Report from Montpelier: A new tone in the Statehouse?

Kate Webb
Kate Webb

By Rep. Kate Webb

There is a different tone in the Statehouse this year. I hear a coming-together, a merging of positions, even if at times it might sound a bit back-handed. In response to the Governor’s budget address, the House Majority Leader stated, “He spoke a good game. It sounded a lot like our playbook.” And then there is the representative from Franklin County who is now out front to address pollution problems in Lake Champlain. This is the same representative who voted against the 2012 foundational law that helped set the course for the new clean up plan.

On the water quality front, farmers are stepping forward to make suggestions for ways to hold farmers accountable for agricultural pollution. Municipalities, businesses and homeowners are recognizing that with all the impervious surfaces built or approved over the years, they too must be held accountable for their part of stormwater pollution. The finger pointing is still present, but less so. “When you point your finger at someone,” a minister once said to me, “remember that four fingers are still pointing to yourself.”

Business leaders are offering support and suggestions to the governor’s 0.7 percent payroll tax, designed to address the underfunding of Medicaid. They too recognize that the cost shift to insurance premiums hurts businesses providing insurance, underpays healthcare professionals, and reduces the ability of those less fortunate to seek adequate health care in a timely manner.

And finally, members of the General Assembly representing small towns and large towns are recognizing that if we each stand and cling tenaciously to the current structure and funding of our individual schools, we will not be able to solve our education challenges. To move forward, we must address rising costs in the face of declining enrollment while equipping our schools to meet the changing educational needs of the 21st century. And finally, to take the next steps to implement Brigham, we must see “our students” as extending beyond our town lines and equal access means more than dollars spent.

To solve the tough problems we face this year, we will need to be a working team, and we have one year to do this before electoral posturing makes this more difficult. To that end, caucus leaders have started a “Caucus of the Whole” presentation series on Friday afternoons. Members will have a chance to hear directly from and question experts who can best speak to specific challenges before us. On Jan. 28, members will also have an opportunity to participate in a workshop on civil discourse presented by the National Institute for Civil Discourse.

Please join Joan Lenes and me for “coffee and conversation” most Tuesday mornings at 7:30. I am also available by appointment on Mondays and some weekends. (802) 233-7798 or katewebbvt@gmail.com.

And finally, the 1997 response to Brigham by defining equal access as dollars spent is an inadequate measure.