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?
Nelson said he has seen an impact made on all Vermonters and businesses in the state but that “obviously, the lowest-income earners are going to be hit extra hard.”
He thinks the state should continue to use federal funding to assist low-income residents and “make sure that they are spread out so that they reach people that need them the most.”
What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?
Nelson stated that he would have to fully understand what the state is doing now and that he’s “not totally up to speed” since his two children are adults, but he went on to say he realizes how necessary childcare is for working families.
“There definitely can be changes made,” said Nelson. “I know it is a very important resource for young families when they're attempting to make a living in Vermont, and obviously that affects us economically if they can't have those resources they need to keep their jobs.”
A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?
This question, Nelson said, is one of the main reasons why he’s running for the House of Representatives.
“We're facing some very serious financial questions here, very serious financial problems, and when the legislature convenes in January, we can't continue with business as usual,” said Nelson.
He believes the problem started before the pandemic because of the old population Vermont has, because semi- or fully-retired residents don't pay as much income tax as younger people who are in the peak of their careers. Nelson added that Vermont is also worse off because of the “terrible situation” with the unfunded liabilities in the state’s retirement system.
To counter these issues, Nelson said Vermont is going to have to make “tough decisions” and find areas in the government’s budget that need to be eliminated to save money. He also doesn’t believe the state can raise taxes any more and that previous tax increases have hurt the economy.
What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?
Nelson said that Vermont has had a high per-pupil spending in the past, but that’s a good thing since it’s necessary invest in the education of the state’s youth. He thinks that there could be some reevaluation of the Education Fund’s overall spending to see if there are ways to be more efficient and save money.
Nelson went on to say that he believes the current educational climate, with the different styles of instruction being utilized, has provided too many unknowns to firmly know what areas could be more efficient. But he thinks that there will be fewer unknowns in January and the legislature will then be able to have a better understanding of the financial situation schools and districts are facing.
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 that’s a complicated subject,” said Nelson. “I think some of that was rushed at the end of the session.”
Nelson explained that he believes the issue was not looked into deeply enough before the legislature took its steps and that it’s going to take more time to address the topic.
“There's a lot more work, I think, to do there,” he said.
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?
“Climate is definitely changing,” said Nelson. “What we can do effectively in the State of Vermont is a very big question.”
He agrees with Governor Phil Scott vetoing the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) because Nelson thinks it, too, was rushed and wouldn’t result in “any positive changes.” He believes the GWSA would have been costly in the onset and left the state open to litigation against itself.
“There really have to be steps taken that are going to make a positive impact if you're talking about that area of emissions,” said Nelson. “There really has to be a solid step, a focused step, on something like that if you're going to make legislation on it.”