"Elizabeth Skarie, a Williston psychologist who is married to Greenfield, and the 48 others who signed onto the letter aren’t buying that argument. Calling Vermont a unique and wonderful place, Skarie said: ‘I don’t know anyone who would move because they had to pay more taxes.’"
Article published Mar 25, 2011
‘Tax the rich,’ say wealthy Vermonters
By Thatcher Moats
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU
MONTPELIER — As budget and tax bills work their way through the Legislature, a group of well-to-do Vermonters issued what some might consider a surprising plea: Tax us more.
The wealthy Vermonters, ranging from Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield of ice cream fame to Crea and Phil Lintilhac, of the Lintilhac foundation, recently sent a letter to Gov. Peter Shumlin in support of a bill that would raise $17 million and help fill a roughly $170 million budget hole.
The letter comes against the backdrop of proposed budget cuts that advocates say would hurt vulnerable Vermonters such as people with mental health problems and the elderly.
“In difficult times we talk about sharing the pain, but it is just not fair to ask the most vulnerable to bear the greatest burden,” the March 22 letter states. “We love our state and will contribute our fair share to keep it a great place to live … for everyone.”
Shumlin has said time and again he does not support raising broad-based taxes, such as income or sales taxes, to help make up the budget shortfall.
And he was not swayed by the letter.
“Any Vermonter that wants to make a donation to the state of Vermont will get a gold star from me,” Shumlin said Thursday. “We need all the help we can get.”
In defense of his stance against raising taxes, Shumlin has argued that wealthy Vermonters might leave the state if the government makes the tax burden more onerous.
Elizabeth Skarie, a Williston psychologist who is married to Greenfield, and the 48 others who signed onto the letter aren’t buying that argument.
Calling Vermont a unique and wonderful place, Skarie said: “I don’t know anyone who would move because they had to pay more taxes.”
The Vermonters who sent the letter are supporting a bill introduced by Rep. Chris Pearson, a Progressive from Burlington. The legislation would raise income tax on the top two income brackets and would affect Vermonters making $171,000 or more.
Pearson said wealthy Vermonters actually criticized him for not raising taxes more in his proposal.
“I’ve heard from wealthy Vermonters literally chastising me for not raising more money,” Pearson said. “So it’s quite upside down from what I expected.”
Pearson and another lawmaker, Rep. Paul Poirier, fought to amend the miscellaneous tax bill on the House floor this week by introducing a measure that would have raised $30 million through higher income taxes on the upper-middle class and the wealthy.
If the fate of that amendment is any indication, efforts to raise income taxes seem to have a slim chance of succeeding this year. The amendment died on the House floor by a vote of 117-23.
For Skarie, who voted for Shumlin, failed efforts to raise income taxes on top earners would be more of the same. She and others have tried for years to get the government to raise taxes, she said, to no avail.
Referring to former governors Howard Dean and James Douglas, Skarie said: “Dean wouldn’t do it, Douglas wouldn’t do it and Shumlin won’t do it either.”