Taxes and Expenditures

To many the word "government" has become a bad word ever since President Ronald Reagan defined government as "the problem, not the solution."  In fact government is the superstructure of an orderly society.  Government is especially necessary in a complex society with competing interests and requirements.  We in Vermont are blessed with a state government that has a close relationship with us, the governed.  Few states can boast of the accessibility we Vermonters have to our elected officials. 

The role of government is to do collectively what we cannot do individually.  In order to operate, government needs revenues; and the only way it can get revenues is by assessing taxes.  So, the job of the decision-makers, i.e. the legislature and the governor, is to balance the operational needs against the ability to raise revenue.  In these challenging economic times there is probably no one that has a definitive solution to the problem of balancing state revenues with expenditures. But whatever steps are taken to resolve this problem, it will be necessary to be consistent with the idea that since government exists to serve the governed, it is in times of crisis that government must do the most to help those most affected by the crisis.  Unfortunately, those most affected by an economic crisis are usually those with the least amount of influence. It has always been the goal of the Democratic Party philosophy to represent this segment of the community.

When budget decisions are made, we must take into account the effects those decisions will have on our children and our elderly, on those who lost jobs in this economy, on the quality of our environment, on our farmers and our entrepreneurs, and on the future economic prospects of our youth. We cannot continue to cut services when more services are needed; nor can we ignore the burden of taxation on those who are barely keeping their heads above water. While I don't have any magic bullet solutions to these problems, I will work hard with other legislators to find them.

The closing of the Champlain Bridge between Addison, VT, and Crown Point, NY, points out the danger of being penny-wise and pound-foolish.  Studies show that 50% of Vermont's bridges are in need of repair.  Yet for decades there has not been sufficient support for raising gasoline taxes to help pay for transportation infrastucture improvements.  It is not until a bridge is declared too dangerous to drive across that we finally sit up and take notice and spend the money to fix it.  The bridge in Richmond was another example of that approach.

Another example is the way cuts were made to the state employee pool.  Instead of assessing the impact the loss of a given job would have, as the legislature requested, the Douglas administration made cuts across the board.  Case workers in the health department were reduced leaving many communities without assistance for families with newborns and children at risk of not being sufficiently prepared to enter school.  Many of our rural families depend on counseling to give their children a good start in school.  This is also being penny-wise and pound-foolish because children who start out behind will often stay behind and have a greater potential to get in trouble during their teen years.

The bottom line is that sufficient revenue must be generated to meet the requirements of effective government.  The only way to achieve greater revenues is to have a healthy economy.  Prosperity increases the ability of each of us to contribute our share to the tax pool.  Taxation should not create an undue burden on any one group compared to another, so we need to distribute the burden using a variety of sources, including income taxes, property taxes, sales and use taxes, and specialty taxes like those on alcohol, tobacco and gasoline.  Morever, we must create the jobs that will create the ability for people to pay those taxes.  And that is another issue for discussion.