By Rep. Jessica Comai Brumsted
As I reflect over this past week both in my personal life, in my community, in my state, and in my country, I am struck by the strong emotion and caring throughout; I feel so proud and lucky to live here in Vermont.
I spent a couple of days watching over a family member being treated in our medical center and was moved by the care received, from expert physicians to the incredibly talented nurses and kind and friendly environmental service workers. Some of these hardworking men and women are refugees who come to us from all over the world to live and work in our communities.
Together with so many, they provide outstanding care and enrich our communities through their presence. They bring a diversity of culture and experience that we would not find without the constant evolution of new people in our workplaces, in our schools, in our churches, in our midst. Often when we are at our most vulnerable we see things so clearly; it is hard to imagine our communities without this extraordinary diversity. It is so important that we protect against anyone or anything that tries to take that right away. Everyone deserves the opportunity to find security for their families and the opportunity for a good life.
The Vermont Legislature was very busy this week. Legislators, especially those in the education committees, took on the hard work of looking at the education proposals in the Governor’s budget. Many are troubled by the possible implications. As a state, we absolutely should be thinking about how to provide equal opportunity in education for every child. We need to think about how to provide the best education in a more holistic way; however, the Governor’s proposal has serious budget implications and liabilities for Vermont property taxpayers. Our state is currently struggling to manage the costs of our preK-12 programs and the strain the funding systems put on local taxpayers.
During the campaign this fall, I went door-to-door and heard from many residents throughout Shelburne and St. George that the cost of living in Vermont is too high, and more specifically that the cost of their property taxes may make it prohibitive for them to remain in their homes.
I believe that Governor Scott heard similar concerns throughout Vermont as he campaigned; hence his budget outlines a plan to level fund our school budgets and with those savings fund affordable housing, early education, and quality child care. I don’t believe that all of these important programs can be funded through the property tax, but I am committed to working together with the administration to find a way.
To this end, I am pleased that Speaker Johnson has asked me to be a member of an ad hoc committee made up of members from all three parties charged to look at new and alternative ways to fund our education system. This work will not be easy or quick, but it is critically important, and I am honored to have the chance to be a part of these discussions.
As a town, we should also be very proud of four of our younger members from Champlain Valley Union High School: Peter Trombley, a junior; Peter Antinozzi, a sophomore; Thomas Daley, a junior; and Elora Buscher from Hinesburg traveled to Montpelier with their principal, Adam Bunting, to testify before the House Education Committee. The group expressed their opposition to the Governor’s proposal to freeze school spending immediately. They did much research to show how property taxes (as they pertain to education expenses) will actually go down in 2018 in many of the Chittenden County South Supervisory Union towns due to Act 46 changes. The committee was very interested in their research and will consider their suggestions as they continue to hear testimony on the Governor’s proposal. Big kudos to all four of these fine young students.
Other news in Montpelier was the controversial decision to conduct a recount of the House Orange 1 election. There have been a number of times in Vermont history where the House of Representatives has been asked to address a contested election, some of which ended in a recount and some of which did not. The Government Operations Committee, of which I am a member, voted to recommend a recount because we believe that election integrity is founded on the knowledge that voters can be assured that their votes will be counted.
As a new member to the legislature, I never believed that this would become a partisan issue. The results of many elections this year were close and quite a few recounts had taken place. I heard from members of all three parties that they hoped our committee would work to clean up the election law this year. In the end, the House agreed that a recount was necessary. Going forward, the House Government Operations Committee will address how future recounts are to be conducted.
As many of you know, Representative Kate Webb and I have not continued the regular breakfast meetings at Bruegger’s Bagel Bakery because both of our committees start too early in the morning to be able to spend time on Tuesday mornings here in Shelburne. Instead, we will try an evening meeting, the first one on Feb. 14 at the Shelburne Library from 6 to 7pm. We are planning to be there on the second and fourth Tuesday evenings of each month during the legislative session. We encourage you to join us with your questions or issues and to learn more about what goes on in Montpelier. Representative Webb and I are also planning to provide a legislative update to the Shelburne Selectboard at the Feb. 14 meeting.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-985-9588. I am always happy to meet with you either in Montpelier, Tuesday through Friday or in Shelburne by appointment, Saturday or Monday.
As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve.