VSEA Members’ “Fight Back” Campaign Letters To The Editor

A New Deal for Vermonters

This January, Vermont lost one of its members of what has been termed the "Greatest Generation".  My 95 year old grandfather, Henry Mills, passed away.   He was born in 1919, and he lived through some very hard times.  He never graduated high school, because he had to go to work as a Chesapeake Bay waterman to help the family pay the bills.  He was drafted into the Army in WWII and served overseas in some terrible battles, seeing boys on both sides die because of Hitlers deranged view of how the future should be.  He was a blue collar worker, he had a small engine repair shop and a Purple Heart.  He loved President Franklin D Roosevelt.  FDR was a real hero to him.  For good reason, the man pulled us out of the Great Depression and he defeated Hitler.  FDR instituted Relief, Recovery and Reform.  That reform held until the Reagan era and the 1990s, when banking laws were suspended.  FDR brought this country back by STRENGTHENING THE WORKING CLASS, by SUPPORTING UNIONS and by PUTTING PEOPLE TO WORK THROUGH GOVERNMENT PROGRAMS.  He didnt get us out of the Great Depression laying people off and putting them out of work.  I say we do what he did.  Vermonts budget deficit is nothing compared to what FDR had to overcome.  It is time to swing the talk away from the lingo of trickle-down economics and Tea Party no-tax mantras.  These are the modern day versions of the Conservative Coalition that opposed FDR and his New Deal. Its time for a New Deal for Vermonters.  Its been long overdue, but this years budget deficit is the catalyst we need to make it happen.  The Clean Water Fund is an example of the direction we need to take.  This concept can apply across all state services.  Raise the revenue needed to provide necessary services and achieve important goals for the state. 

Vermont state statute says that “The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.”  It’s time for Vermont state government to assume a greater responsibility for the state’s well being, not by cutting government services but by growing them like FDR did. FDRs New Deal involved social programs to aid the unemployed and elderly. It,didn’t  create more unemployed.  It didn’t reduce the government workforce serving the elderly.

I heard the testimony to the Senate Appropriations Committee last week.  It was really discouraging.  Each person testifying was testifying on behalf of our most vulnerable Vermonters and how the budget cuts were targeting them.  Really?  We are going to the disabled, the blind, the battered, and the elderly to balance our budget?  These are the Vermonters we think can solve our budget crisis?

FDR said "It is a fundamental individual right of a worker to associate himself with other workers and to bargain collectively with his employer."  Ten months ago, my employer, the Shumlin administration, agreed to a contract, a contract made in good faith with its worker, myself.  Now my employer wants out of the contract.  The better way is to stand by the agreement made and raise the revenue from those who can most afford it.  Or, as FDR put it "Taxes shall be levied according to ability to pay. That is the only American principle".

According to the Public Assets Institute, a new analysis by Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) shows that state spending has gone down as a percentage of the Vermont economy over the last 10 years.  Vermont’s gross state product is growing again and Vermont ties with Massachusetts for having the fastest growing economy in New England since 2009.  Meanwhile, Vermont’s revenues aren’t keeping pace with Vermont’s economic growth.  There is a growing need for services in Vermont and cutting services to match revenue doesn’t make sense, growing revenue does.

But where do we look for new revenue?  The 2011 final report from the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission to the legislature has the answer.  It recommends using adjusted gross income and not federal taxable income as the base for the state income tax.  According to the Blue Ribbon report, twenty-seven states including all the New England states and New York define income in this way.  Public Assets Institute estimates this will raise an additional $80 million in revenue.  That means Vermont can design its state budget "to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.” That’s not just a one time fix, it’s one that will give year after year.

The change in the definition of income, will affect wealthier Vermonter’s more, since they’ve got the deductions that get subtracted when income is defined as the Federal taxable income.  However, those deductions go away when income is defined as adjusted gross income.  

Some worry this will drive wealthy Vermonters from Vermont.  The fifth of six findings made by the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission found that "there is insufficient data to claim Vermonters are migrating due to high taxes – current statistics demonstrate an In-migration of income.  Available data suggests that those entering Vermont earn more than those leaving."

The Blue Ribbon report went on to say "The choice to define income as adjusted gross income by the majority of states…means that these states create much larger personal income tax base.  Accordingly, a basic comparison of personal income tax rates may be misleading as a smaller tax base artificially drives up tax rates."  So, when you hear, Vermont has the 5th most progressive tax system of all the states, keep this in mind.  Besides, who wants to be 5th at anything?  Currently New Jersey and North Dakota beat us in this comparison.  I think all Vermonters agree we want to beat those two states at anything we can!

Apparently, the Chinese symbol for crisis is the same as the one for opportunity.  We have a crisis and I believe it is truly a REAL opportunity.  Lets use the wisdom of FDR and not get sidetracked by adopting the talking points of the modern day Conservative Coalition.  In memory of my grandfather, his hero said it best, "The test of our progress is not whether we add to the abundance of those who have much. It is whether we provide enough for those who have little."

Kellie Merrill
Danville, VT

Blinded By The Bottom Line

Brattleboro Reformer

As a proud state employee, union member, and 20-year resident of Windsor County, I have repeatedly voted for a Democratic slate of state representatives — able representatives like Senators Dick McCormack, Alice Nitka, and John Campbell, and Rep. Alice Emmons. I support these candidates, I want them to serve as my voice in Montpelier. I certainly do not want my legislators cowed by forces far from the average Vermonter, especially the working class Vermonter.

Working Vermonters deserve lawmakers driven by thoughtful, sound policy, elected officials who take the long view — even in a time of so-called budgetary crisis. We deserve, no, we demand representatives unbowed by an administration beholden to bean counters and budget-cutters with dollar signs in their eyes.

The governor and his underlings (and others "under the dome," marching in lockstep), seem more devoted to a campaign against the Vermont State Employees Association, when Shumlin and his team should focus laser-like on finding the revenue to balance the budget. As much as Shumlin was willing to spend experimenting with health care, and as anxious as he is to seize even more control over education policy and money from locals, Shumlin finds only empty pockets (state coffers) to meet a $100-million-plus budget gap.

However, US News & World Editor-in-Chief Mortimer Zuckerman knows where the money is. Near the end of March, Zuckerman published: "Making a Mockery of the American Dream: — The top earners thrive while middle class Americans quickly fall behind," in which he writes "The American economy has not worked for the average family since the end of the Clinton administration … median earnings of men working full-time year-round are where they were in 1980 … productivity has been rising for two decades but the benefit has been confined to the already well-off … In 1944 the top 1 percent earned 11 percent of all income. By 2012, it was 23 percent of the nation’s income. The mismatch between reward and effort makes a mockery of the American dream.

The next time you hear Shumlin (or anyone else) criticize a labor union or blame Vermont’s budget woes on state employee salaries, remember that the working class has been giving – more than its fair share – for much of our working lifetime. It is time for the Vermont Legislature to stand up to income inequality, reject "trickle down" nonsense, and fill the budget shortfall on the backs of the wealthiest among us, closing loopholes in the Vermont tax code that disproportionately benefit the "1 percent," maybe even, increasing taxes on those who have benefited the most from the last three decades of income inequality.

Please call the Sergeant-at-Arms, 802-828-2228, and tell your elected representatives: Find revenue where the money is, resist the "cut now, ask questions later"fever, and support services and programs that benefit our Green Mountain families, friends, and neighbors.

John W. Vorder Bruegge
Correctional Instructor, Community High School of Vermont

State Employees Are Vermonters Too!

I am a state employee and wish to express my thoughts on the Governor’s rhetoric on closing the gap in the State budget by laying off 400+ employees (depending upon which public statement made by the Governor one happens to hear) in retaliation for State Employees taking a stand against re-opening the negotiated agreement both Employees and the State signed. 

One can only assume that this red-herring tactic is to divert the attention of Vermont taxpayers from the complex issues of revenue and expenses of State Government.  This takes the heat off the Administration and the legislature from working on solutions for handling the realities of managing State government in a fiscally responsible approach for the long term.   

Making the demand to re-open the contract clearly demonstrates that the State did not negotiate in good faith to begin with in the most recently signed contract. Asking State Employees who have in the past stepped up and re-opened the contract the last time the Administration was not able to meet its financial obligations was a step of good faith, a willingness to contribute to a one-time miscalculation of revenue and expense.  However, to immediately assume that the workforce of the state, those individuals who are part of the middle class, are to be the first to be sacrificed is unpalatable. The expectation that a negotiated contract is nothing but a worthless piece of paper, rather than a legal obligation, to be ripped up at the whim of the administration is not acceptable.  Actually threatening  those employees with draconian tactics is nothing less than bullying. 

State Employees are no different than any of your other middle class neighbors.  We go to work, we come home to our families; we support local businesses, local schools, and local charities. We have worked our way into the middle class, that group of people who are the backbone of community, who pay our fair share of taxes and ask for very little in return.  We want to work and we negotiate a contract for the very reason the Administration has demonstrated it is necessary. As individuals trying to support a family, pay our bills and be productive, we would be at the mercy of the political winds with our livelihood in the hands of politicians wishing to make political gains with sound bites. It makes for good media to paint State Employees as the great evil, the enemy to all working class Vermonters. There is one great flaw to that approach, we are those working class Vermonters. This attack is just a cheap ploy to distract from the real issues of the failure of the State’s fiscal management.

The message I am hopeful that those reading this letter take away is that your neighbors and family members who also happen to be State Employees are the ones who plow your roads, enable those less fortunate to get aid with heat and food, who enable you to register your cars, or get your driver’s license are not the cause of budget shortfalls.  We just happen to be an easy target for political gain.  Using us as a scapegoat does not change the deeper problems.   As a local issue, the Northeast Kingdom needs what few middle class jobs that are left. Reducing our income or eliminating our jobs will have an immediate and negative impact on an area already struggling.

Melissa Pettersson
Newport, Vt.


It’s About Revenue

Judith Levine’s “Republicratic Values” column showed why Vermonters should worry about the faith in budget cutting that rules our legislature. As Levine notes, cutting heating assistance and human services says something sad about our priorities. It is especially disheartening that our Governor proposes to cut social services a year after his celebrated address about opiates, when he stressed Vermont’s obligation to take care of people at risk of addiction. It also shows a lack of informed consideration about how to develop our economy given current realities.

Middle- class wages continue to stagnate, while the wealthy increasingly grow richer through non-wage capital earnings. Meanwhile, legislators cling to an outdated mode of taxation. Vermont could join the majority of states that tax capital gains like wage income, reduce tax deductions available to the very wealthy (some who pay no income tax), and address citizens’ increased health care costs. Instead, we see legislators repeating time-worn and economy-draining attacks on the public sector and politically safe, but amoral, cuts to our social safety net.

John Davy


Thanks Representative For Backing Revenue Amendments

The other night I was watching the new season of House of Cards and the (thankfully) fictional President Frank Underwood was strolling through the FDR memorial in DC when he came across FDR’s words engraved in stone: The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those to have too little.

These words reminded me of Judith Levine’s recent article titled Republicratic Values: Cuts to the Poor. A budget is a moral document; it shows where your values are. These values were on display last week in the Vermont House of Representatives when votes were cast on H.489 An act relating to revenue. Two amendments were voted on before the eventual passage of the budget bill. These amendments attempted to raise revenue from those in our society who have much, and prevent cuts to programs helping struggling Vermonters, by levying a $2 nightly hotel occupancy fee, and attempting to impose more fairness to Vermont’s income tax. Both of these amendments were defeated, but I would like to thank my Representative Mary Sullivan for voting with the interests of those who have too little in this time of unprecedented income inequality both here in Vermont and nationally.

As the budget now moves to the Senate please take a minute to reach out to your Senators and tell them whose side you’d like them to be representing: http://legislature.vermont.gov/people/search/2016.

William Wells


Austerity Is Not A Sound Solution To Economic Woes 

State lawmakers are scrambling to find savings in the state budget to equal reduced revenues. Part of the problem is not Vermont’s. It is reduced support from Washington, D.C. For example, the VT Dept. of Labor is nearly 100% federally funded but has seen budget cuts year after year. Federal programs for state-financed departments have seen cuts as well. Our Congressional delegation has done what they can to remedy this shortfall but voices from other states are louder. Austerity reigns.

When revenues fall short, services are cut. People are laid off. Fewer dollars circulate in the economy, so next year’s revenues fall short again and we repeat the cycle. 

Fundamental change is needed. State lawmakers could make a difference. They could tax the rich and corporations and financial transactions because that is where the money resides.

Under President Eisenhower, the tax rate on income over $200,000 was 91 percent and that was with Republican Party approval. Imagine! Today, the top federal tax rate for the wealthy is 35 percent while the top investment tax rate is 23 percent. In the 1950s, corporate taxes accounted for 30 percent of federal revenues, now it is about 10 percent. Some corporations pay no tax. Some even receive large taxpayer subsidies. Profits are up, they could afford a state tax. Increased revenues would pay for a proper level of services, provide jobs, increase dollar circulation in the economy and would increase revenues in future years. 

