Commentary

Peter Miller: I am Vermont broke

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Peter Miller, who is a photographer and author who recently published “A Lifetime of Vermont People,” a collection of photos and stories on rural Vermonters created over the past 63 years. He is 82 years old and lives in Colbyville.

On March 26, 2014, VTDigger published a commentary I wrote called “Peter Miller: Cold Weather, Hard State.”

I wrote about how cold I am in my century-and-a-half-old home so poorly insulated. I talked about the anxiety that invaded me as my income as a photographer and writer withered. Yes, I am a creative type.

I quoted in that article a number of self-employed Vermonters who do not have enough income to survive in the new Vermont of high taxes and fees; energy and real estate. What is really scary is that the banks do not like to extend credit to my people even if they have solid real estate assets. “We no longer have any lifeline,” commented a friend. He was also saying that few legislators and their attendant lobbyists forage for Vermonters who have a get-by income and few salable assets.

I too am Vermont broke. I finally realized that my old house is more of a liability than an asset. My Waterbury home is appraised at $303,000. Pall Spera, a realtor and friend helping me, said that after deducting the cost of the land, the house has a value of $213,000. Take off another $91,000 for the mortgage and then $40,000 to insulate the house, replace old windows, restore the rotting cellar sills and cleanse the attic of asbestos, and my is worth an estimated $82,000 — not enough to put a roof over my head. Sell and run, he advised me. Whoever buys it will probably tear down my home. Pall felt my property was overvalued by $50,000. Yes, the house is a sinkhole and costs me $14,800 a year to maintain.

So against all sorts of advice from friends and family, I opened an Airbnb. I folded my photo gallery into one room and created four bedrooms. I put rugs on the floor, beds, period furniture, and did the cosmetics and put in a kitchen sink and counter. On the wall hang my photos of Vermont and France.

In 2015 the Airbnb grossed $11,874. Without it, I wouldn’t have been able to pay my costs of living in Vermont. No, I do not like being a chambermaid, but this is survival.

2016 began with a bang of a disaster. Starting in January my cash flow — my sales of intellectual property (remember I am a writer and photographer) dropped drastically. The pipe to my bank account was mangled, crushed, and only a dribble came through. Who needs to buy art when they can’t pay their property taxes, or heating and electricity bills?

At first I thought it was the winter of no snow and the cancellations of reservations. My out-of-state photography sales dropped right along with in-state sales. People are cutting all expenses. There seems to be a cautionary fear in America — fear of the impending election?

I slashed my costs. I canceled my cable TV. I stopped driving around the state taking photographs. What had happened, in photography, is that the digital revolution made every American who created one good photo out of a thousand would often put that on social media where the photo agencies cherry-picked the best and then leased them at a high profit. The photo agencies I used, which were worldwide, lowered their commissions to photographers from 60 percent to 30 to 35 percent, and sometimes lower. They changed their business plan; instead of charging $500 to $1,200 for usage, they dropped the price to single and double digits for royalty free (use it any way you want to), thinking there is much more profit in leasing 20 million images for a few bucks rather than, say, half million at a much higher price.

I am selling my panoramic camera and lenses, darn it, and I have my old, tiny Airstream trailer — I called it my escape camper — to sell. I also am negotiating to sell my archive of photographs that I began in 1950.

 

I had backup photo agencies in various countries that were small. Guess what — my small agencies were bought by a bigger agency who often closed them and the income was lost, and sometimes the images too. So my backup disappeared and so did many of my transparencies. This harsh global system of distributing photographs was initiated by Getty Images. They broke the back of the American professional photographer.

Add Vermont cost of living to my plummeting cash flow. As the income in my bank dwindled, I canceled newspaper and magazine subscriptions. I kept my political contributions to the minimum, but now there is no expendable money to give to those running for state offices. I joined the Food Shelf, run in Waterbury by 18 wonderful volunteers and that supplies me with milk, juice, eggs, cheese, butter and canned soup and vegetables, and a few other goodies. I have to be careful because they have boxes of refined food not good for an 82-year-old who weighs too much. All of the Food Shelf goodies come from local donations, supermarkets and some foundations. The state does not participate. I also had a designer create a new website to sell my images as artwork. He traded his time and experience for photographs (as did my dentist).

