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Progressive Caucus Priorities: Vermonters Calling for Action, Not Moderation and the Status Quo

The following is a platform to frame the priorities of the House and Senate Progressive Caucus for the 2023-2024 biennium. The platform was shared at a press conference held on January 17, 2023. Watch the press conference recording here.


With his November 2022 Election Day press release, Governor Phil Scott interpreted the election results as an indication that Vermonters ``want balance and moderation” while only briefly acknowledging the “super-majorities” of Progressives and Democrats elected into the House and Senate. It’s not bold to call for moderation when you’ve received a clear indication from the people of Vermont that we are tired of the Governor’s unprecedented use of vetoes to govern the state. This approach prevents well vetted policy created by a tri-partisan legislature from advancing and it stonewalls the state’s ability to advance meaningful policy to address our many serious crisis points: climate, opioids, housing, economic inequality, and attacks on BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ communities.

We remain at a moment calling for bold change. This is the clear interpretation of the midterm results. Vermonters have returned progressive policy makers to the General Assembly in even stronger numbers. The House and Senate Progressives are committed to transformative policy work that moves us to a more equitable and just Vermont. We believe in the Solidarity Dividend – a concept developed by author Heather Magee. The Solidarity Dividend prioritizes policy solutions that support communities’ needs by investing in the public good while valuing the role of government and the work of public sector workers. We need responsive, bold, and equitable policies to address issues resulting from the serious crisis points facing Vermonters. Understanding the well-being of the most vulnerable people in our community is our collective concern and our shared obligation. We also must reject the idea of a zero sum mentality that misleads us to think one good policy solution must compete against another good policy solution for the same limited amount of resources. We can develop solutions that build community, meet Vermonters’ basic needs, and protect marginalized people’s rights. We must.

We must transform our way of life in this state, this country, and on this planet. It is urgent that we be bold in our policy work – Vermonters and our planet are in crisis.

The Vermont Progressive Party platform is grounded in intersectional principles of social, racial, economic, and environmental justice. Our work over this next biennium will continue to operationalize these values as we seek to construct an inclusive, fair Vermont for everyone.

This will be identifiable when the basic needs of each person and our planet are met – that’s the definition of a just society.

Public Education

The Vermont Agency of Education recently announced its creation of the Family Engagement Council. This is alarming and broadcasts a suspicious dog whistle to private interest groups around the country that seek to limit our teachers’ autonomy as the experts in working with students and delivering the curriculum they were hired to teach. We are witnessing a barrage of attacks on that autonomy as we engage in the critical work of instructing our children on the history of race in this country, concepts of racial identity, and the persistence of structural and systemic racism. These attacks align with the equally alarming assaults on curricula that acknowledge LGBTQIA+ people and, specifically, gender identity and gender affirming approaches to education. Selection criteria for the Family Engagement Council (as well as the absence of any stated leadership oversight) remains vague and open to influence from outside interest groups with agendas that would be harmful to historically marginalized populations.

We worry about the clearly developing trends that weaken our public educators’ ability to effectively teach all Vermont children. Our teachers are losing motivation within this environment of budget impacts and the micro-management of their curricula delivery methods. When we recall the recent attacks on our public employee pensions, the fact that teacher salaries remain at the middle of the national averages, and the devastating impact the pandemic has had on the morale of our educators, the burgeoning migration of teachers from our public schools should come as no surprise.

In 2021, the House Progressive Caucus led the effort to challenge the initial proposal to cut pension benefits, require public employees to work longer, and increase employee contributions to fix the underfunded pension system – a system that remains underfunded today due to several years of inaction by the legislature. Through the persistence of our caucus and collaboration with many allies, Progressives put forward alternatives to create a more just outcome. These solutions included any combination of proposals to:

  • generate new revenue by taxing people with incomes over $500,000,

  • allocate more from one-time federal dollars to close the gap,

  • improve the study committee formed to find a compromise by fairly including public employee voices within its membership.

Ultimately, the 2022 compromise resulted in public employees contributing a small portion more with no extended work requirement and significant allocations from one time federal funds to improve pension funding levels. Governor Scott vetoed the compromise. For the first time in Vermont state history, the legislation responded with the first unanimous, tri-partisan vote in the House and Senate to override the Governor's veto. Progressive leadership works.

We join the new General Assembly with a renewed commitment to prioritize and protect public education in the State of Vermont, including the unquestioned advocacy of our public educators. Progressives will support and introduce legislation that protects our educators’ academic freedom to deliver affirming and culturally competent curricula as well as legislation that limits the migration of taxpayer support from our public schools to private and religious based schools.