To ask state employees to come up with $10.8 million in savings from departmental and agency cuts is unrealistic. Failure to do so will mean 325 jobs will be lost, setting the stage for next year’s revenue shortfall.

Until we break away from austerity thinking, we are all like the Greeks.

Alton (Tony) Smith



Spend a Day Working in a State Employee’s Shoes

I am very concerned with the budget plan that has been presented. The new heath care system is costing much more than we anticipated. Essentially, Gov. Peter Shumlin is asking for state employees to fix a budget issue that we did not create.

Why is it up to us?

We have given up and sacrificed enough over the years.

The Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA) has been quoted as being “unreasonable” and not willing to work with the state. What is “unreasonable” is asking the hard-working people of this state to fix a problem that is not ours. Day after day, we come to work and do our very best to keep this state running.

It is rare that we are appreciated by the administration for the hard work that we do. It is rare that there is anything good published about state employees.

The stories that the media report and the pictures that the administration paints are wrong.

It is “unreasonable” to think that cutting our pay or cutting services will help this state.

It is “unreasonable” to think that we will be able to sustain a comfortable lifestyle giving up more monies and services.

It is “unreasonable” for the administration to play with our livelihood and make threats in an attempt to bully or scare us into some sort of a deal.

We have a contract — one that is bargained by the VSEA and the state. We have never asked that it be reopened to better us. That would be “unreasonable.”

There is a process in place for a reason — the state should use it.

I would ask this of the people proposing these pay cuts: Spend a day or two and shadow the very people that your plan will impact. Take the time to get to know one of us and see what we do each day.

Spend a day with a correctional officer. Work all day inside an institution. Get urine and feces thrown on you. Then get told that you are staying for eight more hours for the third day in a row. Make that call home with them to their family and tell their spouse that they will not be home again. Make that call with them and tell their child that Mom or Dad can’t make the game again.

Spend a day with an Agency of Transportation worker in January. Work all hours of the night keeping the road clear so that everyone else in the state can make it to work safely. Go home on no sleep and get the kids ready for school and tell them that you might not see them for another day or two because there is another storm coming. Tell them that you know you will miss another practice, but you have to work.

Spend a day with a Vermont Department for Children and Families worker pouring your heart and soul into cases. investing your own time and personal interest into your job, only to go home and turn on the news and get slammed into the ground and listen to reports that are not an accurate account of what you do.

Take a trip with Probation and Parole staff to do a home check. You will find yourself out of cell service with no radio communications. Backup is at least 40 minutes away — if you can find a way to establish contact.

It is nighttime; your only protection is a small can of pepper spray and a pair of handcuffs. It just happens that you are checking in on a violent felon with multiple convictions. He is under the influence and does not want to be taken into custody.

Or you end up in a neighborhood that you would do everything to avoid passing through. You must enter the third floor of the residence and walk through several groups of dangerous convicted felons, not on supervision, to get where you need to go. You will not feel welcome and — again — there’s no backup or protection.

Tell me if these any of these people make too much money and deserve a pay cut.

Come to my house and tell my children that they will not be getting that new bike.

Tell them that Dad has to take a pay cut and we all have to make more sacrifices.

Tell our children that they are not going to be able to participate in their sports programs, because we can’t afford it.

These are not “unreasonable” requests. This is reality.

These are the same employees that are forced to work second jobs and apply for state benefits just to make ends meet.

Does this not matter?

Do those proposing these pay cuts not take into account that these are the very people that we expect to enforce and uphold the policies and laws that we vote on?

The reality is that the cost of living is not going to go down — a gallon of milk is not getting less expensive. The expectations of the state employees are not going to be lowered. Our workloads are not going to decrease.

But we’re expected to give up a portion or our salaries or a cost-of-living adjustment?

“Do more with less” has been the theme lately. And, yes, that is what we do. Day after day. We feel it, and our families suffer through it.

Enough is enough.

VSEA has presented a revenue plan. This plan is not “unreasonable.” It is “unreasonable” to think that the families in this state who keep the Vermont way of life alive have to live in poverty.

Stop the cuts. Raise more revenue.

Michael Arace
Parole & Probation


Support Your State Employees

Burlington Free Press
What would a day(s) in Vermont look like without our state workforce? No road crews, snow plow drivers, emergency dispatchers, Department for Children and Families workers, veteran’s home staff, state parks employees, public health nurses, financial and administrative specialists. The list goes on.