The state sales tax people are spreading through Vermont auditing companies to come up with additional money so that the state can maintain its status quo. Due to a heart attack, I was late with a sales tax payment (and couldn’t get through their Internet system of verifying who you are and reading their many warning letters). I received a statement from out-of-state lawyers saying they were going to assess me $7,000 in penalties for nonpayment; I called the sales tax people and was told they would never charge me that if I filed. “Oh,” I said, “you are intimidating me?”

I finally squared it away. The payment for the one quarter was under $80, although I have heard of them freezing assets of people to collect what they considered was theirs, in one case more than $300,000. We have a Legislature controlled for too long by Democrats. Too many in the Senate and House have moved to Vermont from other states and have not adapted or have a trust fund or the income to spend four months in Montpelier passing bills. They are levying more taxes and fees that the average Vermonter can’t afford. I am, like other artists, knocking down the price of my art. We just want to get by in this new climate but we are beginning to think that our government would like to replace us.

I rarely leave my home, trapped you might say by not having enough income, not even to pay for my property taxes (at the last moment my credit union came through with a car loan for me to pay the first installment). I can look back and see that I have made mistakes being a photographer and writer, that I self-published my award-winning books about Vermont but never paid myself, that sometimes I tried too hard to help others. I was thinking of leaving Vermont to live in a less-expensive state but many emailed me and said I couldn’t because I am a Vermont treasure? I thought about that and in a way it is true. My calling is to document the culture of Vermont during my lifetime. As John Wayne said, “ A man has got to do what a man has to do.” (Apologies for all the determined women in this world.)

So to raise tax money, I will be selling my latest book, “A Lifetime of Vermont People,” at a discount on Facebook and on my blog. I will receive a homestead rebate on my property tax but my bookkeeper and accountant didn’t connect and I won’t get any return until the fall. I am selling my panoramic camera and lenses, darn it, and I have my old, tiny Airstream trailer — I called it my escape camper — to sell. I also am negotiating to sell my archive of photographs that I began in 1950.

But when you are at the bottom of the ladder what do you do to climb a few rungs?

After all the comments on the Digger article (“Cold Weather, Hard State”) and “A Lifetime of Vermont People” was published, people stopped in or emailed me because they had read my essay of change during the time I have been taking photographs, and were not too happy as our state shifted away from the essence of the Vermont Way. I finally realized that an interesting book was banging in my head, demanding to be set free. Let the Vermonters talk about their existence in this state, which is being taken over by a new culture, brought to Vermont by the people moving up on Interstate 89 and 91. (In April of this year Forbes published an article with the headline “Tax Happy Vermont Becoming A State Where Only The Rich Can Afford To Live.”)

I call my new book project “The Vanishing Vermonter … An Endangered Species” or maybe the subhead should be, “The Loss of a Rural Culture.” What do you think?

So far I have taped and photographed nine Vermonters, as they talk about what has been lost or gained, at least to them. I hope to have 20 profiles with portraits and a few essays. I will include images of Vermont.

Vermont is a bellwether state. Our canary in the cage is gasping, our lead sheep is bleating. The hope and pride of my people has become fragile.


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  • Tom Sullivan

    ” I am selling my panoramic camera and lenses, darn it, and I have my old, tiny Airstream trailer — I called it my escape camper — to sell. I also am negotiating to sell my archive of photographs that I began in 1950″

    Peter Miller, I’m sorry. And like you, I’m voting for republican candidates this November.

    • Richard Ley

      Anyone who was born and raised here knows that this destruction at the hands of the liberals who have invaded our state has been done with no consideration for the state of Vermont or its people

      We now have Sue Minter waiting to put another nail in Vermont’s coffin

      I am in total agreement the only way to put Vermont back on her feet and make her the Great State she used to be a once again is by voting out the Socialists the liberal Democrats and the progressives and restoring the Republicans to power.

      I am asking anyone who cares about this state to do the right thing and vote decent representation in

      • Allan Arbuckle

        Richard, I agree but when I voted in the recent primary the Republican slate seemed half empty. It’s hard vote for a blank slot!

  • Jay Eshelman

    Mr. Miller:

    Perhaps the Vermont legislature might consider a mandate that only ‘approved’ photos and writings, created in Vermont, can be purchased by Vermonters. You could join a professional association that collectively bargains for the fees you receive through locally elected ‘fine arts boards’, who in turn, collect those fees, through taxes, to pay for distributing your works, whether or not anyone really wanted your photos or writings.

