By Mike Yantachka
Rep. Mike Yantachka
Patience and persistence: these are two qualities that I learned are essential to working in the Legislature. The issues that the Legislature has to address are often very complex and do not lend themselves to simple solutions. Measures that are enacted sometimes fail to have the desired effect and have to be tweaked by subsequent legislation.
Governor Peter Shumlin in his 2014 State of the State speech to the Legislature identified opiate abuse as a major crisis in Vermont. While Vermont stood alone at the time in putting a spotlight on this problem, opioid abuse is now acknowledged to be a national epidemic. Since that time much attention and money have been focused on the problem in Vermont. Yet it persists and continues to grow. Vermont is still one of the top five states for heroin use as a percentage of adult population. This has resulted in a 38-percent increase in caseload for the Department of Children and Families, due largely to children of opiate-addicted parents. One piece of good news is that Vermont has the lowest rate of drug overdose deaths in New England. The opioid problem is one of several major issues the Legislature will continue dealing with as we begin the 2018 session.
Another issue that will require many more years of attention is the condition of our lakes and streams. This is not only an environmental problem but an economic one as well. Tourism is a major part of Vermont’s economy. Algae blooms not only detract from the appeal of Vermont to tourists, but they lower property values and impact health. Treasurer Beth Pearce identified enough financial resources to fund a $25 million per year mitigation program for two years. We’re already through the first year, so we need to come up with a sustainable source of funds for this decades-long task. Governor Scott is advocating bonding or raiding the capital budget to solve the problem, but this just pushes the cost of the cleanup into the future. We need to be courageous enough to deal with this problem in the present.
Another persistent problem that will take courage and foresight to address adequately is climate change. We have to reduce our use of fossil fuels. Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan calls for a 25-percent decrease in greenhouse gas (GHG) levels by 2050. However, while we have made healthy strides in reducing the carbon footprint of our electricity generation, the amount of GHG emissions in Vermont has increased by 4 percent over 1990 levels. Our transportation and heating requirements have driven this increase. Governor Scott’s Climate Change Commission has worked during the summer to suggest steps that can be taken to reverse this trend. A group of legislators, including myself, has also been working on a strategy that will be rolled out in January. We look forward to working with the Scott administration to adopt a plan that will be good for Vermonters and Vermont’s economy.
I can’t end without mentioning the challenges that the recently passed Trump Tax Act will cause for Vermont. The Green Mountain Care Board has already projected health insurance costs to increase because of the repeal of the individual mandate that requires everyone to have health insurance. The response of many Vermonters to prepay their 2018 property taxes to take advantage of the disappearing deduction for state and local taxes will impact revenues for 2018 and beyond unless we modify our own income tax formula. Federal budget reductions that will be required to balance the tax cuts will put further pressure on states to compensate for programs that will suffer, thereby putting at risk many low-income Vermonters, our efforts to clean up our waters, and our state budget.
I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous 2018 and look forward once again to keeping you informed about the Legislature while we are in session. I encourage you to let me know your concerns and opinions.