1. Opening Remarks from Party Chair, Martha Abbott
Martha Abbott reviewed the agenda and noted highlights of what the Party has achieved in recent years, including pushing state towards single payer health insurance, getting corporate money out of politics, raising the level of discussion around the creation of a state bank, and divesting from fossil fuels. Progressives also opposed draconian budget measures in last session. She noted she will not be running for party Chair again in November and will move to focusing on fundraising. She expressed a hope that a member from the younger generation will step forward to run for chair. She also thanked Tina Scanlon for organizing the raffle and food.
2. PRESENTATION BY PAUL CILLO, PUBLIC ASSETS INSTITUTE
Paul Cillo is the Director of Public Assets Institute (PAI), a former state representative from the Hardwick area, and an architect of the Act 60 school funding law. PAI started 10 years ago to look at taxes and state budget issues from the perspective of citizens, not legislators, businesses or the administration. A core PAI belief is that people’s money should be used for people’s well being. PAI provides data and policy analysis based on core values.
Paul presented on the Vermont economy and the current discussion that it is anemic. Overall economic growth for past 20 years has been about 60 percent; not great but not bad. However, median household income has only grown about 1.5 percent. Top 1% of population has grown from 6.1% of overall income to 19% of income from 1981 to today. The wealth gap is our biggest problem and impacts our entire state. We need to rebuild the middle class.
Job growth in the past decade has been negative –- worst since the great depression. Private sector job growth stagnant in the last 10 years. Poverty rates declined from 1980 until 2010, but rate has started to rise again. More Vermonters qualify for food stamps today than before the recession –- 100K vs. 60K. Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) cost rapidly rising, which led to some leaders saying we need to cut back on this expensive program. PAI noted the rising use of this program is because economy was bad and people need more assistance. Health insurance premiums and deductibles have grown enormously. Vermont EITC debate in the last legislation included the Governor saying this is an entitlement, not a tax break. PAI says it is a tax break for working people and PAI says let’s pay for child care with a different tax break. Income dropping, stagnant job growth and cost of programs to help working people is increasing. Yet governmental budget cuts hurt low and moderately income people the most. Tax code changes benefit the wealthiest the most. Budget debate skewed towards lowering taxes and shrinking the budget.
75% of VT state budget goes to human services and education. Growth in Vermont’s general fund budget despite cuts to federal assistance to budget. However, not until 2011 that the budget was actually cut (vs. slower growth). Overall, 20% less being spent in general fund. Discussion in Montpelier is about money first and people second. Important to note that this is a shift from Snelling administration when people came first. State needs to do a needs assessment –- state does not do this now. Poor have become invisible in VT and become statistics/cost to taxpayers vs. actual people in the news.
With Education Fund, when state cuts there, towns either raise local taxes or cut. Over last couple of years, state spending has been lower for education, but went up this year by 5 percent; overall education spending has been very stable. Complaint with education is that student population is declining, which means per student cost is rising. However, health insurance a major expense for schools and considering that that expense has doubled over last 20 years, school services have actually been cut. Vermont maintains an equitable system for education funding unlike most other states and continues to rank in the top 5 states for test scores and graduation rates. We have great schools. We should think about how to bring more kids into state to fill gap with education funding/student population issues.
Wealth In State
PAI and Blue Ribbon Commission looked at IRS data over 20 years and in and out migration of people is about equal: 15-16K people each year. People moving in have about 18% higher income than people moving out. This impacts property value bids and pushes housing prices up and negatively impacts working people in other ways.
• Eliminate tax breaks.
• Create a people’s budget that changes the culture of money first, people second (The Vermont Workers’ Center’s People’s Budget is releasing film on August 21 to begin education campaign).
• Eliminate school property taxes for primary residences
• Pay it forward college (like in Oregon)
• Boosting energy efficiency investment.
Discussion by State Committee
Discussion held on culture of putting money before people’s needs in budget process and making cuts without hearing from people. Discussion on changes to regressive taxes vs. progressive tax structures. Sen. Anthony Pollina noted that language on equity and fairness included in last year’s budget, but nothing was done with this that meaningfully impacted the budget process this year. Discussion about raising revenue and debate on taxing wealthiest has not had much traction.
Discussion on percentages of taxes –- corporate tax revenues have declined as a percent of overall budget, also Paul only C corporations get taxed in VT, not S corporations. C corporations aren’t a significant group in VT. Paul noted that we have an overall regressive tax system that relies on sales, income and property taxes, but less regressive than many other states. Income tax in VT is progressive, but only partially helps households who face other regressive taxes in state. We still have preferential treatment for capital gains taxes in Vermont. Discussion about wealth distribution, further ways to create equity, and how to create wealth by creating jobs, not just wealth from investments. Brief discussion of Genuine Progress Indicator.