    Vermonters would, in effect, be required to purchase an Art Quota, if you will, and pay for the buildings to store and distribute your works, to transport it, to insure it, and so forth.

    The ‘fine arts boards’, of course, would be supervised and regulated by a State Fine Arts Board, appointed by the Governor, with the advise and consent of the legislature. And the SFAB would set prices and other ‘socially acceptable art and writing standards’ (SASs).

    When the membership in your union (let’s call it the National Endowment for the Arts or the NEA) attains sufficient numbers, your union reps can lobby Vermont’s elected public officials with political endorsements funded by modest donations from the membership. Before you know it, your compensation will be based on your certification level as an artist (as negotiated by the NEA and the SFAB, or course), AND you will be able to set your own work hours, receive a liberal compensation package for personal and vacation time, avoid any and all performance criteria, and have retirement and health insurance benefits guaranteed by taxpayers as befits your enhanced political status.

    Life will be good.

    • Jack Z.

      I “get” the cynicism, but really, is responding to Mr. Miller’s plight in this manner appropriate? It seems to me that some empathy (and even support by offering to by a photo) would be in order.

      • Jay Eshelman

        Do you ‘get’ it, Jack? I wonder. Frankly, I was wondering if/when anyone would address the cynical nature of my remarks. After all, Mr. Miller’s plight is similar to my own and many of the people I know.

        Mr. Miller: If I’ve offended you, please accept my apology. But I would like everyone to understand this:

        While I wasn’t intending to be disrespectful to Mr. Miller in any way, I did intend to be provocative, because the issues affecting Mr. Miller, and the rest of us for that matter, are the same. They are obvious and profound, we have ourselves to blame for voting for the political representation that created these issues, ….AND we can do something about it.

        So, rather than obfuscate by accusing one another of having EDD (Efficacy Deficit Disorder) or name calling (no, Jack, you didn’t – but one cheeky fellow called me a Troll because I complain bitterly about the State School Monopoly), why don’t you recommend specific substantive action. I do. After all, what’s more distasteful, my cynical point of view about a circumstance that lingers like a dreadful rash or the actual problem my remarks address?

        The best support any of us can provide isn’t a temporary self-fulfilling act of charity. The best support is to stop the governmental cronyism inherent in any State sponsored monopoly, the funding of which is sapping Mr. Miller’s and the rest of our collective resources while benefiting the few (but ever growing) conflict-of-interest laden special interest organizations enabled by the State Board of Education and the politicians who appoint them.

  • Bruce S. Post

    Dear Peter:

    I have your book “A Lifetime of Vermont People” open on my desk as I write this. I recently had the chance to meet Jack and Anne Lazor, who you featured, up at their farm. What you wrote about them rings so true. Remarkable folks. Your essay “Afterword: A History of Our Times, 1960-2012” also rings true and should be required reading in our Vermont schools and colleges.

    I cannot say I look forward to your new book “The Vanishing Vermonter … An Endangered Species”, but I will get in line to buy it. I just wish it did not have to be written, but there is no sense ignoring the truth.

    Back when he wrote his history of Vermont in 1981, Charlie Morrissey observed:

    “This is modern Vermont, just as it is modern America. It is the Vermont spewing out the Shelburne Road and the Williston Road from Burlington, and extending along Route 7 approaching Rutland and Bennington, and captivating even tiny Morrisville, where a shopping center on the outskirts of town makes the village center look forlorn. Surely this heart of darkness deserves a destiny different from neon-lighted drive-ins along slurpy strips of highways which lead to huge shopping centers and acres of asphalt for parking lots. Vermont is different? The question is asked sardonically. The trouble with Vermont is that Vermont is not different enough.”

    I wish VTDigger’s formatting let me bold those last eleven words: “The trouble with Vermont is that Vermont is not different enough.” Of course, that was 35 years ago, and things have gotten worse. Frankly, given the current environmental policies of the Shumlinites — and I consider your former state rep. Sue Minter one of the disciples — we are losing so much of our long-hailed, much-vaunted environment. From the ridgelines to the lakes, we are slowly but surely soiling our ecosystems. Yet, in our eco-narcissism, we keep on praising that which we destroy. We are rapidly becoming The Potemkin State.

    Perhaps your new book should be titled “The Vanishing Vermont … An Endangered Place.”

