A Chance to Reform Education Funding
Op-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.Read more
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.Read more
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.Read more
Don Turner - Affordability and Economic Growth
“The number one issue facing Vermonters is affordability and economic growth. Whether it's the cost of childcare, housing, utilities, higher education, health care, or taxes and fees, Vermonters are overburdened with an unsustainable and rising cost of living. Together, we can curb the rising cost of living and build a strong economy that sets our state on a clear path...” - Don Turner
Reigning in Taxes and Fees: For far too long, state government has perpetually raised taxes and fees to cover unsustainable rates of spending. Working with Governor Scott, we’ve been able to begin to halt this trend, and passed the first budget without raising a single tax or fee. We must hold the line on any additional taxes and fees, and put property tax reform on the table. Already overburdened Vermonters cannot afford state government to charge them more.
Housing, Health Care, and Education: In order to continue to improve housing affordability, we must make it easier to increase the supply of housing in Vermont so that prices go down. That starts with regulatory and permit reform to make it easier to create new housing units. We also have an opportunity to curb increases in health care costs through innovation and common-sense reforms. We also need to take a hard look at tort reform and opening up health care to more competition in order to bring overall system costs down. Finally, to help make higher education more accessible, we have to double-down on our efforts to make college and other forms of post-secondary education more affordable, while also partnering with our colleges and universities to ensure their financial health is sound. Most importantly our schools must be safe! We need to do more to ensure the safety of our children by increasing security.
- Focusing on All Corners of Vermont: Growth only works if it works for everyone. We must remember the needs of Burlington may differ from those of Bennington, Barton, Benson or Brattleboro. Development in our downtowns and villages must occur in tandem with rural economic growth initiatives, expansion of broadband services, and support for our farming communities.
Don Turner - Fostering Balance and Collaboration
“The role of Lieutenant Governor is to bring people together--to find common ground for common sense solutions. This means collaborating with colleagues, and appreciating the importance of balance.One party rule does not work in montpelier; we must work together so no viewpoints are left behind. Restoring balance is crucial to finding solutions that work for all.” - Don
- Open Door Policy: In an effort to be accessible to all, the Lieutenant Governor’s Office needs to be open to all. My door will always be open for any Vermonter to express their thoughts or concerns. I’ll hold weekly coffee hours during the Legislative session to meet with any Vermonters who are interested, as well as any legislators who want to stop by. An accessible government is a functional government.
- Working Together: As Lieutenant Governor, I’ll work to make sure all sides are heard. I plan to meet with Senate caucus leadership of every party--Republican, Democratic, and Progressive--every single week, in order to ensure everyone has a seat at the table and no one is left behind. To build strong relationships for collaboration, we need to talk to one another and avoid the bitter partisanship that has divided D.C.
- Achieving Consensus: Part of being Lieutenant Governor means being a consensus builder. As Minority Leader of a caucus with diverse viewpoints, I understand the value of listening to all sides, and working together to find a solution that works for everyone. I’ll bring that open-minded attitude to the job, and be committed to working with legislators of all parties on important issues so we can achieve a comprehensive solution.
Don Turner - Supporting Our First Responders and Service Members
“Our first responders--our police, firefighters, EMTs, and servicemen and women--are the true public servants. They work all hours of the day and night without question. There is no party litmus test for them to help; they’re just there, without hesitation. We have an obligation to give back to those who give so much to protect us every single day.” - Don
- First Responder Tax Credits: As a former Fire and Rescue Chief I understand how much our first responders work for our communities, so we should empower our communities to give back to them. Pennsylvania recently passed a law that allows municipalities to offer property tax credits to first responders in the community. We should adopt this approach here in Vermont, and allow our towns and cities to give back to those who already give so much.
- Tax Exemption for Military Pensions: This past legislative session, I worked with Governor Scott to bring about legislation which would have eliminated the tax on military retirement income. Unbelievably, this legislation died in committee. I’m committed to working with the Governor to reignite this important initiative and give our veterans a break.
- Discounted Licenses and Fees: Vermont currently offers free hunting and fishing licenses to our servicemen and women, as well as our veterans. We should consider expanding this exemption to all first responders, allowing police, firefighters, EMTs, and others to take advantage of this benefit.
When Don Turner announced last month that he was running for Lieutenant Governor I could easily envision him winning that race. His experience, common sense and ability to bring people together is what I want to see more of in Montpelier. I signed on as his Treasurer, willing to help in any way I could, grateful that he was willing to continue to serve.
As many of you know, serving Vermonters is natural for Don and he’s been doing it for years as a first responder and firefighter in his hometown of Milton and later as a State Representative and Minority Leader.Read more
Don Turner is a fourth-generation Vermonter and lifetime public servant who is ready to be on call for all Vermonters. A lifelong resident of Milton, Don joined the Vermont House of Representatives in 2006, where he’s served the last six years as Minority Leader of the Republican Caucus.
His personal story is one of public service. Don is a 30-plus-year member of the Milton Fire and Rescue Departments, where he served as Fire and Rescue Chief and Forest Fire Warden for more than a decade, and currently holds the office of Town Manager. He continues to use that experience as a Vermont certified fire instructor. Don also serves on the Supervisory Board of Vermont Federal Credit Union and the Milton Board of Civil Authority as a Justice of the Peace.
Don’s been involved in a number of organizations, including: Seneca Lodge #40, Milton Firefighters Association, Vermont State Firefighters Association, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Northwest Vermont Board of Realtors, Vermont Association of Realtors, and the National Association of Realtors.
Born on July 19, 1964, in Burlington, Vt., Don grew up in Milton, and graduated from Champlain College. He is married to his wife Gail, with whom he has three daughters, Emily, Hillary and Erin.
House Minority Leader Don Turner had planned to leave his seat in the Legislature this year. Now, he’s eyeing a return to Montpelier only this time in a new office.
Turner, a Milton Republican, confirmed Wednesday afternoon that he will run for lieutenant governor.
“With the big divide going on in the state, you know, within our party and with the governor I felt it was important to step up,” Turner said.
At a time when legislative leadership and the governor’s office are on opposite sides of the aisle, Turner said he sees potential for the lieutenant governor to be a bridge between the two.
“I wanted to bring balance to the Statehouse and I think that the lieutenant governor’s role can do that,” he said.Read more