Editorial: A wish list for 2018
When our misguided president announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate accords, Vermont announced with other states that it would continue to pursue the agreement's goals of reducing carbon emissions and fighting climate change.
When the president and his attorney general sought to crack down on immigration by executive order, the state legislature quickly and overwhelmingly passed a law preventing its law enforcement officers from being pressed into service as federal immigration agents.
But here comes 2018, with its own set of challenges and opportunities. With that in mind, and with our fondest wishes to all of our readers for a healthy, happy and safe 2018, here's what we'd like to see happen in Vermont in the coming year:
The opiate epidemic is still very much with us in southern Vermont. Too many lives have been lost or damaged and too many families have been devastated by heroin, fentanyl and opiate painkillers. Fighting this epidemic must remain a high priority in Montpelier and in our individual communities.
Advances have been made, as law enforcement does its part in stamping out the supply of these poisons, and parents and educators continue to work with our children to warn them away from these horrors. But the fight is far from over. The epidemic is too serious and far reaching, and the ground gained in the past few years purchased at far too steep a cost to accept or settle for setbacks.
Vermonters facing addiction need quicker and wider access to treatment. And perhaps the most important thing Vermont can do is continue to fight the stigma that comes with addiction and drive it from out of the shadows. Shame and secrecy only make the problem worse.
We've seen in the past few weeks that even with bare-bones school budgets, the statewide property tax that funds our schools is expected to increase by as much as 10 cents per $100 in appraised value. Meanwhile, Gov. Phil Scott is pledging that the state will address its $80 million education fund shortfall — but has yet to be forthcoming on specifics, other than to say the state still has too high a staff-to-student ratio and too many buildings and employees for not enough children.
It sounds to us like he's talking about job cuts.
No one likes layoffs. They are sometimes necessary, but always regrettable, and frankly, it's difficult to follow the logic in bemoaning how the state keeps losing able-bodied, tax-paying workers, then turn around and force able-bodied, tax-paying workers to leave the state by laying them off.
There is, however, an alternative that Montpelier should consider: As State Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington) has suggested, the legislature should move the Income Sensitivity Adjustment and the Current Use tax support program out of the Education Fund, where they really do not belong, and back into the general fund. Education taxes should reflect the cost of education and not other budgetary needs.
Gov. Scott has wisely stuck to his guns and not caved in to the climate change deniers who populate the national Republican "leadership." It's important that Vermont maintain its leadership role in this fight.
We remain wary of carbon taxes to the extent that they tend to be regressive — hurting those who can least afford to pay. It is true that the higher cost of fossil fuels would diminish demand, and on paper that's appealing.
But those taxes should not be so steep that they hurt the rural working poor in our state who must rely upon cars to get to work, and upon oil and gas for home heating. If such a proposal passes that test, and can be used to help fund advances in renewable energy rather than simply move money from one set of pockets to another, then that makes the most sense.
What the state should certainly do is invest in incentives and grants to those developing and perfecting the renewable energy technologies that will make the goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 possible.
A state badly in need of revenue could make quite a bit of money by legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use and taxing the heck out of it.
But there are lessons to be learned and real concerns to consider with regard to increasing youth access to marijuana by making it legal.
Any law allowing the sale of marijuana needs to come with a set of sharp teeth — significant penalties for possession by minors, and for retailers who repeatedly and knowingly sell to minors. And the penalties for driving while impaired by THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, need to be stiff enough to serve as a deterrent. No one wants to come across a stoned driver on a two-lane Vermont highway.
While we're talking about smoking, it's time to end an indefensible double standard and raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes to 21.
If we decide marijuana is unsuitable for those under the age of 21 when we're not certain of its long-term health effects, then there's no logical excuse for selling a substance that we know causes harm when inhaled to 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.