“I believe in the value of teaching our children with an honest reckoning for the systemic racism and white supremacy upon which this nation was built. I believe our educators are the experts in how our children learn best and that we have an obligation to protect our teachers as they engage with that expertise.” - Rep. Troy Headrick (Chittenden 15)

We will also continue to protect and invest in our public employees, especially educators. We will continue our commitment to fully fund public pensions by holding the state accountable to its promise to public employees so that they may retire with dignity. A pension is a promise. Finally, we will make certain that the challenges to hire educators and support staff is addressed in the legislature’s ongoing efforts to address workforce needs, including making strategic investments to this critical sector.

“Our teachers and public sector essential workers have been hit especially hard by the long lasting traumas of the pandemic and the many crises facing Vermont. Now is the time to look at how we support them through investment in public education and public sector work, resisting privatization and stopping the misclassification of state workers. We need to ensure that the pensions are protected and that our students are getting the support in the classroom that they need.”

- Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (Chittenden Central)

Community Safety & Equity

"The structures of government need to be realigned and reinvested in changes to the physical and social environment for all of the people involved. Public safety must be reimagined to create circles of love around all of the people impacted by violence- the victims, the offenders, and the communities across the State. If we are going to use the power of the State to increase enforcement of the laws, then let’s change the laws so that they lead to our real desired outcome- reduced recidivism, reduced harm, and reduced violence over time." - Rep. Brian Cina (Chittenden 15)

"For three years now, Human Rights for Kids has identified Vermont as a ‘state [that] has made minimal efforts to protect the human rights of children in the justice system and should take immediate action to improve and implement its laws.’ Criminal justice reform for our youth is long overdue and was highlighted again this past year when we learned of juveniles spending over 100 cumulative days in Vermont’s adult prisons. All Vermonters, and especially our youth, deserve access to treatment and support; not continued segregation and separation from community with an unrealistic expectation change.”

- Rep. Taylor Small (Chittenden 21)

Economic Dignity

We must address the economic inequality that has widened since the pandemic began and the disproportionate impact of inflation and the housing crisis on working people. In 2021, the Vermont State Economist Tom Kavet noted major disparities in the economic impact of the pandemic between the wealthiest and poorest Vermonters. He describes an economy divided into winners and losers. The winners include the top 1% who own stocks, business owners able to access business relief grants and technology, e-commerce, and real estate industries who saw higher third-quarter profits in 2020 than profit rates before the pandemic began. In the 2021-2022 biennium, the legislature moved significant resources to continue to support businesses and employers. Meanwhile, working Vermonters navigated a broken unemployment system, a challenging housing market, and soaring prices on household goods.

As the 2022 Public Assets State of Working Vermont reveals, Vermont faced significant issues long before the pandemic. 58,000 Vermonters are living in poverty, household incomes are barely keeping up with inflation, and job growth continues to slow When the pandemic hit, state and federal government solutions supported working people’s survival with the temporary expansion of unemployment eligibility, increases to the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, and food security programs such as Everybody Eats. However, these programs are funded with temporary, one-time funds. While inflation stretches household budgets, meager wage increases for the lowest paid workers do little to address an already broken system.

Progressives tirelessly advocated to address the broken unemployment system and increase benefits for workers to accompany the out-of-scale benefits handed to employers in the 2021 session. Progressives also advocated to fund the 2022 Worker Covid Relief Fund to ensure employers could pay employees for Covid related leave time in order to keep people healthy and safe. We also advanced first time investments in BIPOC owned businesses to address disparities in economic development investments and created dedicated funding to support first time home buyers, including targeted outreach to BIPOC home buyers. Progressives worked collaboratively with our state employees to update our Reach Up program to remove antiquated and racist work requirements and move us in a direction that provides nationally recognized exemplary service and maintains our shared values of equity, inclusion, and the limitless possibilities of human potential. We also led a historic effort in 2022 to advance just cause eviction protections for tenants through a Burlington charter change item. This advancement would have established a new model to stabilize housing for many working people.

We need to move forward with policies that center working people and families. Such policies must include workplace protections, worker rights, livable wages that reflect the cost of living in Vermont, and housing policy that does not leave tenants and low to moderate income homeowners struggling to keep up. Vermonters also need real, universal paid family leave that is funded and accessible by everyone in order to be viable and equitable for working families.

“Vermont is struggling to find workers to fill jobs because wages have been chronically too low to meet the cost of living in this state. Workers cannot afford child care or transportation in order to work second or third jobs to stay afloat. We need to learn from what temporarily helped working families meet their basic needs during the pandemic, while protecting workers rights. Our state can make significant progress towards creating workplaces that respect workers by requiring reliable work schedules, transparent wage information, and an easier process to form a union.”

- Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Chittenden 17)

“Every working Vermonter should earn a livable, dignified wage. We must raise our state’s minimum wage to a level that would guarantee that any worker can afford their basic needs – housing, food, health care, and transportation – when they are working full time.”

