A New Year's Resolution
It happened - 2020 finally ended, and a new year is upon us. The unforeseen twists and turns that 2020 gave to us all may have every one of us a little leery about making any kind of bold resolutions for the year ahead. In light of the COVID world we live in, it's hard to plan through next month or next week - planning through the year 2021 seems foolhardy, or downright impossible.
But if we aim at nothing, we will hit it every time. We might achieve none of what we plan - but no good will come if we have nothing we plan to achieve.
That is why Republicans in the legislature this year will make good on their campaign promises to have a laser focus on post-COVID recovery in three specific areas.
First, we will must concentrate on addressing the needs of the individual Vermonters and Vermont businesses that need help now because of the way the virus and the government response to it has impacted their daily lives. We will work to ensure that federal stimulus money is allocated wisely and fairly. Republicans are committed to making sure that once this second Congressional Stimulus bill has been dissected, we are holding the line our caucus did last year to make sure that as much money as legally possible goes into the hands of those Vermonters who have been affected. Unfortunately, some in Congress have tried to use COVID funding as a way to channel that money back into existing state programs that were struggling because of prior financial mismanagement, not because of COVID and the response.
Second, we will propose new legislation that is designed to improve our economy and make government work better. Vermont Republicans are looking for other Vermont-led initiatives that we can implement without waiting for the Federal government. To that end, we are again submitting legislation that would end the taxation on military pensions, taxation that only seven states continue to collect. The soon-to-be retiring armed forces nurses and other health care professionals are ideal candidates to help Vermont resolve our critical shortages of workers and to actually add to our tax base. These shortages of key skills today cost Vermont millions of dollars annually as we import traveling workers from other states to fill the need. We want Vermont to be an attractive place for those military retirees so they will bring their skills to our hospitals that genuinely need them. Your Republican legislators will also be looking to sound the alarm and, when possible, stop any attempts by the Democratic majority to further burden COVID-affected Vermonters through new taxes, fees or costly regulations. In their attempt to help, we must make sure that Democrats first do no harm to an already weakened economy.
To address important individual health needs, Republican Legislators, with support from the Governor, again will be proposing a new voluntary Paid Family Leave program. The proposal would avoid adding a costly and burdensome statewide payroll tax on the businesses that can least afford it - but also provide a simple solution to those businesses that want to make it available to their employees on an opt-in basis.
Vermont Republicans will also propose new approaches for dealing with Vermont’s chronic shortage of truly affordable housing.
The pandemic has reinforced the need to bring high speed broadband and cellular service to all of Vermont. In conjunction with the Governor, we will be proposing new measures to bring modern connectivity to all Vermonters, especially those in rural areas. We hope that our Democratic colleagues will join with us in this critical effort.
Lastly we need to lighten the load of every Vermonter by making our state government not only more efficient and focused on the core programs that make the biggest impact, but we need to examine everything we do and innovate to find new ways to make state government less costly and less labor intensive. COVID has forced every business, and even many agencies within state government, to rethink what services and procedures are truly essential. We must get creative about ways to accomplish the same workload when we have less people in state office buildings. Dumping more work on fewer employees will only yield worse results for everyone. We need to apply the lessons from COVID and from best practices elsewhere so we can empower our existing workforce to be able to streamline jobs and accomplish the same work faster because they have better tools and better processes.
There are many other issues Republicans will face and fight for this legislative session, but the work to recover from the pandemic and to rebuild our economy unite Republicans from across the state. This is our main focus; this is our primary mission. Anything that distracts the legislature from this does a disservice to Vermonters and we will be working hard to keep the Democratic majority on task and on mission. And while we may not have the legislative majority, let it not be said that our caucus does not have the ideas and the resolve to move Vermont forward.