Today is decision day.
Across America, the vote is on. Some people want the status quo; others are hoping for a course correction. For today, the one thing that unites us is the willingness to speak our minds by casting our votes.
Ultimately, votes are cast with an eye toward progress.
Vermont has some serious challenges, and today’s votes will likely lead to new ideas and thinking. The Public Assets Institute last week released a report titled “A Framework for Progress: Investing in Vermont’s people, infrastructure, and good government.” In it, the policy analysts have identified areas in which our state is being held back.
What’s important is, it does not just pontificate about our problems, it puts forth attainable solutions. Attainable, of course, if there is meaningful dialogue, practical debate, thorough vetting and the absence of the political gridlock that seems to throw the brakes on any progress.
But time is running out. Without some serious ideas and progress, we are at great risk of losing ground at a time when we should be making strides and even leading on reform and policy.
The Public Assets Institute concludes that there are several areas that need to be addressed. Its work is based on a legislative challenge issued years ago.
“The Vermont Legislature launched a worthy and challenging task in 2012 when it passed a law setting forth the purpose of the state budget: to address the needs of the people of Vermont. To assure progress and demonstrate to Vermonters that the budget is doing what the law intended, policymakers should establish specific goals to achieve over the next five years.”
The law states, in part:
— The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.
— Spending and revenue policies will seek to promote economic well-being among the people of Vermont and foster a vibrant economy. Integral to achieving the purpose of the state budget is continuous evaluation of the raising and spending of public funds by systems of outcome measurement based on indicators that measure success in accomplishing the purposes of the state budget.
— Spending and revenue policies will reflect the public policy goals established in state law and recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security and a healthy environment.
According to the report, since the Legislature declared this intent, poverty in Vermont has inched down a bit — but there are still 25 percent more people living in poverty than in the early 2000s. Median household income has stagnated for years and fell last year. High-quality child care is unaffordable to many families and nonexistent in some parts of the state. And while Vermont has reduced the disparity in education funding between rich and poor communities, the disparities in educational achievement among individual students — as a result of poverty, discrimination, or other nonacademic factors — persist.
The report’s authors surmise: “It’s important to continue to track indicators of Vermonters’ well-being. But indicators are only signposts to a better Vermont. To move in that direction, the state needs a vision for the next 5, 10, and 20 years, with specific goals for reducing poverty, raising incomes for average working Vermonters, closing the achievement gap for students who face extra hurdles in school, expanding the availability of high-quality affordable child care, and addressing other pressing issues.”
That is exactly correct, and lawmakers and policymakers should bear that in mind as they look to ways to nudge Vermont free from myriad factors keeping it mired in a standstill.
While the report’s solutions and ideas are not comprehensive, they are solid and practical, especially for a rural state like ours.
The three initiatives include:
— Make work pay and ensure that all Vermonters can meet basic needs.
— Make smart, evidence-based investments in programs and infrastructure.
— Make state government more effective by increasing public engagement, fairness and transparency.
The 10-page report outlines baby bites — small tasks that can be accomplished over time — that make for meaningful change. It’s a practical approach toward a better Vermont. Why wouldn’t we take these recommendations to heart and at least use them as the springboard to broader discussions?
We can’t afford not to.
As the authors noted, “With annual total personal income of over $30 billion, Vermont has the capacity to tackle its problems if Montpelier chooses to do so. We know we can do more, because prior to the Great Recession we were putting a bigger portion of our resources into state government than we do today. Vermonters cannot afford to wait any longer for real progress.”