By Bruce Lisman
After traveling the state for the last six years, I’ve heard many versions of the same challenges faced by Vermonters all across our state. Increased property taxes are making it harder to afford homes. Jobs that pay a livable wage are scarce. Shrinking populations are threatening our local schools and communities. And those relying on state programs are concerned about reasonable budgeting.
Although the challenges we face are wide-ranging, they are all the product of the same underlying problem–Vermont’s stagnant economy. An economy that is chronically sluggish simply can’t support the quality of life that we expect and deserve. But what I find most concerning is that some have become accustomed to our feeble economic performance and cease to imagine an economically secure and prosperous future.
It’s time to stop playing defense, scrambling to deal with the symptoms. Let’s change the equation and deal with the problem.
It’s time to dare to be great!
Now that we have agreed to build a great economy, it’s time to start the hard work of making it a reality. It won’t be easy–there is no single answer, there is no silver bullet. But with thoughtful analysis, careful planning and unrelenting persistence we can make it happen.
First, I’d ask you to reimagine our state’s government–one that treats its constituents as valued customers and sees employers as strategic partners. Specifically, that means we need to put our state’s budget in order, implement more professional management practices and build meaningful relationships with Vermont’s employers.
In order to put the budget on a sound footing we must be disciplined; which is why I have proposed two percent increases in spending until we recharge our capacity to invest in important programs. I would prioritize programmatic needs and allocate funding based on realistic revenue projections.
Great managers will reenfranchise our state employees by providing clear direction. Our government will become better at what it does and reconnect with the people it serves by measuring outcomes and devoting assets to those programs that produce the best results. Our economic development programs are disparate, if not chaotic. We need to coordinate our economic and workforce development efforts across the state so we are using our resources most effectively and providing better support to both employers and employees.
Employers have 49 other states in which they could choose to operate. We want to know their challenges, goals, and how we can help them succeed in Vermont. We want to find those small companies capable of growing exponentially and understand the obstacles to their growth. We must focus on creating an environment where companies of all sizes will want to stay and succeed.
Secondly, we must strengthen our education system and harness its innovation.
Our public schools should aspire to be among the finest in the world. We already spend more than some of the top performing school systems in the world. We need to focus more resources on the classroom, while rationalizing administration, which will require a more thoughtful analysis of structure and financing than was done under Act 46.
Our universities and colleges turn out thousands of highly qualified graduates every year. Let’s develop a structured program for connecting them with employers and careers in Vermont.
The University of Vermont has a technology transfer program that helps commercialize innovation that takes place on campus. We should apply its principles across the state and help businesses better connect with our pioneering university researchers.
If we focus on these things and promote internships and apprenticeships we will see results.
A vibrant economy is the answer to our challenges—which means we can no longer ignore it in favor of other issues. Climate change matters and so do GMOs—but let’s not make those the centerpiece of public policy matters. And rather than shine a spotlight on our governor in Paris, let’s turn our attention to what we need to accomplish here at home. He’s a distraction. The state needs real leadership. Vermonters are ready for a new direction. I am ready to lead Vermont in a new direction.
Bruce Lisman is a Republican candidate for governor.