by Representative Heidi E Scheuermann (R-Stowe) The 2017-2018 Legislative Biennium began last week with great anticipation as our new Governor, Phil Scott, was sworn in. In his first Inaugural Address, Governor Scott was sincere in his conviction and humbled by the task before him. He reflected on his youth in Barre, and the strength, kindness, and compassion of Vermonters he has experienced first-hand throughout his life, as the American flag that draped his father's casket, after the double-amputee died of injuries sustained in the D-Day invasion, flew in front of the State House.
Governor Scott then continued with honesty about the challenges we face, and he made clear again that his priorities would be exactly what they had been on the campaign trail: a renewed focus on economic growth, a promise to end unsustainable increases in state spending, a vow to protect our most vulnerable, and a commitment to make Vermont affordable again.
As we face yet another $70 million budget deficit - something that has become "normal" in Montpelier over the last number of years - the goals he outlined will take a great deal of work. More importantly, it will take legislators from across the political spectrum to understand the challenges and to come together to address them.
One of the primary keys to addressing these challenges, is by acknowledging our demographic and workforce issues.
It is simple, our population is declining.
In July 2016, Vermont had 1,500 fewer residents than just one year prior, and that number was below what it was in 2010. There are only three other states that have population counts below where they were in 2010. This is not a list on which we want to be.
The numbers around the working age population draw an even starker picture. From 2000 - 2010, there was a decrease of 30,000 in the number of 25-44 year olds. And, with our workforce itself, since 2010 we have lost 16,000 total workers. That means we are currently losing 2,300 workers annually.
We cannot afford to ignore this issue anymore, as the impact on our tax base and our economy is drastic.
As always, my priorities for this session will mirror those of the community of Stowe and Lamoille County.
First and foremost, I will do all I can to help strengthen our state's economy. We must put into place policies that will encourage private sector investment and job creation. We need to make the policies of the past - higher taxes and fees, more mandates, more unpredictability - a thing of the past.
Second, changes in Act 46 must be made.
First off, I have joined lead sponsor, Rep, Janet Ancel (D-Calais) and many others, in introducing a bill that will extend by one year the deadlines of Act 46 across the board. This will allow for communities such as Stowe to do their due diligence in making decisions about how they move forward.
I have also joined Rep. Ancel on a bill that will make it clear that Alternative Structures under Act 46 are not only allowed, but are a legitimate course of action under Act 46. It has become clear of late that the State Board of Education has misinterpreted the legislative intent of Alternative Structures, and are attempting to make it extremely difficult to become one. In addition to other items, this bill will eliminate the requirement that the proposed Alternative Structures be deemed to be the "best means" of meeting the goals established in Act 46.
Third, as we move forward on Act 46 changes, I will continue my efforts of the last decade to institute real education funding reform and property tax relief. While a resolution to this issue is as elusive as the funding system is complicated, it is absolutely critical, as the families and businesses of Stowe and Lamoille County are well aware.
Finally, given how close we came last year to real, meaningful reform to our labor laws to ensure independent workers had the ability to work, and hiring entities had the ability and confidence to hire them, I am going to continue that effort in earnest as well.
As we face the changing demographics and the new, independent workforce of the 21st century, we must ensure that Vermont is a place where that freelance, independent, and collaborative workforce will be encouraged to grow and prosper. In order to do so, however, we must change the definition of an employee to make it clear that independent workers are just that: independent.