Vermont families will face some wrenching challenges in the immediate future as they grapple with a nose-diving economy, rising unemployment and a high cost of living.
State government faces those same challenges. The latest forecast indicates that the state's General Fund faces a $60 million shortfall in the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2009. And there is a good chance that forecast will be adjusted even further downward in January. The state's finances are so dire that Senator Peter Shumlin recently suggested that we shut down Catamount Healthcare.
But I also see this crisis as an opportunity to make some long overdue changes in the way we do business in Montpelier. Before we make wholesale cuts to programs and go back on the commitments we've made to Vermonters, we need to make sure that we've done our level best to streamline and economize the delivery of government services.
In very general terms, here is my list of the principles that will guide me when the new legislative session convenes in January:
•First and foremost, we must be ever conscious of our responsibility to live within our means and set spending priorities, just as every Vermont family must do on a daily basis.
•Resist the temptation to take the easy way out by borrowing or increasing taxes. Working Vermonters cannot simply go to their employers and request bigger paychecks during hard times. Nor should government look to its employers - the taxpayers - for a raise. Increasing taxes impacts everyone and actually puts future state revenue resources at risk.
•Seek out innovative, Vermont-style ways to protect the industry and the jobs we already have, and build our future economy so Vermonters can work, live and raise their families here. With good, high-paying jobs, individuals are successful, businesses are successful and the state will realize the revenues it needs to fund the programs that are vital to our friends and neighbors.
•Let's turn the current challenge into an opportunity to make state government more efficient. What services should we provide and what services we can actually afford? We have roughly 8,000 state employees. Reducing the size of government by 100 positions would save the taxpayers $6.5 million.
I am not advocating a wholesale round of layoffs, but it seems as though every sector of our economy is adjusting, realigning and retooling, with the exception of government. Just like the private sector, state government needs to do more with less.
•Be wary of looking toward Washington to bail us out. Again, this is quick fix buck passing. We must remember that there is no state money. There is no federal money. It is all taxpayers' money. And unlike Vermont - where we maintain a balanced budget - the federal government is living on credit, and our kids will have to pick up that tab.
In closing, I think Gov. Jim Douglas' Economic Growth Plan contains a number of innovative common-sense proposals that can prove realistic, attainable and effective. I sincerely hope that members of the new Legislature will be able to put aside partisan and personal concerns and give his plan the serious consideration it deserves.
To contact Vermont Rep. Rick Hube email: firstname.lastname@example.org; telephone: 802-824-5052; U.S. Mail: P.O. Box 93, South Londonderry, Vt. 05155.