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Schubart: Advice For State Legislators

The House chamber of the Vermont Legislature
Angela Evancie
The new session of the Vermont State Legislature begins January 9th.

I’m grateful Vermonters are willing to serve their fellow citizens in our citizen legislature. But I hope they’ll serve both the special wants and needs of their constituents … and those of all Vermonters, whose needs sometimes differ. It’s important to foster the balance.

The bill-drafting process is broken. Legislative leadership has yet to establish statewide priorities and already special interest and fix-it bills are piling up.

Vermont’s an array of complex systems that previous legislators have tweaked and made more complex and expensive over time: the judiciary, education, human services, tax code, state colleges, criminal justice, and public safety among others. We must stop tweaking, step back, agree on the strategic outcomes we want from each system and reinvent them for today. This will lower the cost of government, simplify regulations, and free up revenues for new endeavors.

Also, public servants shouldn’t set their own salaries – and legislative compensation should be tied to the people they serve. Vermonters’ average per capita income in 2015 was about forty eight thousand dollars. If legislators work six months, it makes sense to raise their salary to half that amount.

And we must establish a real Ethics Commission as a trust-building resource. The current one isn’t.

We need to scrap the two-year term as an expensive, counter-strategic and wasteful artifact of the past. Who would take a job this complex at such a salary - only to reapply in eighteen months?

Vermont has a progressive tax code. Now we should establish a progressive minimum wage. The company that owns eighteen gas stations has a different net asset balance and payroll capacity than a single owner-operated convenience store. Scale a new minimum wage to the net worth of the employer.

If I buy a lawn mower, I pay sales tax. If I can afford to have someone else mow my lawn, I don’t. We need a consumer services sales tax.

Surely, a hundred and seventy eight legislators representing a population of six hundred and twenty thousand can allocate five and a half billion dollars in a way that meets our needs and allows us to clean the attic of accumulated tweaks and fixes, agree on outcomes, consolidate where appropriate and reinvent.