As our new legislation session gets under way the GOP minority has highlighted where they agree with the Democrats as to which issues to focus on and were they disagree. This disagreement was presented in a recent Vermont Digger article:
On the opening day of the 2013 legislative session, House Speaker Shap Smith urged the assembled representatives to be “brave enough to chart new courses” in education, health care, and climate change. House Republicans are “excited” about addressing the first two, House Minority Leader Don Turner said, but cool to the latter.
Education will be a major focus for Republicans, Turner said, but they plan to take a different tack than in years past. The Milton representative solicited, and secured, a spot on the House Education Committee to make sure his party has opportunity for input in the early stages of drafting legislation.
As for the “different tack”:
“For years we’ve talked about the funding mechanism … but that doesn’t seem to resonate and people really don’t seem to care about that,” he said. Republicans are still concerned about the rising cost of education in Vermont, Turner said, but this session they will turn their attention from saving dollars to “getting bigger bang for our buck.”
Dual enrollment programs in which high school students take and earn credit for college courses, expanded pre-K, a statewide teacher contract, and lowering the threshold for income adjustment to the education property tax are key to bringing that “bigger bang” to fruition, Turner said.
The GOP wants to nix the education property tax for senior citizens and make up for the lost revenue by lowering the income level — currently $97,000 — at which people qualify for an adjustment to their property tax. “I’ve had people come to me and say, ‘I make a lot of money, I’m fine with paying my property taxes. Why do I keep getting this deduction from the state?’” Turner said.
Republicans will also push for a statewide teacher contract. “School districts are leveraging against each other. … It just keeps ratcheting up the cost of education,” Turner said.
Turner said House Republicans will propose to phase in new state-determined contracts as current contracts expire, over the course of about five years.
While getting a bigger bang for a our buck sounds good, I am less encouraged by support for an expanded role for government in Pre-K education. This is an area where Freedom Works Vermont spent a great deal of time addressing when Pre-K was introduced here, so I will not take the time now to go into all the reasons why it is a bad idea. The other area of agreement was the need to keep the health care financing issues in front of the public:
Republicans will also be paying close attention to two key dates for the state’s new health care system: Jan. 24, when the Shumlin administration plans to unveil the financing plan, and March 15, when the pricing for specific health care plans will be revealed. Turner said he has concerns about the affordability of the plans but he was heartened that Smith addressed the issue in his speech. “I’m excited that we are going to keep it in the public.”
Again, the area of disagreement is over climate change:
At one point in his speech, Smith appeared to poke a bit of fun at climate change skeptics, telling lawmakers, “I know that some of us will say, ‘It was kind of cold last night … it was cold last week.’”
But Turner contended that Republicans have serious reservations about making climate change a focus of the 2013 session. “Vermont is already very efficient. We already have very low carbon outputs. I don’t see how we can continue to spend lots of money changing Vermont when the problem is really outside Vermont’s borders. … That’s one area that I think we would strongly differ on, or oppose spending lots of resources trying to enhance that.”
Turner also noted Republicans will prioritize one subject that Smith didn’t mention in his speech — the state’s $50 million to $70 million budget gap.