- Rep. Kate Logan (Chittenden 16)

“During the last biennium, we saw historic investments in the development of new housing for Vermont along with no new protections for the renters of our state. It is time that we move to enact statewide Just Cause Eviction protections so that all tenants can be protected from discriminatory housing practices and landlord retaliation. We must also strengthen pathways to first-time homeownership and assist low- and middle-income Vermonters in building equity while supporting opportunities for young people and families to set down roots here.”

- Rep. Taylor Small (Chittenden 21)

Climate Justice

We know that another crisis that threatens all of us is well underway. To maintain life on Earth as we know it, we need to radically change how we relate to our environment. We need to replace our extractive, unjust economy with a regenerative, just economy. We need to act quickly to invest in regenerative agriculture, clean energy and transportation, and the protection of sovereignty of native lands, while banning the development of new fossil fuel infrastructure. We continue to destroy the life support systems of Earth, severing the strands of the great web of life and driving many living beings to the brink of extinction with our pollution, waste, and consumption of natural resources. We need to create a plan for a just transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy – one that takes care of all people and the planet. Greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont have increased 16% over 1990 levels. We are not on track to meet our climate goals, which are already far below what is necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Transportation accounts for over 40% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Vermont. While there are strong incentives in place for Vermonters purchasing electric vehicles, the necessary charging infrastructure is not currently in place to support electric vehicle mobility – particularly for renters and low-income Vermonters living in multifamily housing. We must require EV charging infrastructure in all new housing and generally ensure that it is more widely accessible — not just for those who own their own single family home and garage. Furthermore, we must invest heavily in alternatives to automobile transportation such as walking, biking, and public transportation. This involves changing land use and development patterns to favor greater density of housing and mixed-use development, affordable housing near jobs and services, and greater investment in public transit- including state-funded statewide fare-free transit.

Last biennium, the Clean Heat Standard (CHS) was a major legislative focus. Prioritizing weatherization, heat pump installation, and the creation of an emissions-credit system to reduce heating-related emissions, the bill would have increased access to and affordability of clean heating options. Progressive lawmakers were critical of some elements of the CHS, such as the inclusion of “renewable” natural gas and biofuels under the definition of “clean energy,” as well as the exclusion of stronger equity provisions. Still, in attempts to not go another year without necessary climate legislation, progressives voted in support of the legislation. Ultimately, the CHS was vetoed by Governor Scott, failing to obtain a veto-proof majority by one vote. This biennium, Progressives are focused on passing the Affordable Heating Act, similar to the CHS.. As we did with the CHS, Progressives will be pushing for more comprehensive approaches to equity along with a stricter definition of “clean energy” within this policy.

Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) allow consumers to pay for energy generated out of state through utility companies, counting their energy use as “renewable.” Rather than disregarding emissions made in Vermont by buying out-of-state energy (with practically no transparency) we need to invest in Vermont placed wind and solar farms. We need to update our Renewable Energy Standard and to phase out fossil fuels completely and emphasize the need for energy independence and transparency about where our emissions are truly sourced, and exclude such credits from future legislation. Passing the Affordable Heating Act and working with advocates to include changes that are in line with the intended goals and the needs of all Vermonters will be a priority this legislative session. We support excluding natural gas and biofuels (including in-state emissions) as components of the Clean Heat Standard, and camouflaging our energy use with RECs. We must commit to 100% renewable energy (without any credit exchange, natural gas or biofuels) by 2030.

Additionally, Progressives in the House will support the reintroduction of H.600 from the previous biennium. H.600 proposed to require the Department of Buildings and General Services, the Department of Forests, State Parks, and the Agency of Transportation to install non fossil fuel heating and cooling equipment when installing such systems in any building owned or controlled by the State. The State itself must lead by example.

Burlington has enacted laws allowing for government regulation of thermal energy in new buildings as well as incentives for weatherization by landlords. Bringing these to a state level are necessary pieces of Vermont’s role in combating the climate crisis.

Vermont prides itself on our local food systems. We need to make sure that our local farms are well-equipped to feed our growing state and adapt to changes resulting from climate change. In 2023, the Federal Farm Bill, which authorizes most federal policies governing food and agriculture programs, will be reauthorized. We need to push for strong recommendations to pass on to Congress to ensure that Vermont has the resources necessary for this support. We need to keep working towards year-round agriculture in Vermont, rooted in healthy soils and nourished by regenerative practices. We can guarantee healthy, local food to every Vermonter as we face the global ecological crises ahead.

We must center the needs of marginalized Vermonters in a just-transition away from fossil fuels, protect agricultural lands depended upon for adaptation, protect our food systems and agricultural economy, prepare for an influx of climate refugees, weatherize homes, maximize energy independence and efficiency, and cut emissions in line with what is deemed necessary by climatologists. Our current goal of 75% by 2032 is not enough.