  • I find this commentary very sad. I think that one cause is that we rely on property taxes instead of income taxes.

    • Jack LaGue

      I agree with you that it is sad, but the cause is not how we raise the money, it is that government spends too much. Vermont’s income taxes are amongst the highest in the nation already, and it is obvious that property taxes are too high.

      We are a small state, relatively poor state and don’t have the economies of scale that other states have so we need to do less and spend more wisely. Education spending is out of control.. We spent over $16,000 per pupil in 2013 per a report by the US Census Bureau… over 150% of the national average, 6th highest in the nation in absolute terms and 3rd highest in the nation in relation to income.

      • Doug Hoffer

        “Vermont’s income taxes are amongst the highest in the nation already.”

        That is not entirely accurate. We have a very high top marginal rate, but it only applies to the first dollar over $411,500. The progressivity of the Vermont tax code is evident when you look at the various case studies in a 2007 report from the Joint Fiscal Office.

        http://www.leg.state.vt.us/jfo/reports/2007-10%20Vermont%20Tax%20Study%20-%20Volume%202.pdf

        See pages 5 – 12. It shows that state income taxes for low-income filers are comparatively low.

        • Jack LaGue

          I have no doubt that Vermont’s income taxes are progressive… that wasn’t the topic. Mr. Beliveau implicitly suggested further shifting of the tax burden from property tax payers to income tax payers. In my opinion, that will not solve the problem of affordability… in fact, it would likely make it worse as more and more affluent Vermonters will simply flee to low tax states since their wealth allows them the choice to stay or leave (we are already seeing this flight to more tax friendly states). The crux of the affordability problem is that government tries to do too much and spends too much, particularly for education. The problem is not the sources of those collections. Just shifting the tax burden to the more affluent is a losing strategy and will only create a giant sucking sound of people fleeing the state.

  • Tyler Plante

    Isn’t this why we all decide to move away after college? VT wants it this way. Keep the population low and force people out and away from their families and loved ones. Keep taxes high, minimize business investment and make sure you have a crippling debt from UVM and find that $18K/yr job at a call center in “Rut-Vegas” after getting your MBA and applying to hundereds of positions not related to your degree. It impossible for those in their 20s and 30s to get ahead. VT says: “Have a wonderful childhood, turn 18, go to college (don’t forget to fall hopelessly in debt along the way) and get out! We will not invest in you. We do not want your family here. Move away and good luck!”

    My advice–wash your hands of this, take the financal blow and move pretty much anywhere else.

    • Asher McLean

      Don’t worry, Tyler! Haven’t you heard? They’re going to bring in hundreds of Syrian refugees to help Vermont’s demographic problem! They’ll accept slave wages to man the gas stations and methadone clinics that have become our state’s economy.

      • Studies show that an influx of refugees stimulates the local economy. Rutland sure needs that and Phil Scott says he wants to increase the population of Vt.

        • Asher McLean

          Perhaps instead of bringing large groups of individuals who will rely on federal grant money, he could work at reducing the cost of living to try and entice people to move here? Or to try to enable young Vermonters to stay?

          Vermont’s population is shrinking because the middle class and younger generations can no longer afford to live here. Instead of reducing the cost of living, our legislators are providing additional welfare to the poor (which entices more poor to move here for benefits) at the expense of raising the cost of living for the middle class and younger generations. Ever wonder why we have such a low unemployment rate, coupled with a low labor force participation rate? Think about it a bit…

          Lower the cost of living and more people will move here. Simply bringing impoverished refugees into the state isn’t going to help solve any economic problem. It’s been tried in this state before, it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.

          • Judy McCarthy

            I believe that this is the first time that I have seen anyone mention in writing the ease in which some are able to obtain welfare benefits in this state. As a nurse who worked in several emergency departments throughout the state I saw every day exactly that. I do not begrudge anyone access to health care, especially emergency care. But if you come to the hospital because you sneezed 30 minutes ago then again just before you arrived-(yes, that is a real “complaint” I once heard),then I believe there is a huge abuse of the “system.” As a 4th generation Vermonter I have to wonder if I will be able to stay here through my retirement, or if I will have to move somewhere where I can actually afford my property taxes to say nothing of being able to afford a good used car say every 10 or fifteen years.

