On video + story: Activists demand that lawmakers adopt “People’s Budget”

Vermont Workers Center activists descended on the Statehouse Tuesday on the opening day of the 2012 legislative session and demanded that lawmakers pass a “people’s budget” that meets the basic needs of Vermonters.

Members of the group packed the Cedar Creek Room during the noon hour and gave speeches and delivered a petition for a People’s Budget signed by more than 3,000 Vermonters. The petition was given to Governor Shumlin’s office, and the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.

Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers’ Center, invoked the slogan of the Occupy Wall Street movement. She said the goal of the rally was to bring the voices of the “99%” to the Statehouse and demand a budget aimed to meet needs such as health care, housing, food, education, good jobs and a healthy environment.

“For decades the government of the 1 percent has resulted in reduced revenue and the erosion of access to the services that meet the basic needs of Vermonters,” Franzen said. “We are here to remind our elected representatives of government of the fundamental obligation to respect, protect fulfill the human rights of its people.”

Put People First! is coordinated by the Vermont Workers’ Center which launched the successful campaign Healthcare is a Human Right in 2008. In that campaign, activists aggressively pushed for a single-payer initiative in large rallies and a long-running vigil in the Legislature’s health care committees.

The VWC joined together with other Vermont organizations including the United Professions of Vermont; and Vermont Center of Independent Living; 350 Vermont and Public Assets institute.

According to the Public Assets Institute, a liberal Vermont think tank, the middle class has shrunk as a result of state and national policies. Census data and information gathered from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that while both Vermonters’ personal income and gross state product grew over 60 percent from 1990 to 2010, the median household income rose just 1.5 percent.

“Vermont is no longer a state that’s working for the middle class,” President of the institute Paul Cillo said. “The good news is that it was policy decisions that created this mess and we can reverse it with our elected leaders making different policies.”

Lack of financial support for Vermont’s post-secondary students was another topic of discussion at the rally. Liz Betty-Owens, a 20-year-old sophomore at Johnson State College, said that Vermont’s support for higher education falls near the bottom of national lists and most of the funding for state colleges and universities comes from tuition. According to the Vermont Student Assistance Corporation and U.S. Census Bureau, college costs have grown at twice the rate of inflation. (http://www.vermontbiz.com/files/HETF_w_attachments_doc.pdf)
“A college degree is now more than ever a requirement to be financially successful in this country,” Betty-Owens said. “Having a society of educated people is a requirement to having a healthy society.”

The petition (http://www.workerscenter.org/peoplesbudget) called for a People’s Budget to make human rights and the needs of communities the top budgetary priority.

Democratic Majority Leader Rep. Lucy Leriche, D-Hardwick, said she was glad to see the group in the Statehouse because public participation makes the Legislature more effective.

“Obviously when I became a legislator I was elected because I wanted to put people first and the very idea that we’re not doing that in this building,” Leriche said. “The perception that maybe we’re not doing that as much as we could be is really an eye-opener for me.”

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Eli Sherman

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  • Wendy Wilton

    Do the members of the Vermont Worker’s Center actually work (as in compensation)? The name of the organization seems a bit of a misnomer to me. I work, but I don’t think they represent my interests…just sayin’

  • Ross Laffan


    When your employer dumps you for no good reason, give the Workers’ Center a call. They will represent your interest.

    One of the services they provide is a hotline. The hotline receives dozens of calls each month with complaints ranging from sexual and physical harassment in the workplace to wrongful firing. The Workers’ Center will help the callers by making a referral to a government agency or sometimes Legal Aid. I believe they have attorneys who agree to do pro bono work when needed.

    Last I knew they had one paid employee. That may have changed, but most are volunteers with day jobs or are students.

    I’m not sure why their name is a misnomer but hopefully it’s clear now. If not, they have a website you can Google.

