Vermont Political and Financial Woes

Over the past couple of years, I’ve gotten far more cogniscent of how politics work and what things mean. While I’ve largely followed national politics over the past two years, I’ve gotten a heavy dose of state politics, even more so since the national recession began. In the past couple ot months, I’ve become extremely frustrated with Governor Jim Douglas (R-VT) and his reactions to the state bugetary crisis.

Like many states, Vermont has been hit fairly hard, at least on the state budget level. Overall, we’ve been lucky – we don’t have large masses of housing that can’t be sold, heavy industry that’s been outsourced to other countries, etc. That being said, we still have a projected $200-$300 million gap, and it’s splitting the state down party lines, and not in any good way. There’s certainly ways to do this. Cut spending like crazy, eliminating programs, departments and personnel, as the Republicans suggest, or raise taxes and maintain a lot of these programs, as the Democrats have suggested. Both ideas have merit, in my eyes. There have been numerous layoffs already within the state, and some program cuts. The State Senate has already put together a number of plans, with cuts upwards of $100 million, with several additional taxes, such as a .05 cent gas tax and a couple of income ones, only to be told flat out by Gov. Douglas that he will accept no tax hikes at all.

Wait, what?

In normal years, I can fully understand not wanting to have any sort of increase in my taxes – I like my money. But these are extrodinary circumstances, which leads to a sort of double edge sword – while there are most likely programs that are out there that do cost money to operate that can be lost, there are plenty out there that need to remain, because in addition to all of those regular people who have problems, the people whom those programs serve and help to lead any sort of life. Saying no to a .05 cent gas tax makes absolutely no sense, especially when Douglas makes the argument that it will prevent people from … whatever he’s been saying that it’ll prevent them from. Bullshit, because a year ago, a gallon of unleaded regular was at least $2 higher than it is today. If there was a time for such a thing, now is it. Once this crisis is over, I’d be more than happy to see it go. This tax in particular would be designed specifically to help fix Vermont’s roadways, which, as I’ve been doing as a lot of driving and can vouch for this, need a lot of work. Between the potholes, cracks and bumps, that money can be put to good use, and free up funds for other programs.
Education has been a big issue as well – while listening to the radio, Douglas noted that we have a declining number of students, but are paying for a higher amount. I honestly can’t see any problem with this, beause education is the one place that really needs the attention and funds, especially when things such as arts and culture are being stripped away from our schools. Keep the funding and the teachers, and we can provide a far better education for the students that we do have. We certainly need that in this country.

My dad had a good point the other day – Douglas seems to only be saying no in order to maintain a sort of party line – Republican = no taxes, or no higher taxes. While this is admirable, there is nothing good that can come out of this, and he is increasingly alienating the Democratic majority in the Vermont House and Senate, which will make it harder for him in the long run, especially with an election coming up in 2010. He has already suffered a defeat – a needless defeat – earlier this year when he opposed the Marriage Equality Bill that brought Vermont to be the first state to legalize same-sex marriage via legislation, not by the courts.

I’m not opposed to cutting taxes, but I am opposed to the drive to indescriminantly cut away programs simply to maintain a party image to help with re-election. I’m regretting my decision to vote for Gov. Douglas, because I hoped that he would be sensible during this financial crisis. Sadly, I seem to have been wrong.

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