Burlington Free Press: "No crisis, but plenty of financial worries as Vermont Legislature prepares to meet"

No crisis, but plenty of financial worries as Vermont Legislature prepares to meet

By Nancy Remsen
See full article: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120101/NEWS03/111231018/No-...

"Two hours after the House and Senate reconvene Tuesday, volunteers organized by the Vermont Workers Center will deliver the first salvo in a campaign to “put people first” in the budget-writing process.

People aren’t the priority now, the center’s report on the state’s economic crisis states.

“Vermonters are struggling to meet their needs and cuts to public services have made the situation worse,” the report states.

“Vermonters are no longer fooled by the myth that there is not enough money available to fully fund necessary public services. ... Public policy has for three decades served private interests and corporate goals and the result is government that has turned its back on its fundamental obligation to its people.”

Campaign volunteers will drop off petitions Tuesday that call for spending and revenue policies that meet every Vermonter’s fundamental needs, budgeting that makes providing services to the needy the highest priority, tax policies that raise money from those who can afford it, and a participatory process that ensures the public’s voice is heard on budget matters.

Vermont’s “Put People First” campaign was born before anyone occupied Wall Street, but James Haslam, executive director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, acknowledged the common theme — government’s priorities should be set by the people rather than corporations.

Tropical Storm Irene also crystallized the spirit of community that should gird what government does, Haslam said.

“We saw what the real values of our communities are,” Haslam said as neighbors rallied to help neighbors after the flooding. “We think those are the values that should drive public policy — that people should take care of one another. If we do that, we will all be better off.”

The campaign won’t make one appearance and disappear, Haslam promised. “Peoples teams” will monitor committees, take notes and report to a network the Vermont Workers’ Center has built over the summer and fall.

“We have learned the importance of bringing regular Vermonters into the Statehouse as much as possible,” Haslam said. “We think if thousands of Vermonters make their voices heard,” he said, “what is possible and what isn’t possible will change.”