On March 1, 2017

Something to write home about

By Sen. Dick McCormack


Before I take issue with Governor Scott I want to thank him for his reason and courage in condemning the bigoted banning of refugees based on their religion. We Americans have many conflicting opinions, but the things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us. Mutual respect among people of different faiths is one of those unifying things (or should be).

I’ve heard from folks who object to state officials speaking out on national issues, saying we should concentrate on issues closer to home. I’m happy to report that we don’t have to choose, that we can and do tend to all the issues before us. We don’t neglect budget issues in order to address human rights issues.  Vermont has a long and proud history of addressing national issues, most notably legislative instructions to Vermont’s congressional delegation to oppose slavery. Vermonters have reason to be proud that we’re continuing our tradition of defending human rights.

Respecting the education fund

That said, I disagree with Governor Scott’s positions on the education fund. Increasing financial support for higher education is a worthy goal, but I disagree with tapping the education fund to pay for it. Twenty years after the passage of Act 60 it’s important to remember that the fund was created in the first place as a tool to equalize the school tax (property tax) burden, town to town. It has been derided as a Robin Hood scheme and a “shark pool” because towns with richer grand lists relative to their student populations pay in more than they keep, while property poor towns, relative to student population, are paid more than they pay in. But the end result is that in both sending towns and receiving towns X per-pupil spending requires the same tax rate. This is the tax equity required by the Vermont Constitution as interpreted by the Vermont Supreme Court in the Brigham Decision.

In the debate that preceded passage of Act 60 and has continued ever since, opponents have warned that future legislatures would raid the ed fund thereby diverting property taxes that support the fund. “Mark my words, you guys set this thing up and you’ll come after it!” The Legislature promised that the fund would be used only for local public school systems. The only part of Act 60 that I wrote was the provision that lottery proceeds go into the fund, but I supported the entire law. So, as a supporter, I was personally a party to that promise.

When it was created, the ed fund supported K-12, the range of education for which local property taxes were directed. I support expanding K-12 systems to include preschool, as it still involves local systems. But funding higher education is a separate demand. It needs a separate source of funding. The governor has not suggested a new source. Instead he proposes we tap the ed fund, the very “raid” of which tax equity opponents have warned for 20 years.

The problem is not just a broken promise. Every penny diverted from the ed fund for purposes other than local schools is either a loss of funding for those local schools or a property tax increase. I’m not aware of a public demand for higher property taxes.​

“Right to Try” 

I’ve introduced a bill, S. 37,  to create a legal “Right to Try” (RTT) under which a person afflicted with a deadly and incurable illness, who is approaching his/her death, would have legal access to experimental drugs that have not completed vetting by the Federal Drug Administration. Such people already have a right to hasten death medically. This bill would expand legal end of life choices to include the right to keep fighting.

There are good arguments against continuing the struggle: possible side effects, false hope, loss of the benefits of peaceful surrender. Similarly, there are good arguments against medically hastening death. But I don’t think the issue of the best choice is the question. Rather, I think the question is who should get to make the choice.

Interestingly this bill has made for some strange bedfellows. It comes from the Goldwater Institute, a conservative/libertarian organization, and my carrying water for them has raised a few eyebrows. And my cosponsors are all Republicans. Ah well, I reason that RTT is a good idea, and that over rides any qualms about awkward alliances.

Call me at 802 793 6417 or email me at rmccormack@leg.state.vt.us

Sen. Dick McCormack, Windsor County

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