1.17.2014 – Campaign Finance, Education, and the Budget Address

Last week, I received several emails regarding S.82, the Campaign Finance bill, encouraging me to vote no.  I strongly agree that we should do more to get money out of politics but this is easier said than done with the court rulings in recent years.  While S.82 does not go as far as some of us would like, it is a step in the right direction, while still maintaining constitutionality.  In fact, it lowers the amount that I can accept in campaign contributions running for State Representative.  I voted for S.82 because I felt it was better to have some kind of campaign contribution limits, rather than none, which is what we have now.

The week started early with a trip to Burlington on Monday for an Education Summit, which was organized by several legislators and sponsored, in part, by UVM.  The keynote speaker was Tony Wagner, an education expert at Harvard, who wrote The Global Achievement Gap and, more recently, Creating Innovators.  He pointed out that the one-room schoolhouse was reinvented for the industrial economy, but we no longer have an industrial economy and we need to reinvent education.  He talked about the new skills needed by our children – the seven survival skills.  They include critical thinking and problem solving (asking the right questions); collaboration across networks and leading by influence, not by authority; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurialism; effective oral and written communication; the ability to access and analyze information; and curiosity and imagination.

Increasingly, employers want someone who can just go figure things out and that is not what we prepare our children to do.  In many cases, our schools reward individual achievement rather than teamwork.  Wagner also referred to the “F” word – failure – and pointed out that innovation demands risk-taking, but with risk sometimes comes failure.  Risk taking is not encouraged in many of our classrooms but that is exactly what many of our most successful companies are looking for.  Fifteen percent of Google employees don’t have a college degree!

Tony Wagner’s speech was truly inspirational. He touts Finland as a model we should look at.  Teachers there are the best and the brightest and are extremely well-prepared.  What we should also keep in mind, however, is that the best and the brightest also deserve to be well-paid.  I would prefer to think of education spending as the best investment we make in our future and even the most expensive spending is cheaper than prison.  It was also great to see my friend and colleague from Dover, Laura Sibilia, at the Summit.  Her dedication to the education issue is heartening!

Governor Shumlin gave his budget speech on Wednesday.  He began by citing many of the positive aspects of our economy – our unemployment rate is fifth lowest in the country; 11,000 jobs have been created in the last three years; and in 2013 alone, 2,000 jobs have been created in the manufacturers and professional services sectors.

While that is all positive, we still have some hard work to do.  After several years of making significant budget cuts, we once again have to cut $71 million.

The very good news for the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee is the governor’s continued support for the Farm to Plate Initiative (F2P).  Just under 2200 food system jobs have been created in the last four years – way beyond our original 10-year goal of 1500!  Also good news is continued support for the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative.  Governor Shumlin has included this allocation in his base budget, making it more permanent, and given it a 5% increase over last year.

Speaking of the Farm to Plate Initiative, this week, we had a report on the Farm to Plate Initiative.  When F2P was passed in 2009, one of the goals was to double the amount of Vermont-produced food consumed by Vermonters over the course of ten years.  It was estimated that if that goal was reached, 1500 jobs would be created in the food sector over the ten year time period.  The very good news is that after 4 years, at least 2,162 food system jobs have been added as well as 199 establishments.  In 2013, more than $70 million of public and philanthropic investments were made in food systems and farms.