“After federal emergency funds dry up, how do we sustain the long-term needs of the people as part of a just recovery in the face of climate change and ecological collapse? The lessons learned from our recent investments can be factored into a just transition to a new way of life, in greater balance with nature and in greater harmony with each other. We can enrich quality of life, improve community health, and promote public safety by guaranteeing every person in Vermont access to food, housing, health and human services, education, and other meaningful economic and social opportunities. The Regenerative Economy Act is one way to imagine a process that grows away from our current extractive and unsustainable economy to a regenerative way of life, increasing the power of the people through a more participatory democracy to dream of a new world that rises from the ashes of the old one.”

- Rep. Brian Cina (Chittenden 15)

Access to Government and Democracy

Consider who can truly afford to take time away from jobs and family in order to secure the opportunity to become a representative voice in Montpelier. How representative are the systems we are building if only those who can afford to be there are those that are also drafting the rules? When we talk about structural and systemic inequity, this is just one example that relates to socio-economic class. Power and privilege will always seek to preserve itself and we have an obligation to interrupt that where and when we can. Access is equity. Who has a seat at the table matters. Representation from diverse perspectives matters. We must recruit and retain a multitude of racial, gender, economic and other marginalized identities to be in the room. Nothing about us without us.

Fair and accessible elections are also critically important to protect in a climate where other states are making it harder for people to vote. In 2021, Progressives led the work to allow ballot curing designed to fix errors made in early voting to protect a voter’s right to have their ballot fixed and counted. Progressives also led the effort, through charter changes, to advance ranked choice voting and all-resident voting in local elections, making elections more accessible for candidates and more democratic for voters.

We have more to do to protect our democracy and make sure the state government is truly inclusive and accessible to everyone. Our vision of an expansion of democracy includes long-held progressive issues such as meaningful campaign finance reform, ranked choice voting beyond Burlington, all-resident voting beyond Winooski and Montpelier, and addressing an antiquated compensation system for Vermont state legislators that creates inequities based on your family status and personal level of wealth.

“A truly accessible government must include fair and equitable compensation for elected leaders. Vermont’s legislative system is largely only accessible to Vermonters with wealth and privilege who can afford to work year round for an annual salary of $13,000. The system includes additional allowances to cover housing, food and mileage. However, these allowances are largely used only by legislators who do not have small children, second jobs, or regular obligations at home. The system needs to be updated to address the economic barriers to serving as a legislator. This investment is the only way Vermont can have a truly representative democracy of all who live here.” - Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak (Chittenden 17)

“Vermont has some of the most accessible elections in the country, every two years the Cost of Voting Index study evaluates voting accessibility in all 50 States. In 2020 Vermont was 23rd in the nation. With the passage of Act 60 last biennium, Vermont moved to 3rd in the rankings for 2022. This is an incredible achievement and shows that we have a little bit more work to do. Access to voting and elections participation is a critical aspect of being a citizen and I am committed to evaluating the areas where Vermont can improve in access, understanding, and education in order to ensure that, by 2024, we move to number one and that we continue to strengthen engagement with government.”

-Senator Tanya Vyhovsky (Chittenden Central)

Collaboration is Key

Over the coming biennium, you’ll see Progressives moving forward with legislation, amendments, and other actions to advance these principles. We have a lot of work to do and this list is in no way inclusive of all that is possible. We look forward to working together with our allies in the legislature and the community over the next two years and beyond for a Vermont that is built on sustainability, equity, and compassion.

Despite our many differences with the Governor over the past 6 years, we have come together with the Administration and our colleagues in the General Assembly to compromise and to do our best to make things better for the people and the planet. Now that a Progressive and Democratic supermajority has weakened the power of the veto pen, we still invite the Governor to work as a partner with the Legislature on our shared priorities.

Throughout the history of this state and nation, the majority has steered the ship of government as the minority cried out the warnings of the icebergs threatening disaster. At this moment in time, the Progressive super minority seeks to continue patching the hull as we build lifeboats. The ship has been sinking for a long time. We must reduce further harm, save life, and chart a new course through the perilous waters around us. We won’t stay afloat much longer unless we change our way of life on this planet.

We won’t be able to build a sustainable future for Vermont if we continue to believe the false narrative of zero sum thinking. Vermonters deserve big, bold policy changes that acknowledge the interconnectedness of the many critical policy issues facing us. Issues should not be pitted against one another and forced to compete for resources or space on a political agenda. Instead, we must dismantle silos and think of interconnected solutions. Vermonters are counting on us. Picture: The members of the House and Senate Progressive Caucus for 2023-2024 standing together to address the press in the Cedar Creek room at the Vermont State House.

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