First of all, I need to thank everyone from Windsor County District 4-1 (Barnard, Pomfret, part of Quechee and West Hartford) who voted for me in last year’s election and who supported my campaign. If you were hoping for a front-door visit from your local politician during the campaign, I can assure you that my absence was not compelled because I was unchallenged. I was working in Boston and New York for most of campaign season as an editor on a documentary film. In my profession I have to take the work that’s offered and Vermont hasn’t always offered the necessary opportunities, although things seem to be looking bright for the foreseeable future. I moved back to Vermont years ago to avoid working in the cities, but the experience made me appreciate home even more and as a freelance sub-contractor I will pay my taxes to the state of Vermont.
Speaking of taxes, did you know that we recently voted to raise the base property tax rate for FY14 by five cents and that we’re discussing a variety of new taxes to fund current and proposed programs? I was one of only four or five other democrats to vote for amendments that would have enabled a one-time General Fund transfer of $11 million to bring the rate back down a penny and also to commit to reformulating the education finance model by 2015. Both amendments were voted down. I can’t say that I completely understand what’s broken or how to fix it, but I’ve heard from enough of my constituents to know that the current path is unsustainable. There are many variables to consider, including school budget increases, property valuations, and the share that different groupings of property owners contribute, with the ultimate goal of providing equitable access to high-quality education for all. For now, we’ve agreed to come up with a plan by the end of the 2014 session to address an overall rise in education spending that is outpacing the increase in the consumer price index.
It appears that the sugar-sweetened beverage tax is off the table for now, but there may be a rise in fuel taxes to fill the gap in the Transportation Fund and help fund weatherization projects. I’m sure these will be vigorously debated in committees and on the floor, but I’d like to know how further increases on essential household budget items would impact my constituents.
Aside from my work on the Committee on Agriculture, where we are once again tackling the thorny issue of genetically-engineered food and whether or not it should be labeled, I have introduced and sponsored a number of bills that I would like to see advance this session or next. These include providing financial support for school lunches, equal pay for women, placing restrictions on the purchase of ingredients used to manufacture methamphetamine, the cultivation of industrial hemp as an economic booster, slowing down the revolving door between government and the private sector, legal protection from SLAPP lawsuits for citizens who petition town government, approving medical marijuana for PTSD treatment, requiring landlord approval for the installation of satellite dishes on rental property, amending current wastewater statutes to allow for alternative and environmentally-friendly septic designs, and preventing holders of reverse mortgages from foreclosing on surviving spouses whose names do not appear on the mortgage.
As a citizen legislator with a job it can be a challenge to keep up in Montpeculiar sometimes. There seems to be no limit to the amount of knowledge a well-informed and effective legislator can absorb — the encyclopedic volume of statutes, reports and case law, figuring out where all the money comes from, how it’s calculated and where it goes (and why), how the process works (the written and unwritten rules), the strategy of interpersonal relationships with other lawmakers and officials (what some refer to as “deal making”), and, most importantly, getting to know the people in my communities.
Working on behalf of a constituency with a broad array of viewpoints and perspectives has its own challenges, and with every vote I cast I’m taking a position that not everyone will agree with. I hope to make connections with more and more of my constituents so that I can listen to concerns, take suggestions for proposed legislation, and learn from people who have deeper understandings and experiences of issues than I do. I appreciate the responsibility of serving as a conduit between those I represent and the government that represents them. So please feel free to contact me anytime. And if you ever do have the inclination and the time to witness your state government in action (or inaction), let me know and you can be my guest. At the “People’s House” the doors are always open and all citizens can enter unannounced at any time while the legislature is in session to sit in on committee meetings and hearings and to watch debate and procedure on the floor. I encourage you to follow our schedule on the legislature’s website (www.leg.state.vt.us) and come witness issues of interest being discussed and debated.
“The Vermont tradition grapples energetically with the basic problem of human conduct…how to reconcile the needs of the group, of which every man or woman is a member, with the craving for individual freedom to be what he really is.” – Dorothy Canfield Fisher, 1953
I hope to see you at Town Meeting.
Windsor 4-1 State Representative
(Editor’s note: This letter was received by the Standard’s Monday deadline, but did not run in the Feb. 28 edition to due space reasons.)