        • Philip Beliveau,

          “Studies show that an influx of refugees stimulates the local economy.”

          What studies?????

          These refugees come into a country without knowing English, have no job skills, have little education, and no money. How on Earth do these people stimulate the local economy? Unless of course, someone is figuring in the amount of tax dollars required for their survival? What happened to looking out for our own first?

          • Robert Lehmert

            Glenn, simply Google “economic impact of refugees in america” and you’ll come up with about 13 million hits. Here is a link to a representative article.
            http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/whats-the-economic-impact-of-refugees-in-america/

          • Deb Loring

            These problems are not caused or even exacerbated by refugees. These are caused by a government that spends too much, operates inefficiently, and does not support its citizens; choosing corporate welfare over people. Our state government gave $1,000,0000 to global foundries (former ibm, now owned by a foreign entity) last year. We spend a fortune on insider contractors for the state. Yet Mr. Miller, an incredibly talented and accomplished photographer who has documented VT in an historic way, can’t heat his home when he’s in his 80’s.

          • Janice Prindle

            They do have job skills. Refugees come from all walks of life. Violence has forced them out of their homes, not poverty. Many are professionals and business owners. The confusion between immigrants seeking opportunity, and refugees seeking safety, is common.

            There was a recent piece in the Seattle Times that looked at many towns around the US that have found refugees an economic stimulus.
            http://www.seattletimes.com/nation-world/americas-shrinking-small-towns-see-hope-in-refugees/

    • Isaac Sacca

      That’s not entirely accurate. There are plenty of people like me who have recently graduated from UVM, returned to our home towns and have started agricultural or related small businesses or are working for other small businesses in the manual labor industry. No one said it is going to be easy or that you’re going to get rich doing, but you will have a strong community of people with skills which is worth a whole lot more than a fat pay check and arguably even financial security. But if you love this area and are willing to work hard you can make it and you’ll be happier for it.

      • Isaac, thank you! Reading the article and the comments, I’d been feeling so disheartened. I’m a 25 year old UVM grad, returned Peace Corps volunteer living in the town I grew up in, working locally.

        To labor to live here is a labor of love. Indeed, it will not be easy, nor will we be rich in means. But we will be rich in culture, and heritage, and community. There is no place in the world I would rather live. And frankly, I’m disappointed in Peter Miller selling my generation short. The Vermonter is not a dying breed. We are here. I am here. I am not dying.

  • edward letourneau

    This state is in crisis and none of the politicians responsible for it understand what they have done. In fact they want to do more of the same.

    • Robert Lehmert

      Most states with an agricultural base, challenging terrain, no seacoast, and a rapidly aging population without current job skills would have a severe problem, regardless of political leadership.

      Hey — but for better schools and great winter sports — we could be West Virginia. In states like Kansas and Louisiana, state tax cuts for businesses and the very wealthy have created a fiscal situation which would make their citizens envy Vermont.

      Point of fact — most states have had to pick up the fiscal shortfall because of severe Federal budget cuts over the past 15 years. Who remembers that there’s still a Federal budget sequester? Who is aware that we’re looking at another shut-down of the Federal government in a few months?

  • Peter Everett

    Even though this is true and sad, does anyone believe that the Vermont politicians really care about the people they adversely effect? Neither do I. Those in Montpelier are only concerned about the power they yield on a person’s life, be it good or bad.
    I know one thing for certain. The people cannot continue to leave with all these Progressive Social Programs. Yet, many want more than we now have. Each of these programs take more from the taxpayer each year. It never ends. They still want more from us. Do they really believe we are a bottomless pit that can continue to fund each program, at a greater cost each year? Yes they do!!! That is why they are calling for even more programs…at even greater cost to us!!! We can’t move because people have smartened up and properties stay on the market for years. Eventually, things will change, but, not in my lifetime. Far too many are on the “receiving” end. It’s almost as if they were the majority, voting to make sure the Progressives (all parties) stay in office to continue to provide for their every need. Hell, those of us on Social Security didn’t get a raise. Why should those who use our money receive more?? Doesn’t seem fair to me. The Progressives don’t care. They just want votes and they found the constituents that keep them in office. Hopefully, come November we see a change. Doubt it though. The numbers are stacking up against the “providers”. Vermont is truly in a sad way.

    • Ironic that you rail against socialism and yet accept social security.

