Open Letter to Legislators May 1, 2013

May 1, 2013

Subject: Put People First!

Dear Legislator,

Thousands of Vermont residents have descended upon the statehouse today as we have on May 1st for the past four years. Initially, we showed up to demonstrate to you that creating a healthcare system that met human rights principles was not only politically possible but the will of the people of Vermont. We have made progress in that direction. But we have also watched decisions get made, about all aspects of our lives, that do not reflect the values of our communities. Many people feel voiceless in this process.

We wanted to give you a little more detail about what the thousands of people outside stand for and are working to make happen. We have begun to address many issues important to our communities including drivers licenses for all Vermont residents and the right to organize for early educators and independent direct support service providers. We applaud legislators who have championed these efforts as we believe these issues are supported by the vast majority of the people of Vermont. These issues are all critical policies that will begin to Put People First.

However, when it comes to issues that relate with the state budget we have seen a big disconnect from the values of our communities.

A Budget that Advances Dignity & Equity

The governor’s budget proposal (and to date the legislature’s as well) has failed to meet the purpose of the state budget, which the law now mandates must “address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity” (32 V.S.A. § 306a). Instead, these proposals are set to undermine people’s dignity and increase inequity by:

- impoverishing more people through capping the essential Reach Up program

- making the tax code more regressive by reducing the EITC and assessing new taxes which affect low-income people more than wealthy people

- increasing healthcare costs for people moved from VHAP and Catamount into the exchange, which effectively makes it harder for low-income people to access healthcare.

Meaningful Public Participation in our State Budget Process

The governor and legislature have also failed to meet the legal requirement for “a process for public participation in the development of budget goals, as well as general prioritization and evaluation of spending and revenue initiatives” (32 V.S.A. § 306a). Instead, they are ignoring the principles of participation, accountability, and transparency and increasing the disconnect between people and government because:

- budget priorities were developed without meaningful engagement from our communities

- the budget process starts with the result of past tax policy decisions (the revenue estimate) rather than an assessment of real needs

- the failure to measure progress and outcomes makes it hard to see what effect specific spending and tax initiatives actually have on people’s lives

A Healthcare System that Meets All Our Health Needs

Both the governor and legislature have failed to meet the principles of universality and equity in Act 48, Vermont’s universal health care law, by:

- failing to set out an equitable financing plan for Green Mountain Care

- erecting new barriers to accessing healthcare by increasing out-of-pocket costs for low-income people

- failing to stop Vermont’s most powerful healthcare providers from forming a for-profit conglomerate, OneCare, that will profit from selling access to care rather than providing health care as a public good, as required by Act 48

The Way Forward

As the Put People First campaign made clear at the beginning of the 2013 session, we are dedicated to advancing public policies focused on meeting the fundamental needs of all people in Vermont, which is at the heart of what human rights means in practice.

Policy decisions that put people first would look very different from the governor’s and legislature’s positions, because they would be based on principles, such as equity and universality, and developed in a transparent and accountable process with the participation of the people of Vermont.

Policies that Put People First would:
- commit to eliminating poverty and ensuring a dignified standard of living for all

- assess people’s needs, such as access to healthcare and jobs, and require that those needs be taken into account in the budget process

- inform and engage the public in developing budget goals

- collect taxes in a more equitable way, so that wealthy people no longer get away with paying proportionally less taxes than those with low and middle incomes

- ensure that we all get what we need and give what we can

Learn more at workerscenter.org or call 861-4892

The Put People First Movement