From Rep. Alison Clarkson
It was a pleasure to see so many of you in Plymouth, Reading and Woodstock at Town Meeting. Each meeting exercised its unique aspect of local decision making. At my first Town Meeting in Plymouth, there was a great deal of discussion about a part time position designed to build interest and use in their empty elementary school building. The measure was passed by one vote. One is reminded how re-enfranchising it is to vote in Vermont. In Reading (the best attended), we honoured Bob Allen for his forty years of service to Reading. His cousin, Cindy Metcalf, presented him with a commemorative glass piece from Simon Pearce, Senator Leahy had me present a flag which had flown over the capitol and Jon Springer read a resolution saluting Bob’s service. And, then Reading went into a long debate over the future and budget of their school. In Woodstock the most discussed item on the agenda was the purchase of a new digital projector for the Town Hall Theater. The Woodstock Elementary School and Woodstock town budgets passed. Millions of dollars were voted by less than 10% of our population.
If asked, we all say how much we treasure the tradition of Town Meeting. However, if attendance is any indicator – people are assuming this tradition will continue without their active participation. In Plymouth I was reminded that important line items in the budget can be removed by just a few people. Local spending decisions and policies need local people present to voice their concern and support and local people present to keep a tradition alive.
Given all the challenges we face in the Legislature this year, it was wonderful to learn that, according to a Twitter survey, Vermont is the fifth happiest state in the country. Everyone asks, so I’ll tell you, Hawaii came in first. We have many things to celebrate. Our economy is slowly improving. With the addition of 3,000 jobs in 2012, the unemployment rate is at 5%, nearly 3% lower than the national average of 7.8% and the lowest rate in New England. Data from the US Census Bureau show that Vermont suffered less impact from the national economic downturn than the country at large. Vermont was also the only state in the country where the median income increased in 2011. 2012 forecasts project a healthy gain to median family income of 1.9% with a Vermont family earning $70,000. Nonetheless, wages for lower income Vermonters remained stagnant or decreased, while income for those high wage earners increased substantially. The Kaufman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity placed Vermont in the top ten entrepreneurial states.
While Vermont has many thriving large businesses, we recognize that many started as small ventures in a spare room or in the garage. We have a responsibility to help entrepreneurs by providing access to capital, workforce training, technical support, and the ability to network. Increasingly, business leaders point to the availability of a well-trained workforce as a key factor enabling them to expand, so we are working to provide flexible pathways through high school to technical and college education. We are also working to provide first-generation college students a smoother transition from high school to college and a reduction in the time it takes all students to acquire the skills they need to land a good job.
During the course of this week, a number of you have spoken to me about the possibility of an increased gas tax. In 2012, Vermonters spent $40 million less on gas than in 2005. This is encouraging news, as it demonstrates the increasing use of more efficient vehicles and a reduction in our carbon-dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, as gas consumption decreases, so does the Transportation Fund’s tax revenue to maintain our crumbling roads and bridges – which have experienced even more stress recently from dramatic weather events caused by climate change. We will need to raise an additional $36.5 million in state money to fund the proposed FY2014 transportation budget. Without action, we risk losing $56 million in matching Federal funds. The Legislature is exploring options that may ultimately include a Transportation Infrastructure Bond (TIB) or an increase in the excise tax on gas and diesel motor fuel that is indexed to inflation. We are working very hard to maintain the funds for municipal highway budgets.
I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at the Statehouse (Tues-Fri) 828-2228 or at home (Sat-Mon) 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont Legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website: www.leg.state.vt.us