Building an Opportunity Agenda
As Vermont’s next Lieutenant Governor, I will be your connector-in-chief, bringing together Vermonters from all corners of the state to solve our greatest challenges. We need a focused opportunity agenda that supports investment and innovation to help Vermont’s next generation thrive. Please learn more and join me in this vital work. -- Kesha
Early Learning Investments
Early learning is one of the best investments we can make in our children and our future. Research shows that, for every dollar we spend on early learning initiatives, we receive roughly $8.60 in societal benefits such as increased educational attainment, better health, and less involvement with the criminal justice system. And yet, many Vermont families are stuck in the impossible situation of taking a job to support their families and losing their child care subsidy. This may make them worse off than when they started and impedes our economic growth.
We must increase access to quality, affordable early learning opportunities from birth to kindergarten. Many communities across our state are recognizing this, and best practices are beginning to emerge. These include public-private partnerships that expand early childhood education, from scholarships for our neediest families to continued home visits that connect new parents with helpful resources. We should be exploring tools like social impact bonds to capture the returns and reinvest in the next generation of early learners. Giving our kids a head start is the right thing to do for our economy and our future.
Affordable Higher Education
The lack of investment in higher education continues to be one of our greatest stumbling blocks as a state and a nation. Vermont is nearly last in the country in the amount we spend on our colleges and universities, forcing many young Vermonters to face crushing student loan debt that limits their career potential and economic contributions. Our Reach Up program includes the option of going to college and earning a degree instead of getting stuck in a low-wage job, but it is currently underfunded. Early college is helping Vermont’s high school and non-traditional students get job training and free college courses, but it is currently capped and not available to many families.
Kesha has been advocating for these investments for her entire legislative career, and is making free college for every young Vermonter a centerpiece of her bid for Lieutenant Governor. Higher education is the number one reason people decide to move to Vermont – even ahead of tourism – importing about 5,000 talented young people and professionals each year. Many want to make their home here and give back to our communities. Let’s treat higher education like the economic development tool that it is, and let’s make college affordable for all Vermonters.
Access to Homeownership
Homeownership is a basic economic building block that helps to anchor our communities. However, many Vermonters still struggle to pay their rent every month and their dream of having more space for their family or buying a home remains out of reach. While the average wage for a renter is just above $11, the hourly wage needed to truly afford a two-bedroom apartment is over $19. Wages are declining while rent prices are going up, and the steadily rising median home price of over $200,000 is simply unaffordable for most Vermont families.
We need pathways to affordable homeownership. This will boost our economy by getting Vermonters out of a cycle of low wages and high rent, and will also grow our economy. Kesha has worked hard in the legislature to expand tax incentives for homeownership and invest in shared equity programs that make starter homes affordable. She will continue to advance homeownership initiatives as Lieutenant Governor. When Vermonters can afford their own homes, our communities grow and our neighborhoods thrive.
There are still many homes and communities in our state without affordable, quality broadband internet access. This amounts to a digital divide in our state. Connectivity is equally important to supporting our entrepreneurs, start-ups, and telecommuters as it is to providing children with equitable learning opportunities and seniors with the ability to conveniently refill prescription drugs. Many in our rural communities are having to make difficult choices between expensive, low-speed internet options and other basic necessities.
Some of our state’s leaders are ready to claim victory on broadband access, but Kesha says: mission not accomplished. We need to set a goal to ensure high-speed internet access to all of our schools, downtowns, and village centers as a starting point. As Lieutenant Governor, Kesha will fight for Vermonters’ right to be connected and work tirelessly to finish the job on providing quality, affordable internet access to Vermonters.
Keeping Promises to Seniors
While about 4,000 Vermonters turn 65 each year, our annual population growth is only about 200 new Vermonters. If we cannot attract and retain Vermont’s next generation to build their lives and grow their families here, we cannot keep our promises to our seniors. As they rely more heavily on a fixed income and the amenities that help them thrive in their communities, we need to grow the tax base and grand list while encouraging savings and investment.
There are creative ways we can keep our communities vibrant and intergenerational. This can include supporting grandparents to raise their grandchildren in senior housing, inviting seniors to free breakfast and lunch offerings at our schools, and ensuring strong protections against elder abuse and exploitation. We can also build partnerships to help promote retirement savings as a supplement to Social Security. As we help seniors age with dignity and quality of life, we create savings that can be reinvested into support for senior facilities and programming. Healthy seniors means healthy families and communities.
Curbing Climate Change
Renewable energy is Vermont’s success story. We have over 16,000 jobs supported by renewable energy and Rutland City has been named the Solar Capital of New England. We have charted a course to 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 and we need to stay that course. This includes the energy we use to drive our cars and heat our homes, where we will seek to help Vermonters move away from volatile, costly fuel sources over time and toward energy independence.
The first bill Kesha ever introduced as a young legislator was a green jobs amendment, knowing that would be the future for the next generation. The future is here and the time to act on climate change is now. 2014 was the warmest year ever recorded, marking a continued rise in unpredictable and extreme weather events. As we saw with Irene, these disasters cost us precious lives and significant resources. We need leadership that will take responsibility for our continued prosperity, not mortgage our future by failing to take bold action.
Kesha supports common sense gun laws that will keep our communities safe while respecting the rights of law-abiding Vermonters. She supports common sense policies that prohibit bringing guns into schools, bars, and courthouses. She agrees with the majority of gun owners that we need laws to require background checks before guns are sold at gun shows or over the internet, so we can keep guns from violent felons, the mentally ill, and domestic abusers.
Opiate Addiction Crisis
Kesha believes that Vermont and our entire area is facing an historic opioid addiction crisis, and combating it is her top priority. As Lieutenant Governor, Kesha supports an all-of-the-above approach, including fostering better communication between counties and with neighboring states, investing in real treatment programs and rehabilitation services for those struggling with addiction, and reforming our healthcare delivery system so that patients are not over-prescribed pain-killers that can lead to addiction.
Freedom & Unity
Our communities are only as strong as they are equitable. Kesha has been a tireless champion for civil rights and equal access to opportunity, including marriage equality, Abenaki tribal recognition, and equal pay for equal work. She has helped voice the needs and concerns of migrant workers as they sought access to freedom of movement through driver’s licenses and bias free policing. With an Indian immigrant father and a Jewish American mother, Kesha knows the value and potential for New Vermonters to help make our communities vibrant and diverse. Having a state leader who understands this on a personal level will help us as Vermonters advance our most basic values of freedom and unity.