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The governor is wrong — and insults us in the bargain

Phil Scott repeatedly derided us for not having enough understanding to even know that we were raising our own taxes

Dan DeWalt, one of the founders of this newspaper, is a woodworker and teacher at Leland & Gray Union High School. He is a longtime activist for social justice, clean energy, and peace.


Republicans like to complain about the meddling of the “nanny state” as envisioned by Democrats. But one of their own, Governor Phil Scott, has been meddling in our affairs just as obtrusively as any nanny might.

Last spring, when voters in towns across Vermont made the hard decisions to raise their school budgets to meet critical needs, Scott repeatedly derided us for not having enough understanding to even know that we were raising our own taxes.

Are these the same Vermonters that he encourages to start businesses with their uniquely Vermont acumen? Are these the same Vermonters who (according to him) are smart enough to “think outside of the box” (i.e. don’t spend any money) when it comes to addressing the increasingly complicated lives and problems that our school students face due to the opioid epidemic and systemic poverty?

We’re smart enough to do these things, but we can’t put two and two together when it comes to understanding property taxes?

If you think outside of Phil Scott’s box, you get scolded and told that you don’t know what you are doing.

The governor is not only wrong, he has managed to insult us in the bargain.

* * *

On what basis does the governor dismiss our judgment about our local schools and our children?

When our district was faced with losing a school social worker because of budgetary restraints, our member towns voted strongly to bite the bullet and raise our taxes in order to keep the social worker.

We understood that an investment in our children’s welfare would not only be the right moral choice to make, it would also yield social and economic dividends in the long term.

In Newfane, whether during town meeting, special budget meetings, or school district meetings, we citizens understand exactly what we are doing when we debate the budget. In fact, there are usually folks there who have enough of an understanding of the byzantine and ever-changing rules that govern school funding to be able to give the rest of us an estimate on just what it will cost each of us for each $100,000 of property value.

We don’t need the governor telling us that we’re not smart or responsible enough to follow his draconian guidelines that care more about dollars than about our children.

We thought that the Republican party has always stood for keeping big government out of our hair, embracing de-centralized government, and local democracy.

But Scott has other business on his mind — and it’s his way or the highway, apparently.

* * *

Scott continually obsesses on the fact that he was elected on a pledge to not raise any taxes or fees, as if that gives him absolute power to veto anything that he doesn’t like under the guise of fiscal responsibility.

He forgets that along with electing him, we also overwhelmingly elected a Democratic and Progressive legislature that was not making the same categorical pledge.

In fact, electing that legislature was in part to ensure that Scott wouldn’t go too far in his attempts to starve the state budget of necessary funds to provide crucial programs.

Scott also forgets that, unlike now, he was not a one-trick pony when he originally ran. People voted for him for a number of reasons: some were not happy with the direction that industrial wind development was taking in the state, some voted for him because they trusted him not to change Vermont’s gun laws, and perhaps his strongest appeal was that he promised to be reasonable, bipartisan, and willing to compromise with those on the other side of the aisle.

He has kept carefully cloaked his attack on public education that has characterized his administration up to now. He didn’t share with us that the only issue that would really matter to him was the mistaken belief that Vermonters are not willing to invest in the state and its citizens.

* * *

Governor Scott’s obsession with not raising a single tax is preventing our state from taking the necessary steps that would fulfill his own ultimate goal: keeping young Vermonters in the state and attracting new folks to make the move here.

No one wants to bring their young families to a state whose governor sees public education as a financial problem and public educators as an enemy.

No one wants to bring their young families to a state when the governor promises that there will be no consideration of paid family leave or livable wages for our residents.

Governor Scott, while escaping the trappings of xenophobia, crassness, and immorality that surround Donald Trump, nonetheless fully embraces the Republican belief that all favors go to those with the money.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are encouraged to tighten our belt buckles, hope for the trickle down and, of course, think outside the box.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #481 (Wednesday, October 17, 2018).

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