Progressive Legislative Roundup

Aptil 18, 2014; Bob Kinzel; VPR

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When the 2014 legislative session started, leaders in the Progressive Party were expressing concern with some of the policies of Governor Shumlin. How do they feel about the Governor now as the session winds down?

We’ll talk with the House Progressive Caucus leader, Burlington Representative Chris Pearson, and with Enosburg Representative Cindy Weed and Senator David Zuckerman about the progressive legislative priorities for the end of the session.

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Legislators affirmed state’s social liberalism

May 16, 2013; Peter Hirschfeld; Rutland Herald

But so far at least, the Vermont Democrats running the show in Montpelier seem content to save their liberalism for the social arena. And progressive lawmakers are beginning to wonder whether one-party rule will ever translate into new public investments to bolster human services, combat climate change, or expand access to health care.

“The primary focus for progressives, whether you’re a large ‘P’ or a small ‘p,’ is economic issues,” said Sen. David Zuckerman, a Progressive/Democrat from Chittenden County. “And in that arena, the bodies were relatively conservative.”

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May 1st Rally: Now is the time to send a loud message to PUT PEOPLE FIRST!

By James Haslam, Vermont Workers' Center

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For the fifth year in a row over well over a thousand people from all over Vermont will participate in a huge May 1st Statehouse Rally. In 2009, we came to change what was politically possible in healthcare reform. In 2013, its become clear that what we really need to make possible is real democracy itself.

Please join us at 11:30am at the Statehouse to gather for march and rally to remind the legislature and governor that they don't work for the Chamber of Commerce or only represent wealthy people. The legislature has a real opportunity to stand up for our communities, and we have some ideas of what they should and SHOULD NOT do is they were to do that.

A Budget that Advances Dignity & Equity
The governor and (to date) the legislature failed to meet the purpose of the state budget, which the law now mandates must "address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity" (32 V.S.A. § 306a). Instead, they are set to undermine people's dignity and increase inequity by:

- impoverishing more people through capping the essential Reach-Up program

- making the tax code more regressive by reducing EITC and assessing new regressive taxes such as gasoline and soda tax which affect low-income people more than wealthy people

- increasing healthcare costs for people moved from VHAP and Catamount into the exchange, which effectively makes it harder for low-income people to access health care.

Meaningful Public Participation in our State Budget Process
The governor and legislature have also failed to meet the legal requirement for "a process for public participation in the development of budget goals, as well as general prioritization and evaluation of spending and revenue initiatives" (32 V.S.A. § 306a). Instead, they are ignoring the principles of participation, accountability and transparency and increasing the disconnect between people and government because:

- budget priorities come out of a vacuum rather than from engaging communities

- the budget process starts with the result of past tax policy decisions (the revenue estimate) rather than an assessment of real needs

- the failure to measure progress and outcomes makes it hard to see what effect specific spending and tax initiatives actually have on people's lives

A Healthcare System that Meets All Our Health Needs
Both governor and legislature have failed to meet the principles of universality and equity in Act 48, Vermont's universal health care law, by:

- failing to set out an equitable financing plan for Green Mountain Care

- erecting new barriers to accessing health care by increasing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people

- failing to stop leading health care providers from forming a for-profit conglomerate, OneCare, that will profit from selling access to care rather than providing health care as a public good, as required by Act 48

The Way Forward:

As the Put People First campaign made clear at the beginning of the 2013 session, we are dedicated to advancing public policies focused on meeting the fundamental needs of all people in Vermont, which is at the heart of what human rights mean in practice.

Policy decisions that put people first would look very different from the governor's and legislature's positions, because they would be based on principles, such as equity and universality, and developed in a transparent and accountable process with the participation of the people of Vermont.

Policies that put people first would:

- commit to eliminating poverty and ensuring a dignified standard of living for all

- assess people's needs, such as access to healthcare and jobs, and require that those needs be taken into account in the budget process

- inform and engage the public in developing budget goals

- collect taxes in a more equitable way, so that wealthy people no longer get away with paying proportionally less taxes than those with low and middle incomes

- ensure that we all get what we need and give what we can

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House committee votes down major health budget bill

February 22, 2013; Andrew Stein; VTDigger

Poirier and Pearson voted against the bill for a different reason. They want to provide subsidies that maintain or come close to maintaining health insurance levels for Vermonters currently enrolled in the Catamount and VHAP programs. Those health insurance programs will end in 2014, when the state’s new health benefit exchange, or insurance marketplace, takes effect.

Pearson has repeatedly said that leaving lower income Vermonters with less coverage could jeopardize the state’s ability to implement a universal health care system in 2017, when Vermont would be eligible for a federal waiver to deviate from the Affordable Care Act.

“I’ve said from day one that I want to do more to insulate people shifting from Catamount or VHAP into the exchange,” Pearson said. “We came back with more and more modest proposals. There wasn’t the desire to (provide higher subsidies) even though we included new sources of revenue that would have alleviated pressure on the budget. It seemed really shortsighted to me.”

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Compassionate or Compromised: Doug Racine Sells Shumlin's Welfare Cuts

February 20, 2013; Paul Heintz; Seven Days

But Vermont’s naysaying third party isn’t along for the ride.

“The point is not to bring more money into the process. The point is to limit money,” says Vermont Progressive Party executive director Rob Millar. “You don’t close one floodgate by opening another one.”

Moreover, says Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), there’s a difference between super PACs and parties. While the former are legally barred from coordinating with the candidates they support, parties are free to share resources and strategy with candidates.

So if you reach the contribution limit of $2000 per election cycle to a candidate, you could simply write another $20,000 check to the Vermont Democratic Party, which could then spend that money on your fave politician.

“This is, in a way, a more direct workaround to any kind of campaign finance limitations for candidates,” Pearson says.

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Vermont Economic Snapshot

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