The challenges heading into the 2024 legislative session have never been greater and the division in our state leadership has never been more pronounced. Regular Vermonters are exasperated with their Government's increasing polarization and we are here to give them voice.
Here are our legislative priorities for 2024:
Housing Access & Affordability
It is becoming more and more clear that local zoning and statewide housing policy has a decidedly adverse impact towards middle-income Vermonters. State and local zoning frequently prevents new housing development, particularly development of smaller affordable owner occupied homes or multi-family housing. Minimum lot sizes, unrestricted appeals from dissenting neighbors, and bans on dense development all pose a risk to housing availability and affordability.
"If we don't build a lot more housing and rehab a lot more housing, Vermont is going to become even more gentrified, as Vermonters can't afford to live here and we become the vacation paradise of New England."
-Charlie Baker, Executive Director of the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission
While the larger economic issue right now is arguably housing, workforce development efforts remain important as we retrain our workforce for 21st century jobs and look towards upskilling to meet the needs of Vermont employers as well as increases the earning potential for workers.
School Choice Preservation
In the wake of two supreme court decisions, which determined that states restricting public tuitioning dollars from religiously affiliated schools was a violation of the free exercise clause of the US Constitution, school choice is again on the chopping block. In 2023 lawmakers attempted to place such strict rules on the system that it would effectively cease to function. Fortunately the Senate Education Committee stopped the bill before it went to the Senate floor, but the bill could be taken up at any time and passed.
This system has served Vermont for 150 years and generally provides better outcomes for some of our most at-risk students than traditional school systems, and at a lower cost (roughly $5,000 less per student at the current time).
Cost of Living/Fiscal Responsibility
The Legislature CANNOT continue spending increases of 13% and expect that to be sustainable. The tax increases from 2023 alone will cost families up to $1300 more every year. This is before the 18.5% increase in property taxes projected for next year...
Long a top priority for us. A bill is likely being introduced in the House to provide the Ethics Commission with more oversight authority and extend ethics protections to municipalities. Looking at ethics enforcement in other states, this is the most likely place for questionable behavior. We will push for the passage of this legislation in 2024.
Sustainable State Pensions
In 2022 the legislature took a good initial step forward, but there is more work to do. We will be in Montpelier this year making sure we are taking the right steps towards state pension funds that are sustainable and keep our promises to both state employees and taxpayers. Of critical importance this past year has been an effort to divest fossil fuel investments from our pension funds. This is something that could have significant consequences for our public sector employees if it is not done carefully.
Clean Heat Standard & Carbon Taxes
To be clear, we support reducing carbon emissions and protecting our environment. However, the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) is a poorly designed piece of legislation that is out of step with what Vermonters what to see for climate action. On top of that, it is punitive and will disproportionately hurt low and middle-income Vermonters.
While the CHS itself will not be back on the Legislative docket until 2025, related policies such as a carbon tax on transportation fuels and a Renewable Energy Credit system likely will be. We will watch for these and advocate for policies that uphold our obligations to our environment while protecting Vermonters from increased cost of living.
Elections Issues & Democracy
We have noticed a trend in Vermont politics the last couple election cycles. Both political parties are continuing to elect more and more extreme candidates in primaries that are further from the center. Polling and the popularity of centrist candidates, like Governor Scott, in general elections indicates that most voters would prefer more moderate candidates to choose form. But, the current dynamics of our primary election system are not giving them that choice. We will work with the legislature to find ways of increasing ballot access and viability for more moderate candidates that reflect general election voters preferences.
As shown by our polling, crime, drugs, and public safety are top of mind for many Vermonters. Not only does this threaten the property and safety of all Vermonters but it is also clearly starting to have some economic impact as our sense of safety in downtown areas erodes.
We will continue to advocate for the rollout of broadband access in rural Vermont. As the digital divide widens, this is quickly becoming the equity issue of our time. For this reason, rural broadband access remains on our list of priorities.
In order to continue pursuing all of these priorities, we need support from Vermonters like you!