3. TOWN MEETING RESOLUTION ON HEALTH CARE
Reported that the resolution is being drafted. Noted that March 2014 may not be the best time to put something on about Single Payer that conflicts with Affordable Care Act. Proposal made to seek how much our town is spending on health care and how much would be saved with single payer. This would likely get a positive vote and then towns would get this information. Contact Martha if interested in working on this.
4. JUSTICE FOR TRAYVON MARTIN RESOLUTION
Introduction of resolution for adoption by state committee (click here for the final resolution as passed). Amendment offered by Erhard Mahnke (Burlington) to add four new points to include reference to judicial system disparities in the criminal justice system, urging federal charges be brought against Zimmerman, advocating for hiring of people of color in state and local government and schools, and strengthening education about racism in schools. Michael Bayer moves Terry Jerolomon seconds support of the resolution. Passed with zero opposed, two abstentions.
5. FUNDRAISING & ANNOUNCEMENTS
Martha delivered a request for donations for the party. Announcements: 1) Benefit for the Old Labor Hall. Brian Jones will be performing Howard Zinn’s Marx in SoHo. Aug 31st 7:30pm. 2) Monday, August 12th, Burlington City Council meeting and public hearing about F-35. People will have opportunity to make 2 min statements. 3) Sad news that Ted Webster and Franklin Reeve have passed away. 4) Farewell to Mike Bayer who is moving out of state. Thank you for your years of leadership in the Party.
6. TOWN & COUNTY 2013 REORGANIZATION
Need help organizing Bennington, Lamoille, Caledonia and Essex Counties. Contact Robert at the Party to help. Town chairs will be hearing from county chairs about more details on reorganization process. Counties organized by Oct 9th and Towns around Sept 10th. Must be a 30 day gap between “offical” town/county meeting days.
7. PANEL DISCUSSION ON ELECTION STRATEGIZING FOR 2014
Panel members Chris Pearson and Morgan Daybell spoke. The focus of the panel was on the gubernatorial race for 2014. Panel addressed a number of points including: historical experience of party and ability to gain traction with Democratic leadership, attraction of new party members to our party when Democrats veer from their commitments, Shumlin’s proposed state budget and impact on low income Vermonters, and focus of the party always being economic, environmental and social justice and pushing those key issues in every election. Noted success in legislative races and being the most successful third party in the country. We need a transparent discussion on the pros/cons of legislative races vs. statewide race over the coming months. Also discussion on resources of party to run statewide race and that limited resources may be best used for House/Senate races. Also some projection on future of Republican Party in future and if political winds shift, Progs may really grow in the void. Debate re: whether a statewide candidate helps to recruit local candidates.
Discussion by state committee on increasing party outreach so voters are educated on third party option. Struggle to get party recognition even when we had a gubernatorial candidate come in second place four years ago. House races build up party recognition because of direct voter contact. Further discussion on other positive elements from focusing on local house races such as building up numbers, attracting progressive Dems to the Party, building on local issues such as child care and home health care worker union organizing initiatives. Some argued statewide campaigns build publicity that reaches all voters and can’t endorse Shumlin because of his move to the right on Yankee and other issues. And some argued if Shumlin isn’t challenged he will move further to the right. People now know difference Progs represent on social and economic issues vs. Democrats and we can organize outraged low-income people who have been negatively impacted by Shumlin. Conversation is ongoing and will continue among party members.
8. ORGANIZED LABOR UPDATE
We heard from Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Mark Mitchell and staffers Steve Howard and Adam Norton. Gave update on internal and external work in union. Undergoing elections of new officers and reengaging members via organizing model. They thanked Progressives for fighting for state workers in legislature and Cindy Weed’s leadership on fair share legislation. Still fighting to empower members to speak out even if opinions contrary to administration’s position, especially on corrections issues and privatization issues such as with the Reach Up case managers. Also 20% of Vermont state government are temporary workers with no benefits. State College employees just reached impasse in bargaining – 250 blue and pink collar low wage workers. Veterans’ hospital workers spoke out and recent report validated their concerns about staffing issues. VSEA strengthening their PAC and want pro-labor candidates in every race.
We also heard from Kelly Mangan, United Electrical Workers’ Vermont Fair Food Campaign. She worked with Bernie’s last campaign. The campaign is a grassroots movement of food workers. 57,000 people work in the VT food system. It is a huge and growing industry. Vermonters talk about organic, sustainable and local food, but not the people working in the industry. Wages are low, jobs are often temporary and mean workers qualify for state assistance programs. Many workers don’t have benefits or days off. Also a lot of fear among food workers – fear of being fired, retaliation, afraid to speak up about safety, afraid to have union meeting. Campaign is working with the Workers’ Center, Voices for Vermont’s Children and Paid Sick Leave campaign. Currently they are working to survey workers and publish best and worst businesses for employees in VT. Send names of food industry workers to the campaign so they can get surveyed and donate to cause!
Minutes taken by Leslie Mathews. Submitted by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Secretary, 8/13/2013.