Vermont’s Progressive lawmakers made a pre-emptive strike ahead of Gov. Phil Scott’s State of the State address Thursday, laying out a legislative agenda in opposition to the Republican’s less-is-more philosophy.
While Scott has focused on reining in state spending as the path to economic stability, the Progressives proposed that government act to directly boost residents’ incomes and lower health care costs.
“We need to remind people that cutting state programs does not make Vermont more affordable,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington.
In his speech Thursday afternoon, Scott said he would continue to prevent any increases in taxes or fees.
Pollina said afterward that he disagrees with Scott’s approach.
“I think he believes falsely that if we just hold the line on fees and taxes, somehow that’s going to make it easier for families to pay their bills and make ends meet,” he said. “I don’t see that as the case.”
Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, speaks at a Progressive Party news conference Thursday. Photo by Bob LoCicero/VTDigger
Pollina said income inequality, not overspending, is the root of Vermont’s affordability crisis. “Stagnant incomes and low wages are the greatest economic challenge we face here in the state of Vermont,” he said at Thursday’s news conference.
Rep. Diana Gonzalez, P-Winooski, said raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would help Vermont families better afford their expenses. Families in poverty, Gonzalez said, are “not able to afford anywhere to live. They’re not able to afford their lives.” She said a higher minimum wage would also help boost the state’s income tax base and local economies.
Sen. Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden, said that while the governor has focused on preventing tax increases, he has been silent on other costs that affect residents, like rising health insurance and electricity rates. “A dollar out of the pocket of a working Vermonter is a dollar,” Pearson said.
He has co-sponsored a proposal meant to reduce the cost of prescription drugs by setting up the state as a drug wholesaler, which he says would save families millions of dollars.
Rep. Brian Cina, of Burlington, the only Progressive member of the House Committee on Health Care, said Vermont lawmakers must anticipate federal changes that could lead to the destabilization of the health care system and work toward a goal of universal coverage.
“We have to keep our eyes on the prize of health care for all,” he said. “Universal health care is not only a human right, it’s the right thing to do.”
Democratic leaders in the Legislature have expressed similar priorities to those shared at Thursday’s news conference. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, spoke about resolving income inequality in a speech Wednesday, calling it “the greatest moral issue of our time.” And Senate President Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, has indicated that he will push for a $15 minimum wage, calling it the best way the state can help low-income workers.