Vermonters are struggling to make ends meet. Buying winter tires, paying for the first fuel delivery before winter, coming up with money for property taxes and the thought of buying Christmas gifts for kids in the weeks ahead, all add to an unbearable level of stress for many.
It should not come as a surprise to anyone that so many are struggling. Wage growth has been flat for years. Many live paycheck to paycheck, just a car repair or hospital bill away from deep poverty. In my hometown of Morristown, slightly less than a third of all residents visited the food shelf last year.
Yet, while so many fight to stay afloat while the pernicious unrelenting undertow of poverty threatens to drown them, many others live in a world of plenty. They have enjoyed a decade of stock market gains and keep company with the 1%. The divide between the haves and have-nots is deeper than ever and growing.
Arguably, it is the rich who have enjoyed the greatest redistribution of income in history via the federal Trump tax cuts. In Vermont, some 4,900 tax filers who earn on average $1.1 million yearly receive $109 million in tax breaks in a reverse Robin Hood tax policy. How so, you ask? The tax breaks were not funded. They are added to the debt for our children to pay.
Many Vermonters do not know where to turn for help. Some struggle to pay childcare that can exceed $12,000 per year. Others carry a crushing burden of health insurance premiums, which for a family can exceed $20,000 a year. Those who try to heat their home and feed their family and keep the debt collector away know the face of hardship too well.
Oppressive college loan debt forces many to work two jobs. These Vermonters never dreamed they would need to look to government for help, but they read of those receiving up to $10,000 to move to Vermont and they wonder why they cannot catch a break too.
Vermont is a small state and cannot be all things to all people. Yet, we must help lessen the financial plight so many face. Can we lower the taxes on Vermonters of modest means while still making sure our government is responsive to the vulnerable? Can we meet our obligations to the aged, the blind and disabled while protecting children from abuse and neglect? Can we take care of our roads and bridges and so much more that government is called on to do? I think the answer is yes, but it will not be easy.
Given the income redistribution to the wealthy by the Trump tax cut, we should use some of that windfall to help lighten the load on Vermonters of modest means and fund essential services at adequate levels. Some will fear that if we tax the wealthy too much, they will leave. The tax data on the in- and out-migration of tax payers does not support that position. More Vermonters of wealth have moved into Vermont than have left. Vermont must be the beckoning country for all, not just the rich.
When those with little are asked to make do with less while those with much receive even more, we are all diminished. If Vermont is to break the cycle of poverty for thousands of Vermonters, strategic investments in the likes of clean energy and water, affordable health care and housing, and making child care reasonable and much more are needed.
We need bold leadership to make Vermont affordable. Just saying no to more taxes, especially on those at the top, does little to make Vermont affordable. It merely strips government of its capacity to do the business of government. It handcuffs our ability to help improve the lives of Vermonters. We need to lower taxes for ordinary, hard-working Vermonters while increasing taxes on those most able to pay. In so doing we can stimulate our economy, as people will likely spend their tax cuts, and we can begin to build the public assets needed for our new economy and improve our quality of life for all Vermonters.
David Yacovone, a Democrat, represents the Lamoille-Washington district in the Vermont Legislature. He lives in Morrisville.