  • walter carpenter

    “Do the members of the Vermont Worker’s Center actually work (as in compensation)? The name of the organization seems a bit of a misnomer to me. I work, but I don’t think they represent my interests…just saying’”

    And we will help you if, for example, your employer (the city of Rutland) suddenly eliminates your job without benefits, pay, etc, such as happened to me several years back. I am not saying that they will, but we will be there for you if need be. We will help you if you are discriminated against and cannot afford the high-priced lawyers to address the grievance such as loss of overtime, sexual harassment, and so on. After the flood, for instance, we were instrumental in helping residents of mobile home parks wiped out by the flood with getting their drowned homes removed for free rather than be slammed with another disaster and pay the thousands of dollars that they would have been normally been charged for something that they could not control. They have joined us too.

    As Ross’s post says we have maintained a hotline for years for working Vermonters who are in distress because of employment-related issues. One of these has, of course, been the health care crisis and the suffering that this has inflicted on working people. We get heartbreaking calls about that. We also get frequent distress calls about the drastic cuts in services that have been going on over the years to people that can ill afford them.

    We are mostly volunteers, but, believe it or not, most of us actually work for compensation. We come from a broad swath of the Vermont population. We are accountants, artists, biologists, carpenters, housewives,landscapers, librarians, information technology people, journalists, maintenance people, managers in companies, mechanics, mental health workers, teachers, waiters, waitresses, writers. We are doctors, nurses, and hospital technicians. We are early educators. Several of us plow the snow off of state roads and highways. Some of us are retired; others are students. Some are veterans, including from the Vietnam war.

    We are all united and, maybe, someday, it could be just you on the other end of that hotline… “just saying.”

  • Wendy Wilton

    It is not in my best interest as a working person for a group to be advocating for higher taxes and more government programs that working Vermonters will have to pay for, and they are highly unlikely to utilize.

    It would be in my best interest and in the interest of all other Vermont families, workers and business owners if the VWC would advocate for job creation. Then there would be more people to share the collective burden and help for those who are truly down on their luck…all boats are lifted in a rising tide.

    However, I see the VWC doing the exact opposite of that with a call for higher taxes (which will hit the middle class hardest), more programs, and tougher regulatory environments for job creators. Unfortunately, I also see the VWC as supporting a “victim” mentality rather than an empowerment mentality and that is truly sad and difficult to overcome, once established.

    • Doug Hoffer

      You said, “It is not in my best interest as a working person for a group to be advocating for higher taxes…
      which will hit the middle class hardest”

      The VWC has never advocated for higher taxes on low- and moderate-income Vermonters. Are you purposefully misrepresenting their position?

      You also said, “It would be in my best interest…if the VWC would advocate for job creation.”

      The VWC is clearly interested in job creation. Indeed, the website refers to the thousands of good jobs that have been lost as a result of “free” trade policies. That is a plea for policies that don’t destroy jobs. [And for the record, data from the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (US Dept. of Labor) shows that at least 5,139 Vermont jobs have been lost to foreign competition since 1994. That’s one IBM and counting. Have you ever expressed concern about trade policies that destrpy Vermont jobs?]

      The VWC also supports livable wages because anything less can result in working families seeking public assistance. Do you support livable wages?

      And you said, “all boats are lifted in a rising tide.”

      This was true from 1950 through the `70s when all income quintiles grew at the same rate. But since then, the vast majority of new wealth has gone to the top 1% while wages have barely kept up with inflation. It is not coincidental that this occurred as top marginal tax rates were slashed in the hope that the benefits would Trickle Down to the rest of us.

      The record is clear; it didn’t work.

  • walter carpenter

    “It is not in my best interest as a working person for a group to be advocating for higher taxes and more government programs that working Vermonters will have to pay for, and they are highly unlikely to utilize.”

    It is the government programs that have done so much to keep the bottom from completely falling out of this economy and sustained working people through it, despite all the efforts to cut them out. And we are not necessarily advocating for higher taxes per say. We are advocating for more equitable tax policies, rather than how they are so heavily skewed in favor of the 1%

    And, as Doug says, we advocate for wages that pay enough for people to live on. One of the reasons that public assistance is so necessary (and how many middle class families in Vermont are seeking food stamps now or facing medical bankruptcies?) now is that the wages paid are too low to support life. If you are a working person, you know that wages have not risen significantly for many years. It is one reason that the 1% can maintain their nice lifestyles. As Doug asks, so will I, “Do you support livable wages?”