Living wage legislation doesn’t address the real problem in our district

Last year, at the invitation of the Speaker of the House and the Governor, I attended a pair of hopeful all-day sessions in Burlington on the future of education and education financing in Vermont. The first session featured education innovator and author Tony Wagner and Vermont’s first ever Secretary of Education Rebecca Holcombe.

Over the course of the day, both Wagner and Holcombe stressed that the most important step to take in solving a problem is to first agree on what the problem actually is.

Last week, in a letter to the editor Representative John Moran told us the problem he has been working to provide legislative solutions for is low-paying jobs: “With the continuation of low-paying jobs, we are experiencing decreases in tax revenues and increases in financial assistance needs, and thus, are facing another budget gap for 2015.”

This is consistent with the legislation John was a primary sponsor of and spent a lot of time on: H.0433, the Living Wage Bill.

In our district’s small towns we have had some real problems threaten our long term economic vitality which in turn threatens our quality of life. We’ve seen growing poverty, lost population, and depressed property values. At the start of last year’s legislative session, prior to the passage of the living wage legislation, Vermont also proudly had one of the highest minimum wages in the country as well as legislation we enacted seven years ago that increases the minimum wage every year.

While I support national efforts to raise the national minimum wage, Representative Moran’s full time efforts in this regard do not actually address the problems here in our district, namely less and less places for workers to work. What we really need is dedicated focus on the loss of jobs: over 300 (!) in the Readsboro area alone in the last 25 years, close to 2,000 in southeastern Vermont in the last decade alone, and this year continuing job losses at North Adams Hospital and Vermont Yankee.

The first step to finding a solution is agreeing on the problem. If the solution John is trying to bring to bear is to increase tax revenues and decrease financial assistance needs, I’d suggest we need to start by agreeing that the lack of long term strategic support for business and job growth has been the problem. There are actually many things we can do, given our size and resources, if we can agree on the problem we need to address. My personal and professional efforts have been focused on the solvable property tax problem, ensuring our wave speed fiber network and technology infrastructure is promoted and assessable to the last mile, and leveraging our quality of life and the excess capacity in our small schools to recruit entrepreneurs and telecommuters. I know many of you are also working hard to grow jobs and the economic health of our district. I’d love to hear from you!

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