Legislative Leadership

Legislative Leadership Need to ActOp-Ed By Don Turner How many Vermonters are unemployed? How many have shut the doors to their businesses, and may have to shutter them permanently? How many are struggling just to put food on the table for their family?Those questions keep me up at night. And I know they keep Governor Scott up as well. That's why the Governor proposed a comprehensive economic recovery package--using federal money that won't raise Vermonters' state taxes--to stimulate the economy, stabilize housing, support small businesses, help farmers, protect struggling Vermonters, and more. Continue reading

Stabilizing the Vermont State Colleges

As the Vermont Legislature is deep in its budget-writing stages, the Vermont State Colleges (VSC) situation should be at the forefront of their minds.After hearing of the VSC crisis myself a few months ago, I stumbled upon a portion from the FY2010 budget proposal submitted by then-Governor Jim Douglas. It called for a 20 percent increase in funding for VSC, UVM, and VSAC. It also said the following: Continue reading

Vermont Policymakers Have More Work To Do To Address COVID-19

In March, the Vermont Legislature passed two solid pieces of legislation to address the COVID-19 outbreak. The first provided continuity of operations in state government--no doubt an important measure during these times when practicing social distancing is a must. The second included a wide array of policies, including the expansion of telemedicine, an easing of the licensing regulatory burden for health care workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, a strengthening of the unemployment insurance system, provisions allowing retired doctors to practice during the outbreak, and more. Continue reading

Lowering Health Care Costs for Vermonters

Lowering Health Care Costs for Vermonters Without Breaking the Bank Op-Ed By Don Turner While presidential candidates discuss Medicare-for-All and other proposed massive health care changes with multi-trillion-dollar price tags, Vermont has taken steps to reform its health care system without breaking the bank. Over the last three years, we’ve passed a prescription drug importation bill, designed to provide Vermonters with access to more affordable drug options; expanded state telemedicine and telehealth protections; and moved forward with transitioning from fee-for-service to quality-based compensation for health care. Continue reading

Education Funding Reform

A Chance to Reform Education FundingOp-Ed By Don Turner Our education funding system is broken. We all know it. Ever since the passage of Act 60 in 1997 and Act 68 in 2003, Vermonters have been perpetually frustrated with our education financing system. And for good reasons. Vermont has the second highest property tax burden in the nation. Marry that with a declining student population and wild inequality in educational opportunities and outcomes between different regions in the state. The property tax burden and the declining student population represent the dangerous trends Governor Scott has pointed out, emphasized by his Administration’s calculation that we’re losing (on average) three students every day. Continue reading

VT Needs Defined Contribution Plans. Now.

Vermont Needs A Defined Contribution Plan--Now Op-Ed from Don Turner   I’ve previously written about how our unfunded pension liabilities are Vermont’s sleeping giant. We owe our state employees and teachers about $4.5 billion more than we have in the bank. We’ve seen two credit-rating downgrades in one year. Our “funded ratio” (the ratio of assets to liabilities) is only about 64.3 percent, below the national average. We’ve lived through years of underfunding where, until 2008, the state made payments as low as 38.4 percent of what was recommended by professional actuaries. We’re forced to spend hundreds of millions on required principal and interest that would have otherwise gone towards higher education, child care, or any number of meaningful programs. And the projected rates of return on our pension investments are still far below actual returns. These are the facts. Continue reading

First Responder Crisis

Putting aside our differences in politics, we’ve all come to count on our first responders and the services they provide as a “given”. We know that if, in that dreaded circumstance, we have to call 9-1-1 for an emergency, we’ll have a reassuring voice on the other line, ready to send help. But what if there was no answer? What if the wait time for emergency services was too long? What if there were too many other crises at that very moment, and our first responders couldn’t make it? Unfortunately, that’s the reality we find ourselves in now. As a member of the Milton Volunteer Fire Department myself, I’ve seen it first-hand. Fire departments and EMS units across Vermont are finding themselves hit with the very same demographic crisis that has impacted our state politics and budget. We have fewer young people, which means fewer recruits for emergency services. As a result, staffing and volunteer levels are declining considerably. When staffing levels go down, response rates go up. The burden on neighboring communities’ response services increase. And associated insurance costs may spike as well. All of these impacts have a real impact on the quality of services in many regions of our state. Continue reading

Unfunded Liabilities: Vermont's Sleeping Giant

Friends, Every year, when budget writers in Montpelier begin their work--and legislators begin to determine what to spend--the backdrop of these conversations is marked by a unavoidable reality: Vermont has a serious problem with its unfunded liabilities. All together, we have a total liability of just over $8 billion--that’s billion, with a “b.” For comparative purposes, that’s larger than our entire state budget. These liabilities are composed of our teachers’ pension ($3.4 billion), teachers other post-employment benefits, or OPEB ($0.9 billion), state employees’ pension ($2.7 billion), and state employees OPEB ($1.2 billion). We have a little over $3.5 billion of assets, leaving us with an “unfunded” liability of about $4.5 billion dollars. Continue reading

Don Turner: Carbon Tax

Vermont and France have at least two attributes in common—both produce world class cheese and both have a low carbon footprint. France has implemented modern nuclear power to generate electricity which does not generate carbon, and Vermont is a carbon “sink”—meaning our carbon emissions from fuel are more than offset by carbon absorbed by our forests and farmlands.   So it was perhaps unsurprising that French citizens protested a carbon tax proposal by President Macron given the cost of fuel and France’s low carbon profile. French citizens realized that they would pay dearly in additional fuel taxes for the sole purpose of assuaging the carbon guilt of jet-setting EU aristocrats.   Let me be clear: Climate change is real, and must be addressed. From modernizing weatherization, to encouraging “green” businesses, to developing well-sited renewable energy, we can tackle this challenge. But a carbon tax will undoubtedly be introduced this upcoming session by the new and more left-leaning legislature in conjunction with more regulation on emissions and tax credits for purchases of electric cars. These proposals or policies are regressive—meaning the impact will be more punitive for low and moderate income people than for upper income folks. Let’s break it down... Continue reading