A broken promise

Governor’s budget priorities turn against the most vulnerable in our state

PUTNEY — The governor's solemn pledge “to protect our most vulnerable citizens” convinced many Vermonters that Phil Scott had our backs. We Vermonters care deeply about our neighbors, and these words connected with people all across the state.

But when the governor turned the tables on his own pledge and took aim at the very services that support our most vulnerable - as well as many other Vermonters - folks sat up and took notice.

In just the past few weeks, Scott proposed eliminating:

• a program that subsidizes the health insurance of low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Ending this “cost sharing reduction benefit” will double, triple, and even quadruple out-of-pocket health-care costs for Vermonters with incomes of $24,000 to $36,000.

• a Disability Assistance Program, which helps disabled Vermonters who do not qualify for Medicaid hire home attendants to help with daily needs such as bathing, getting dressed, or preparing food.

But sadly, that's not the end of the governor's proposed cuts to essential services.

• Scott also wants to cut almost $111,000 from the office of the state's health care advocate, which helps Vermonters navigate the complex and expensive health-care system.

• The governor's budget slashes $200,000 from the Rental Assistance Program, which subsidizes rent for low-wage, working families, to keep rent to 30 percent of their income.

• And Scott refuses to even consider raising Vermont's minimum wage in modest, incremental steps over the next six years, even though 75,000 struggling Vermonters earning a maximum of $22,000 per year would be better able to provide for their families with such a boost.

The Washington Post recently published a comprehensive study countering Scott's claims that job losses would result. That study demonstrated that the effect of 137 separate minimum-wage boosts around the country actually increased the number of such jobs, paying at or slightly above, the new minimum.

• During Town Meeting Day, towns all around the state complied with the governor's request to rein in school budgets. But on the heels of our towns' lowering these costs even more than what he had called for, the governor simply moved the goal posts.

Scott suddenly added a new demand: that our legislators cut an additional $40 million from our kids' schools. Cutting school staff not only hurts children struggling with learning and other challenges, it also means teachers of kids who are doing well get less attention than they deserve.

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Currently pending in the Legislature is a more-equitable method to cover the education shortfall: the Middle Class Property Tax Relief Bill (S.58), which would actually reduce property taxes by 10 percent for all Vermonters making less than $137,500. (Currently, wealthy Vermonters actually pay a lower percentage of their income than middle income Vermonters: 1.5 to 2 percent, as opposed to 3 percent for middle-income earners.)

This bill would have higher income Vermonters simply pay their fair share.

Residents with incomes over $200,000 would pay the same percentage of their income as middle-income Vermonters currently pay, and that alone would raise $82 million.

This increased revenue would eliminate the need for Scott's harmful school cutbacks and compensate for the 10-percent cut in middle-class property taxes.

But the governor opposes any such progressive tax reform and insists instead on leaving our current regressive tax system just as it is. Why?

The governor's promises to protect our most vulnerable Vermonters convinced many voters to cast their ballot for him.

But with Scott's newly announced cuts, it looks more and more like the governor is just dealing us the same old bait- and-switch.

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