Vermont Progressive Party Calls On State To Stop Assault On Working Vermonters

For Immediate Release
March 23, 2015

In strong reaction to the Shumlin administration’s budget proposal, recent statements from state Progressive Party leaders say that the proposal underscores the Governor’s priority since first taking office, defending Vermont’s wealthiest from paying their fair share.

"Governor Peter Shumlin and the Democratic Leadership have borrowed a page from the playbook of Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker by pushing to balance the state’s budget on the backs of Vermont’s working families," said Progressive Party Vice Chair Morgan Daybell. "Democrats are now considering an austerity budget that would have appalled them had it been introduced by a Republican.”

While many of Vermont’s elected representatives frequently bemoan growing income inequality in the state, few take responsibility for doing anything about it, Daybell said. “This budget doesn’t just ignore income inequality-- it exacerbates it. We should not allow the failed, trickle-down economic policies supported by this administration to continue to push Vermonters out of the middle class and throw them into unemployment and poverty," he said.

Mari Cordes, one of the members of the VPP's state coordinating committee, said that the governor pays lip service to middle-class issues-- like publicly-funded universal healthcare, reduction of recidivism, and affordable childcare-- but repeatedly refuses to implement any of these initiatives if the result would mean higher taxes to the wealthiest Vermonters. She pointed to a recent Public Assets Institute letter to state legislators which read in part: "One structural budget problem the state faces is that its overall tax system is regressive. While Vermont does have a progressive income tax, which is projected to perform better than the other major General Fund taxes next year as it has in the past, the wealthiest Vermonters still contribute a smaller share of their income overall to pay for schools, roads, prisons, and child protection services than do middle- and lower-income Vermonters.”

Labor leaders have also expressed grave concern as the Governor’s budget proposal represents an assault on fundamental workers’ rights. Because the Governor has used state employees' health care fund to balance previous budget, state workers' are already coping with an 18% increase in their health insurance premiums. What's more is this proposal imposes serious limits to collective bargaining.

Adam Norton, Strategic Analyst for the VT State Employees Association, said he is deeply concerned. "Many people are losing with this proposal," Norton said. "Those needing 911 dispatching will lose. At-risk children will lose. Homeless Vermonters will lose. Vermonters with mental disabilities will lose. The losers will be all the people who rely on public services."

So who wins? "Vermont's wealthiest," Norton replied. "Those who already benefit from the tax loopholes not available to the majority of Vermonters who work for wages. Loopholes that Governor Shumlin insists that Vermont maintain while slashing essential programs for the most vulnerable people in our communities."

Progressive Caucus leader Rep. Chris Pearson said “Austerity has not been an effective strategy to pull us out of this budget hole-- all it does is dig us in deeper. Now more than ever it's criticial that we make strategic investments to help working families and low-income Vermonters to get ahead. Legislators like myself will continue to fight against the notion that we can cut our way out of this economic slump.”

Pearson said that there are some obvious solutions for raising revenue that still prioritizes defending Vermont's middle class:

·      Cap tax deductions for the wealthiest Vermonters;

·      Raise the tax on capital gains to be equal to the tax on earned income; and

·      Reduce the number of politically appointed exempt positions (who earn nearly 50% more than the avergage classified state worker).

Pearson and Daybell both agreed that party lines and political loyalty shouldn't trump doing what's best for Vermont's working families, and welcomed the support of legislators from any party who are of like mind on this issue.