As a state employee and union member, I am disappointed and disheartened to see executive staff wave the big stick of massive layoffs to signal the Vermont State Employees Association to get it together and negotiate give-backs and new cuts to help reduce the budget deficit.

Further state workforce reduction will continue to negatively impact the health, safety and well-being of the communities we serve, and the health and well-being of those left to carry out the work.

Daily I look around at colleagues. I see people who are overloaded, stressed, covering more than their assigned duties, and being asked to take on extra work at almost every turn.

Retirees aren’t always replaced. Positions are combined and temps come and go. Or, contractors are hired rather than engaging, inspiring and investing in existing staff’s knowledge and potential.

We read frequently about the need to invest in our crumbling infrastructure. Let’s not forget the equally important need to maintain investment in those who keep every part of that infrastructure functioning day in and day out, year round!


Governor: Stop Scapegoating State Employees

March 18, 2015
The Commons (Windham County), Published online as well

Vermont needs to stop blaming us for the budget fiasco and start taxing those who have enjoyed disproportionate income growth over the past decade listening to Gov. Peter Shumlin talk about the budget on the news lately, one would think that it is state employees who are being unreasonable.

Just this past Thursday, the governor was interviewed on WCAX about state workers and balancing the budget.

“I, too, am concerned that doing layoffs is not the best way to do this — that’s why [state employees] should come to the table and make some pay concessions,” he stated. “Vermonters are not going to pay higher taxes because we have a state workforce who is refusing to be reasonable.”

His statement is contradictory because state employees are Vermonters and therefore, asking these workers to make concessions is a tax on Vermonters.

State employees are not the ones refusing to be reasonable. In fact, history shows that we are the ones who have been reasonable in the past, voluntarily giving up 3 percent in income and step raises to balance the budget under then-Governor Jim Douglas.

State employees did not create this budget fiasco. Vermont State Employees’ Association (VSEA), the state workers’ union, bargained with Governor Shumlin in good faith, and that binding contract should be honored with as much integrity as the governor is honoring his private contracts. State employees took on a heavy burden when balancing the budget in the past, and it is not our turn to do it again.

What the governor is really saying in his statement is that wealthy Vermonters are not going to pay higher taxes. So, in order to remedy this income inequality, VSEA has put forth a revenue plan that proposes putting the burden where it has never gone before! And that is by asking wealthier Vermonters to pay their share and to stop asking the working class to do so.

Vermont needs to start taxing those who have enjoyed disproportionate income growth over the past decade. That strategy has worked in Minnesota, and it can work here.

On the list to be cut are the Department of Public Safety, the Agency of Natural Resources, and the Department of Human Resources. These services have an impact on every Vermonter. So, reducing our workforce, reducing our compensation, reducing our state services, and reducing our morale only diminishes the many things we are proud of in Vermont.

I encourage all Vermonters to contact your legislators and tell them “No more cuts for state employees!”

The concession stand is closed.

Robin Rieske


"Vermont Way" Explained

March 19,2015
Times Argus

Lately Gov. Shumlin has gone to the airways saying that he cannot understand why the Vermont State Employees Association members “won’t do the right thing” and reopen their union contract and forfeit $10.8 million in pay. The governor goes on to say by refusing to reopen negotiations that what they are doing “is not the Vermont way.” In reality what the governor is asking the approximately 6,600 represented members is to contribute an average of about $1,636 each for his, his administration’s and the Legislature’s mistakes.

In response to the VSEA’s suggestion to raise taxes on the wealthy, the administration has said it would not raise broad-based taxes on anyone let alone targeting the wealthy. However, it seems to have no problem targeting the state workers’ income.

The $112 million deficit Vermont has is not the fault of or caused by the VSEA members. It is hard to understand why Gov. Shumlin thinks it is the union members’ obligation to pay off almost 10 percent of the debt. I think it would be more responsible and “the Vermont way” for all of us to share in funding only what is absolutely necessary in a progressive manner because we are all to blame for electing the people who are managing the state of Vermont so poorly.

If there is any contract that should be broken to bail out Vermont it is the one with Efficiency Vermont. It would hurt no one to use a portion of Efficiency Vermont’s $52 million yearly income that comes from a regressive tax on our electric bills and used for things such as buying snowmaking guns for the ski areas.

Arthur Hendrickson