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?
Langworthy thinks the pandemic has exposed that Vermonters who need resources the most have been neglected and the state wasn’t ready with its infrastructure to handle the crisis, calling it a “black eye” on Vermont.
A resource he mentioned was food, as he believes the state took too long to start helping those who were faced with food insecurities in the spring.
“I think the biggest thing is to start making sure we work on these programs so that they don't take two months before we start spinning up the National Guard to hand out food,” said Langworthy. “We at the restaurant were up-and-running, handing out food in three days, but it took the state almost two months before they started really upping that program for food insecurity and getting it out to people that needed it.”
Langworthy said the next two top priorities should be making sure people get back to work and helping businesses remain open.
“I don't think increasing taxes is going to fix anything, because it never seems to go to the right place anyway,” he said. “I think the biggest thing we can do is to help support businesses in the state to make sure they don't close, keep them going, and give them what they need. Because they're going to hire people, which means that’s going to put money in the economy, and the taxation on the business alone is going to help put money back in the economy.”
What should the state do to address the need for affordable, quality childcare?
“I think we need to work on a better standard and regulation for people that want to open in-home childcare facilities,” Langworthy stated. He suggested implementing tax breaks for people who can’t cover the full cost of childcare, and he believes the state needs to regulate pricing so that providers can make money but still have their services be affordable.
“Is that a tax credit, or is it a stipend given to them? I'm not quite sure,” said Langworthy. “I think it's something we have to look at, but I think that's probably one of the better ways.” He added that the other way is for the state to help people open more facilities with better guidance and oversight.
A substantial deficit is projected for the fiscal year 2022 budget. How should the legislature address anticipated shortfalls?
“No matter how we look at this, we're going to look at a deficit that's going to last more than a year or so,” said Langworthy. “The problem is, most of the time legislation tries to see how fast they can fix it, meaning they're going to go into next year with a heavy tax approach.”
Langworthy believes that the “best” approach is for the legislature to understand that Vermont will not be able to overcome the shortfalls in the next few years and that it’s going to be over the course of the next 4-5 years that the state will be able to bridge the gap.
Ideas Langworthy has to start bridging the gap are to divert funds from parts of the existing budget -- where the state can afford to do so -- seek federal recovery funds, and help keep businesses going because of the tax revenue they help bring in. He stated that he does not believe in increasing taxes on Vermonters.
What about the Education Fund, which is also expected to take a big hit from COVID-19?
Similar to his previous answer, Langworthy thinks the legislature should look at where in the state’s budget it can take money from to fill the shortfalls in the Education Fund.
“There have to be budgets out there that we never use all of every year,” he said, “that there's extra money lying around that we can take from.”
Langworthy also suggested that school districts look into negotiating the contracts they have in place, using food services as an example and saying it might be cheaper for districts to prepare their own meals instead of using an outside group.
Langworthy also touched upon higher education and alluded to that being a possible source of additional revenue for the state.
“We have to make ourselves welcoming to people that want to come here,” said Langworthy. “I'm not saying that the quality of education you get here isn't great; it is. But are we truly being competitive with other states to draw out-of-state college tuition here to help fulfill that aspect of it as well.”
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?
Langworthy believes that there are more areas of law enforcement to look at, saying he doesn’t think that the abuse of power and authority in Vermont is “overly rampid.” He said the state should be looking at not only educating police, but educating communities on policies that are already in place. He also thinks that there should be more, and better, community policing programs in Vermont.
On the issue of racial inequities, Langworthy thinks there should be a deep look into the analytics of whether people of color are being stopped and arrested more often, understand why that’s happening, and be transparent about it. He believes that the conversation shouldn’t be one-sided, pointing to the listening sessions on policing that Essex is facilitating with the public where law enforcement is not involved.
“I think it needs to be a true Q&A where they get to have those difficult, and sometimes awkward, conversations to figure out how we can fix it,” Langworthy said. “It's a difficult subject, but it needs hard conversations to get to the true answers.”
Langworthy added that law enforcement agencies should be conducting thorough reviews of body camera footage to see exactly what differences occur during motor vehicle stops and arrests. He also said those reviews could help identify whether it’s a widespread issue throughout a department or more localized to specific officers.
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?
Langworthy said the state should be using a “realistic approach” to addressing climate change and understand that, like with the budget, it cannot be fixed in a year or two. He said it’s more likely that it will take 2-3 years to draw up the proper legislation that will make the most impact and that the impact might not be truly noticeable for 10-20 years.
Langworthy believes the state should be working with scientists to see what the most feasible ways of making significant changes are, and that are also cost efficient to the consumer, and have those experts join legislators in drafting bills.