If not now, when?

On Friday I posted two diaries addressing, in different ways, the financial difficulties Vermont is facing. We have an extremely tight budget situation, and a number of problems that need to be faced — some requiring large investments of money.

Meanwhile, Governor Shumlin has restated his staunch opposition to increases in taxes he defines as “broad-based.” Vermont Press Bureau:

If Democrats can abide his no-new-taxes pledge now, Shumlin said, then they’ll earn the electoral trust they’ll need to proceed with single-payer health care in 2017.

“That sets the foundation, builds the confidence and gives us the support of Vermonters that allows us to do the others things that I say other states don’t dare do,” Shumlin said.

When I first read this, I thought it was reasonable: the Administration is making bold plans for a single-payer health care system, and if it establishes a reputation for fiscal probity, the voters are more likely to trust Shumlin’s management and less likely to believe shrill opposition from the likes of Vermonter(s) First.  

But an article in Friday’s Times Argus made me think again. The Vermont Press Bureau’s Peter Hirschfeld reported that the Legislature has no plans to consider broadening the sales tax to include services as well as goods. The idea was bruited about last spring, but when it became a focal point of Vermonter(s) First’s blitzkrieg of attack ads, that early enthusiasm quickly evaporated.

And then it hit me: those attack ads didn’t work.

Vermonter(s) First spent almost a million bucks of Lenore Broughton’s money, and made nary a dent in the 2012 election. The Democrats cemented their hold on state government.

What’s more, the chair of the Vermont GOP has all but written off the 2014 election; Jack Lindley has said it will take at least two full election cycles to rebuild a competitive Republican Party.

So what are the Democrats afraid of?

After the jump: a unique opportunity for political boldness.

Vermont does face big challenges. But Vermont Democrats have a huge amount of political capital, and won’t face a serious threat anytime soon.

If ever there was an opportunity to go big, this is it. The Governor has gone big on health care reform, and he deserves full credit for that. He’s also pushing hard for renewables and energy efficiency. But given the strength of his position, there is room for more boldness. He’s got the power, and if the initiatives don’t have an immediate payoff, he’s got the time. This is a tremendous opportunity to put Vermont on a new course to solve our problems and create a better state.

I don’t know exactly which initiatives should be undertaken. But if the sales tax needs fixing, why not fix it? Why not find new ways to pay for infrastructure investments?

Why not, as regular commenter Minor Heretic says, take up Tony Pollina’s proposal for a Vermont state bank?

The initiatives need to be well thought-out and carefully chosen. But there’s no reason to think they wouldn’t be, given the experience and expertise in his cabinet, plus the financial know-how in the Treasurer’s and Auditor’s offices.

We’ve only heard pieces of the Governor’s plans for his second term, and it’s quite possible that a wide-ranging and ambitious agenda is already in the pipeline. I sure hope so. Because if Democrats operate out of fear, as they seem to be on sales tax reform, we will miss a golden opportunity to turn our problems into opportunities.  

2 thoughts on “If not now, when?

  1. Democrat’s Kryptonite is Republicans telling lies about them in the Press.  Instead of boldly refuting the GOP’s lies, the Dems instinctively apologize and back down, no matter how outrageous the GOp’s lie-du-jour actually is.  

    More often Dems simply aren’t given airtime to reply.  Most media is America has far-right-extremists on 24 hrs/day and Dems don’t get a word in edgewise.  Look at the Sabbath Gasbags, their guests are 94% extremist right.

    Dems need to take a ‘media effectiveness’ class, so as to be ready when Lenore Broughton orders up $5000 in “OMG! TAXES!!! The Dems are going to kill us all!!” ads.  Instead of cowering in fear of Lenore’s ads and promising to never inconvenience her in any way ever again, the Dems might be able to retort and respond.

  2. I truly appreciate your raising the broad-based tax issue.  Here are just a few comments:

    1.  Back in the day when Dick Snelling and Ralph Wright bridged their differences and put together a budget/tax compromise in 1991, we generally thought of broad-based taxes to include the income tax, the sales tax and the rooms and meals tax.  One advantage of increasing the sales and rooms and meals taxes is that they “export” part of the tax burden to non-Vermonters.

    2.  The mantra “no increase in broad-based taxes” is verging on becoming a third rail in Vermont much akin to the no-broad based taxes chant in New Hampshire.  No one will want to touch it.

    3.  It used to be that the legislators from the Connecticut River Valley were the major opponents of sales tax increases because of the proximity of their towns to New Hampshire.  Now, with the pervasiveness of the local option tax in major Chittenden County communities, I imagine that reps from these places will also resist an increase in the state sales tax.  

    3.  Two of my former employers — John B. Anderson and Jim Jeffords — made highly visible defections from the GOP; yet, they never became Democrats.  Obviously, each had his own reasons.  For me, I find current Republican ideology appalling, but I have extreme difficulty with the Democrats, too.  The corporate tilt of some Vermont Democrat leaders is something I don’t embrace, and I wonder if the unwillingness to increase broad-based taxes is largely a way to keep from looking at income tax increases.

    Again, just my thoughts, but I really appreciate your multiple posts on this issue.  It deserves discussion not just on blogs but in the Democratic caucus, where I hope there are enough independent voices to buck the leadership.

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