      • Kathy Callaghan

        “Ironic that you rail against socialism and yet accept social security.” Philip Beliveau – he paid for it! Good grief, do you want the man to have nothing at all? Perhaps you should forgo yours if you dislike socialism.

        • Janice Prindle

          The point is, Social Security is essentially a democratic socialist program. As in Europe, where the people pay for their many other forms is social security, including health care, cradle to grave. So it is time to stop railing against socialism: Social Security is America’s most popular program.
          And while we pay for it, not all of us pay our fair share, due to the very low cap on income taxed for Social Security.

      • Kurt Eckert

        Do people have the option of opting out of paying into social security? No they don’t. So not accepting social security after being forced to pay into it would be asinine in the extreme. If I had the option of not paying into social security I would have done it and have had far more money in the end.

      • Edward Letourneau

        I spent a lifetime of work paying my money into Social Security. That is not socialism.

        • Janice Prindle

          Actually it is. That’s exactly what the democratic socialist countries of Europe do: they pay their taxes, and in return enjoy a cradle to grave guarantee of education, health care, and support if disabled, unemployed or when retired.
          Their taxes are higher but they don’t have to pay for child care or health insurance or college, etc. Their tax structure is more progressive. That is what socialism is. It does not mean, no personal wealth, or no capitalism. It means the economy and taxes are regulated for the benefit of the whole population, not a select few.

          Here, quite apart from federal income taxes, our Social Security tax only applies to around $118,000 of earned income. Pocket change for the wealthy.

      • William Hays

        Social Security isn’t Socialism. We paid into it, and are now getting some of it back (that which the Socialists/Democrats/Libtards in DC haven’t stolen). You want Socialism? Go back to Quebec.

      • Peter Everett

        Philip—I PAID into the Social Security system. I receive 40% of what I’m entitled to. If I would have been able to take, what was taken from me, and invest it into a savings plan, I would have FAR, FAR more than the government allots me. Your definition of socialism is different from mine.
        I PAID for what I get. I don’t get from the sweat of others (although you may think I do). Mine was earned, not given. As was everyone’s who paid into the system.

        • David Bell

          Yet you received a subsidized education paid for by other people whose money was (ready for it?) TAKEN from them by the government so you could get a cheaper degree.

          Yet, it is now others who need to go without despite all you reaped from the money others unwillingly gave you.

          Any other misstatements you’d like to make?

          • Peter Everett

            Sorry David—I paid my tuition, fees, books and all need to attend college. I commuted to school, daily, as I could not afford to live in. I worked every vacation and during the school year. No “Spring Break” in Florida for me. Couldn’t afford it. Would I have liked to have gone the route many of today’s students take. Yes. Fortunately for me, I was brought up by parents who were not well off. An early work ethic, saving my income and living frugally, were instilled at an early age. “Wants” vs “Needs” conflicted me throughout my early years. Yes, I would have liked to have what others had. I learned to live without most of them. I still do.
            Problem is, many of today’s youth “want” everything new, yesterday. They can’t wait. Looking beyond tomorrow is not a way of life for them. “I want to go to school, where I want, even if it means taking on a large debt” without fully understanding the consequences, is part of the problem. Parents, by the way, don’t help them either. It’s a social thing for many. “My Johnny/Sally attended —-University”. They don’t mention how far in debt they are.
            I and considered by many of my friends as “cheap”. Doesn’t bother me. Haven’t received Christmas, Birthday gifts in many years. Don’t need them. I tell people that if they feel they need to give something, to make a donation to a charity. My wife and I take the money we would have spent, and more, on each other, during the holiday season, and spend it on a needy family in our community. Much better feeling helping those in need.
            David, you speak for yourself, not I. I’ve learned the true value of paying for what I have. If I don’t have the money, I do without. I don’t take loans, haven’t for many, many years. The joy of being “cheap” far outweighs being in debt!!!
            Public education Gr 1 – 12 (when I went) is offered to everyone. I pay for it still, although a whole lot more than my parents did. I believe in it. I have no children, of mine, utilizing it. I just wish we would see better results for the amount we pay. Again, I’m “cheap”. I don’t believe we are getting value for what we spend. I think many feel the same as I do. If you can prove to me that I’m receiving 100 cents on my tax dollar, I’ll stop complaining. Unfortunately, there is too much waste, and we both know it.

