On wealth, taxes, and the failure of H.829

BRATTLEBORO-Wealth and taxes: two entwined topics that often quickly provoke strong emotions.

It seems we often get stuck in the same patterns talking about them. I wonder what would happen if we approached them differently.

For instance, what if we did not react to having to pay taxes as some kind of punishment and instead saw it as an opportunity to pay for what our communities need? When we hear a firetruck's sirens, drive on smooth roads, or pass a school, we could think, "I am helping to fund that."

What if we expanded those common needs to housing and did not perceive it as an "option" for some, but rather as a basic need that our society should provide to all, for the benefit of all?

We could also examine our relationship to wealth. What does it mean to have enough financial resources to live securely? To live comfortably? To live in luxury?

Most people can probably agree that those resources should include a safe shelter, enough food, access to clean water, and adequate clothing. Yet in our community, these basic resources are out of reach for many individuals and families.

For those of us (myself included) who can live comfortably, what does it mean to live in luxury? When is enough wealth enough? How does luxury-level wealth contribute to income inequality?

According to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University, "Nationally, home prices grew by 43 percent between 2019 and 2022, while incomes grew by just seven percent in that same period."

Let that sink in.

Neither of these indicators happens in a vacuum. Society cannot withstand a continued widening of this gap. At some point, it will collapse. History shows how violent and tumultuous that can be.

I wouldn't want to live in a society where some rise at the expense of others getting pushed down, even if that could be sustained for a while. I couldn't walk the streets of my town feeling OK.

I was so optimistic about the proposed legislation (H.829) to add a new tax bracket for Vermonters earning at least $500,000 a year and a higher property transfer tax on houses selling for more than $750,000. Surely that falls into the luxury range.

The resources that would have been generated from these new revenue streams would have been used to build affordable housing in our state. The new law would have directly addressed people with greater wealth amassing ever more as people with less wealth live insecurely).

I am grateful to Rep. Emilie Kornheiser for her leadership on H.829 and profoundly disappointed it was not debated in the Senate. I am grateful for the endorsement of this legislation by wealthy residents of our state.

Vermont has been at the leading edge of legislation that moves us and then the country forward. I am hopeful that H.829 has created momentum and that it will be taken up again in the next legislative session - and the next and the next, if necessary.

I look forward to supporting Rep. Kornheiser and others in their campaigns so we build an even stronger Legislature to address these issues with courage and creativity.

We simply cannot afford to let the forces of unchecked capitalism dominate this brave little state.

Jennifer Jacobs


This letter to the editor was submitted to The Commons.

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