Voice of the Free Press: Socially progressive, fiscally prudish

From the Burlington Free Press
May 15, 2013 – Written by Aki Soga, Free Press Editorial Page Editor

Lawmakers can claim quite a list of accomplishments for the just-ended legislative session, including the passages of a few highly controversial measures.

The Legislature sent to the governor bills that would allow physician-assisted suicide, decriminalized marijuana, migrant farmworkers to obtain driving privileges even if they couldn’t prove they were in the country legally, and that would expand the free school lunch program to all children from low-income families.

The governor also signed into law changes to the equal pay act that protects workers who seek a flexible working schedule or ask co-workers about their pay. In fact, the list of headline bills passed by lawmakers gives the session a decidedly progressive cast — if you overlook the budget and tax measures.

The latest legislative session again follows the pattern of what has become a Vermont political hallmark — socially progressive, fiscally prudish. Republican lawmakers worried about a state of “one-party rule” created by the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature working with a Democratic governor, yet the governor’s budget victories garnered GOP praise.

Shumlin drew the line against any increase in “broad-based taxes” at the start of the session. The governor prevailed on the big money issues, beating back last-minute changes to the income tax that would have favored less-wealthy residents.

One notable exception to the no-new-taxes rule was the change to the gasoline tax, with both legislators and the governor backing the higher tax to pay for road upkeep and repairs.

Lawmakers did hand the governor one of his few MAJOR defeats by blocking a move to divert money slated for the Earned Income Tax Credit to pay for an increase in child care subsidies — a situation that set the interests of one group of have-nots against another.

As the Free Press noted in this week’s vt.Buzz column, there’s much in the ways of Democratic Gov. Shumlin to recall his Republican predecessor, Gov. Jim Douglas.

Douglas dug in his heels on spending, but was less adamant in his opposition to social initiatives with which he disagreed.

This is becoming the Vermont way — willing to lead the nation on social issues, but keeping a tight hold on our wallets.