Friday, May 8, 2015

Common Benefit Budget

     “Putting together a budget is never an easy task,” according to the governor in a recent letter, as he likens the state to families deciding between “groceries and medicine,” so to “live within their means.”
  Vermont statutes state: The budget should “be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people...and recognize every person's need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.”
  Continuing a seven year downward spiral, the budget bill reduces funding for home fuel assistance and weatherizing, mental health and substance abuse treatment, libraries, pre-K, community high school, Reach Up, VT Legal Aid, health care, public health, autism and geriatric programs, state employees, developmental disabilities, and adult day care. House Republicans go further, wanting to cut or get rid of property tax rebates; health insurance assistance; pharmacy payments for elders; labor negotiated health care plans; childcare subsidies; state college funding; substance abuse recovery centers; psychiatric and substance abuse designated agencies; and, grants to the Vermont Humanities Council, the Vermont Council on the Arts, the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and the Vermont Women’s Commission. They would also privatize the state psychiatric hospital and the Vermont Veterans’ Home.
  The task before us, to live within our means, may be easier than the governor suggests. Numerous proposals, alone or combined, from the Public Assets Institute, state employees, the Workers’ Center and others offer structural fiscal changes to reverse seven years of negative budgeting, turn state deficits into surpluses and lighten the tax burden on working Vermont families.
  Raising the minimum wage to a livable level translates immediately to increased consumer spending (two-thirds of our domestic economy), enhanced income tax revenues and decreased public assistance spending.
     Expanding workforce training supports higher worker pay and expanded economic development, which increases state revenue and decreases expenditures.
     Eliminating tax credits to businesses that do not create substantial, good paying jobs, redirects state resources to more productive uses.
     Returning state spending to the benchmark of gross state product (sum of all the goods and services produced and sold in Vermont), which is dramatically increasing, more than offsets current and future budget deficits.
     Broadening the sales tax to include services lowers the rate on goods and enhances state revenues.
     Reconfiguring the progressive income tax brackets based on actual ability to contribute lowers taxes for middle and lower income Vermonters while adding to available state revenues.
     Publicly financing universal health care eliminates insurance companies and greatly reduces costs to the state and all Vermonters.
     Taxing capital gains at the same rate as labor income values the contribution of working Vermonters and moves in the direction of economic equality.
     Placing a cap on deductions a taxpayer can claim limits losses to state revenues.
     And, finally, instituting a wealth-based assessment with an increase in the inheritance tax returns capital to the common good and reduces inequality.
  Besides complying with law, the state budget is a moral document, defining who we are and how we provide for all of us. No Vermonter should have to choose between groceries and medicine.