Building an Opportunity Agenda
Immediate Economic Stimulus to Promote COVID-19 Recovery
Our economy and public health system is still suffering from the lingering effects of the Great Recession as we look at another economic downturn precipitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 1 in 5 American households is already experiencing a layoff or significant reduction in work hours due to the crisis. This is a particularly hard blow for our vital Main Street workers and businesses, who have an average of 27 days of cash flow in the midst of a health epidemic expected to last several months.
Vermont’s working families and small businesses were already facing a lack of access to capital, and now they need resources fast to stay afloat and find stability. While there are some promising proposals at the federal level to help struggling businesses and households, including renters, state and local governments must also do their part. We need regional economic recovery teams that can help bring together lenders, merchants, landlords, philanthropic organizations, non-profits, and community leaders to stabilize our Main Streets and neighborhoods.
As written in The New Localism: “These firms are not just the engines of our economy but the heart and soul of our communities. By using the wrong tools or not acting fast enough, we run the risk of building an economy that preserves larger companies that can stay afloat or have large logistics arms — the Amazons and Targets of the world — at the cost of smaller businesses that power much of the country. There is a risk, in other words, that without adequate support, the coronavirus crisis fuels another: the further hollowing out of the country.” We cannot let that happen here in Vermont, and it will take clear coordination, deep listening, and swift action to ensure our recovery.
Racial and Social Justice
People of color have always been part of the fabric of our state, from the stewardship of this land by the Abenaki people to the free and enslaved Black Americans who shaped our history to the migrant farmworkers who continue to keep our dairy industry alive. To allow all Vermonters to reach their full potential, our state must achieve racial and social justice. Kesha has put forward a five-part racial justice plan to promote racial justice in Vermont. Her proposal addresses health and economic equality in response to COVID-19, environmental and climate justice, criminal justice reform and reparations, and affirmative support of Black Vermonters.
All Vermonters, particularly Vermonters of color, deserve to know how candidates will advance an anti-racist platform in the legislature. As your State Senator, Kesha will fight to achieve equal employment, shared prosperity, and safe communities for all Vermonters.
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.
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 buying a home for their family remains out of reach. While the average wage for a renter is just above $13, the hourly wage needed to truly afford a two-bedroom apartment is nearly $23. Wages are declining while rent prices are going up, and the steadily rising median home price of $260,000 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. We need to continue to expand tax incentives for homeownership and invest in shared equity programs that make starter homes affordable. When Vermonters can afford their own homes, our communities grow and our neighborhoods thrive.
Keeping Our Promise 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 promise 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.
Clean Water & A Healthy Lake Champlain
The health of Lake Champlain and our waterways represent a vital resource to our communities, economy, and ecosystems in Vermont. Approximately 200,000 Vermonters rely on Lake Champlain as their source of drinking water. However, outdated stormwater infrastructure and agricultural runoff pose an ongoing threat to our shared resource of clean water. As variability and intensity of rainfall increases with climatic changes, it is vital to invest in stormwater and agricultural infrastructure and supports that will ensure clean water for Vermonters for generations to come.
As your State Senator, I will work to fully advance Act 64, a promise to Vermonters that we will bridge the $1.24 billion investment gap over the next 20 years in order to maintain Vermonters’ access to safe, reliable drinking water. We take pride in being a rural state with thriving farms and working lands, and we can continue to enhance our rural character by supporting infrastructure changes to keep our lake and waterways healthy.
Environmental Justice & Climate Change
Vermont can lead the country in addressing climate change as our nation’s experiment station for policies and initiatives that have the potential to be scaled up and out. Furthermore, 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 I introduced as a young legislator was a Green Jobs Collaborative, knowing that would be the future for the next generation. That work has continued to today, as I lead a collective of stakeholders across the state to develop the state’s first environmental justice policy to create equity in our environmental planning and responses. The future is here and the time to act on climate change is now. 2019 was the warmest year ever recorded, marking a continued rise in unpredictable and extreme weather events. As experienced during 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.
Paid Family Leave & Raising the Minimum Wage
We have seen with the coronavirus pandemic the importance of frontline workers packing our groceries, cleaning our hospitals, and taking care of the sick and elderly. Let’s give them the dignity of a living wage and time to take care of their own families. Having personally experienced the burden that economic instability places on daily life, I will work hard as your State Senator to raise the minimum wage and ensure paid family leave for working class Vermonters.
Nationally, the conversation around what constitutes a true justice system is shifting. In Vermont, we have a clear opportunity to become leaders in this important conversation. One component of this change that I believe in and will work toward as your State Senator is eliminating a life sentence without the possibility of parole in our criminal sentencing guidelines. In addition, I am in favor of making more criminal charges eligible for expungements and moving towards an automatic expungement system that would remove barriers of a criminal record for the most vulnerable Vermonters. This will open previously unattainable economic and education opportunities that will help formerly incarcerated individuals re-enter society in a meaningful and positive way.
Having introduced legislation to reduce the use of suspension and expulsion as a behavioral tool in our schools, I believe in the restorative justice model from our schools to our communities to our prisons. We must disrupt the school-to-prison pipeline. This will include investing in restorative justice programs to make them available in more school districts, for a wider variety of criminal charges, as well as for the enhancement of court diversion programs.
Finally, a State Senator is in an optimal position to work more closely with the Governor’s Administration on pilot initiatives and creative solutions to rehabilitate Vermonters experiencing incarceration. We need to create programs that advance job training and life skills. One such idea I am working on with relevant stakeholders is a culinary institute in the women’s prison, which is a way to build a transferable set of skills and fill needed positions upon re-entry into the community. This is just an example of the kind of initiative a Senator can focus on and advance, which I plan to do if I am fortunate enough to be elected.
I support common sense gun laws that will keep our communities safe while respecting the rights of law-abiding Vermonters. I support common sense policies that prohibit bringing guns into schools, bars, and courthouses. I agree 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 and domestic abusers.
Vermont and our entire area continue to face an opioid addiction crisis, and we must prioritize combating, ending, and learning from this epidemic. This includes fostering better communication between counties and with neighboring states, investing in long-term 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.
High-Speed Broadband Internet Access
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. I will fight for Vermonters’ right to be connected and work tirelessly to finish the job on providing quality, affordable internet access to Vermonters.