COVID-19 exposed the cracks in Vermont’s social safety net. What else, if anything, should the legislature be doing to address the impact of the pandemic on low-income Vermonters?
Vyhovsky believes the state should make “direct investments in the people who need it most” and that by doing so, it will help open the economy faster than austerity budgeting.
“I think that we need to make direct monetary investments into the people who are struggling and into our small business community that is struggling so that we can really kickstart our economy and build a more resilient economy going forward,” she said.
What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?
“We have to shift the way we fund those systems,” said Vyhovsky, “and I think we really need to expand our public education system to include universal pre-K free.”
She said she would propose looking at other ways to fund the education system, such as moving away from being based on property taxes.
Vyhovsky went on to say that investments should be made to increase the wages earned by childcare employees but in a way that doesn’t make services unaffordable to families.
A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?
Vyhovsky said that, because Vermont doesn’t require a balanced budget, it might have to look into borrowing to bridge the gap. She also said the state should consider using some of its “rainy day fund” while it builds up ways to bring in more revenue.
Investing in “the people who are struggling the most” was reiterated by Vyhovsky before she said Vermont needs to do what it can to retain young people and keep them from moving away.
“It may be a multi-year process, where at times the budget is unbalanced while we build towards a healthy, functioning economy,” said Vyhovsky.
What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?
Vyhovsky said she has been a longtime proponent of shifting the state’s Education Fund sourcing away from property taxes.
“So by shifting that system and asking [the wealthiest Vermonters] to pay their fair share, we increase the revenue, but we also decrease the affordability burden for working Vermonters who are struggling to stay here, given how high property taxes are.”
The legislature this session took some steps to address concerns about use of excessive force by police and the inequities in how often people of color are subjected to motor vehicle stops and criminal charges. Do you think those actions were sufficient or is there more to be done?
“I think there’s a lot more to be done there,” Vyhovsky started her answer with. “We live in a nation that has really been built on white supremacy, and Vermont is not immune."
Vyhovsky went on to say that there are “a lot” of steps the state needs to take, one being a deep look into data of Vermont’s prison population and traffic stops and how racially biased they are.
She then said that, while there needs to be restrictions on the use of force, Vermont also needs to “reimagine our public safety system to one that is invested in proactive steps to make sure people have what they need, so that we rely less on reactive policing that is prone towards escalation.”
Vyhovsky added that the state should invest in affordable housing, mental health care, substance use care. “All of those things are preventive actions that will carry forward in a way that should result in less need for reactive policing,” she stated.
Vyhovsky finished by saying she believes all state and federal employees should have to undergo bias training and that part of the continuing education that social workers, educators, and law enforcement need to complete is “grounded in racial equity.”
Scientists largely agree action is needed to delay the worst impacts of climate change. Vermont is also starting to see the impacts of a changing climate firsthand, with shorter winters, harsher storms and so-called “climigration.” What actions, if any, do you feel the legislature should be taking to reduce Vermont’s share of carbon emissions and ready the state for the effects of a changing climate?
Vyhovsky said the state should be looking at where it is making investments related to climate change. She thinks the state should not be investing in further expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure but instead put that funding towards “green” infrastructure and job development related to it.
There is a need, she said, for Vermont to build its infrastructure in a way that gives access to a more sustainable and green economy to everyone, not just those who can easily afford it.
“I think a lot of the push-and-pull here [is because] a lot of solutions seem to be really on the backs of Vermonters who are already struggling,” said Vyhovsky. “And, understandably, they would be hesitant to take on more financial burden.”