and efficiency in order to send a strong message to other states and other institutions and to provide leadership on this important issue.

Adopted November 17, 2012

Candidate Q&A - State treasurer: Don Schramm

September 17, 2012; Burlington Free Press

With our money in our own state bank, we would be able to work with other Vermont banks and credit unions to make the safest and most beneficial investments – in ourselves. The Vermont Community Loan Fund and the Cooperative Fund of New England have been doing this successfully for years.

Read the full article here.

Vermont can do better for Vermont Workers.

Vermont has the most progressive Democratic Governor in the Country.  Both houses of the Vermont Legislature contain overwhelming majorities of elected Democrats.  And yet, this year, after Labor has been loyal to Democratic candidates and worked hard to get them elected, workers’ concerns were often ignored and, in the Vermont Senate, the Democratic leadership fought hard to keep them off the agenda.

Last year, the Legislature was happy to pass and the Governor was happy to sign a non binding resolution in support of Labor in Wisconsin!  But this year when it came to passing legislation to help Vermont workers, the Legislature had no interest in doing so. Governor Shumlin failed to step forward and provide any leadership or support for some important bills.

The omnibus labor bill, improvements to the state prevailing wage requirements, restoring cuts to unemployment benefits were all victims of the Governor and the Legislative Leadership taking Labor’s support for granted without feeling a need to do anything to earn it.

Many Vermonters may not know that if there is a labor union in a Vermont workplace, joining it is still optional for each employee.  But, if any employee encounters a problem with the employer, the Union is required to represent them and fight for their interests (even providing lawyers and paying for arbitration), even for those employees who chose not to join the union and have never paid any union dues.  So, there was a bill to allow unions to charge a fee for those services.  It was allowed to die.

Migrant farm workers and the Vermont farmers who employ them asked the Legislature to make some changes that would allow these workers to get a State ID and Drivers license, a legitimate status to enable them to work and to get access to medical care.  Vermont farmers testified that they rely heavily on these migrant farm workers to make their businesses viable and lobbied in support of their workers. Hearings were held.  Silence from the Governor’s office. Nothing was done.
Child care workers do the most important work in our state for the least amount of pay.   Much child care in Vermont is subsidized by a program which reimburses child care providers for services to children whose parents are in the workforce but are paid less than a livable wage.    This is really another way in which the taxpayers subsidize businesses that choose not to pay their workers enough to provide the childcare that they need in order to work.  

Most childcare providers are one person operations.  As individuals, they are not able to effectively bargain with the state for livable wage rates for their businesses.  So they were seeking to create an opportunity to bargain collectively with the State instead of having to negotiate one on one.  

The Democratic leadership in the Senate fought tooth and nail to avoid taking a vote on this bill, even disbanding the Senate for half of an entire day to avoid a vote.  Finally, it was maneuvered onto the budget bill as an amendment by its supporters, largely the work of Sen. Mark McDonald of Orange, whose leadership on this issue stands out in contrast to much of the rest of his party.

It is a common maneuver that if you can’t kill something in one chamber, you pass it back to the other Chamber.  If they can’t kill it there, you kill it in conference committee.  And that is what happened.  The Democratic Leadership would not let it be a stand alone bill to be voted on because it likely would have passed.  When forced to add it to the budget, they used the age old argument that it was not germane to the budget (which arguably it was).   So the bill died in the Conference Committee, another victim of a lack of leadership on supporting Vermont workers and Vermont’s smallest businesses.

Vermont can do better for our workers, for their advocates, for our farmers, for our children and for those who care for them.  Fair labor practices and democratic work places benefit all of us and the sustainable society that we all want to live in.

Dramatic Events

If the spirit of liberty should vanish in other parts of the Union and the support for our institutions languish, it could all be replenished from the generous store held by the people of this brave little state of Vermont." – Calvin Coolidge

It was a dark night in Wisconsin for the 99% of citizens in this country and for democracy.  The onslaught of Citizen United unlimited Corporate money in Wisconsin created an enormous funding gap: $30 million for the Republican Governor (mostly from out of state) vs $4 million for the Democrat (raised mostly in-state).  That kind of David and Goliath contest threatens the very foundations of our country.

We are fortunate, here in Vermont, that we have not yet seen that level of attack on our democratic process.  We are lucky that one of our political leaders has spent 40 years educating Vermonters about the disparity of wealth and power in politics.

Sen. Bernie Sanders has done as much as any one person could to inoculate Vermonters against the big money and negative advertising that can buy an election. Because he has talked about the concentration of wealth in the hands of 1% of the US population for 40 years, the Occupy Wall Street message was not news to Vermonters.

We understand that wealthy and powerful interests are not paying their fair share and that they are gambling with taxpayer money on Wall Street. We understand that if banks are too big to fail, they are free to pocket millions and then ask for a bail out when their financial risk-taking jeopardizes our whole economy.

We must not take democracy for granted.  In Michigan, the Governor is disbanding the elected mayors and city councils and appointing financial tsars to run whole towns and cities.  In the name of national security, Congress has given the president the authority to shoot US citizens on sight by designating them as terrorists without any court order or review process.

This idea of Corporate personhood has swept across our land and we, the real people, must meet this challenge to our future by getting involved in our democracy, by supporting candidates and parties that represent our interests, with shoe leather and with generous donations.  We must make consumer decisions that support our communities and our neighbors, the small businesses we value and withdraw our support as much as we can from the multinational conglomerates and their wealthy shareholders.  

Vermont is a small state, but we can keep the flame of liberty alive until the rest of the country is ready to rekindle theirs.

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