          • David Bell

            “Sorry David—I paid my tuition, fees, books and all need to attend college.”

            Sorry Peter, but according to you, you mooched off of taxpayers by receiving an education from a heavily subsidized state school because alternatives were “too bloody expensive”.

            That makes you just another entitled moocher who stuck his hand into someone other persons wallet.

            “An early work ethic, saving my income and living frugally, were instilled at an early age. ”

            Is that why you felt you were entitled to other peoples money for your education?

            “David, you speak for yourself, not I.”

            Nope, I paid for my degrees and went to work in the private sector. No union provided pension and government paycheck for me.

            Maybe you can spend some of your vast savings writing letters of apology to the hard working taxpayers whose money paid for your degree.

          • Peter Everett

            David–According to your definition, I guess I really am a Moocher, for taking advantage of a government subsidized public college education. This I admit. I did pay all of my “required” tuition, fees, books or whatever else the state required of me, each semester. Thank you for pointing that fact out to me. That also should include the millions before or after me who utilized this system. Or, David, am I the only one you consider a”Moocher” for taking advantage of this educational system like many others who obtained a college education, is route. We could not afford the luxury of a private institution, or, were unwilling to take on a burdensome debt at an early age, with no guarantee of finding a position in the work force where we could reasonably pay the debt. From your comments, you must have come from a much more secure financial background I or all the others who went this route.
            You seem to forget that while I was attending school, and working, I was generating income tax to the state. I think that some of this money may have gone to subsidize other students education as well as mine. Then again, prior to and after I completed my education my parents paid into the subsidized system, hoping I could take advantage of what they were paying for,is some small way. Now that I think of it, I paid into the same system for 45 years, after I graduated. One you could have utilized, if you chose to. Maybe that system wasn’t up to your Standards. I apologize for not meeting your Standards.
            As far as working in a public school system, I’m proud that I did, nothing to apologize for. If people like me weren’t willing to do so, who would educate the little darlings? I’m sure you sent your children to private school. Our system wasn’t up to your Standards.When I started teaching salaries were minimal ( I made more money working pumping gas, than teaching my first several years). I knew that this would be the case, I chose what career I wanted and didn’t complain about wages, unlike those in the profession today. I worked in the “dreaded” Private sector my entire career.
            As far as my “union” pension. The state I taught in created this pension in 1911, as a way to offset low salaries and draw people into the profession, well before the creation of teaching unions. Unlike “union” or other pensions, teachers self funded our pension system. The state and municipalities contributed ZERO, ZIP, NADA, towards the pension. We even manage our own investments, doing quite well, thank you. So, do I owe people an apology? I guess according to your Standards I do. To those I helped get ahead in life, maybe I do, my guess is I don’t.
            I will say that if I do not stand up to your standards I don’t really give a crap. I proud of what I did with my life, especially, coming from the financial background I came from. Because of the many, many who provided the opportunity for me, I don’t apologize. Instead, I say THANK YOU, for providing the opportunity to better myself. To you who provided me the opportunity, I hope some of you or your relatives were able to do the same using some of my tax money. I don’t begrudge anyone for doing so. Yes, David, I am a “Moocher” according to your Standards. Here’s the kicker, I’m glad I was smart enough to use what government provided for me in my youth. Don’t ridicule someone for not taking a route not up to your elitist standards. There are far more of us than there are of you. It’s called living the American Dream. If you don’t agree, who really cares,other than one person?

          • David Bell

            “David–According to your definition, I guess I really am a Moocher, for taking advantage of a government subsidized public college education. ”

            Not my definition, yours. You rail against people with needs far more dire than yours using government programs for help; yet remain convinced it was somehow different for you.

            “We could not afford the luxury of a private institution, or, were unwilling to take on a burdensome debt at an early age, with no guarantee of finding a position in the work force where we could reasonably pay the debt.”

            As I said, plenty of people in this nation could boast worse hardships as reason for using government programs. When you do it, you try claim it was an act of nobility. When others do much the same, you call them lazy bums who should be forced to accept random drug tests as condition for receiving aid; when will you be volunteering to do the same?

            “You seem to forget that while I was attending school, and working, I was generating income tax to the state. I think that some of this money may have gone to subsidize other students education as well as mine. Then again, prior to and after I completed my education my parents paid into the subsidized system, hoping I could take advantage of what they were paying for,is some small way. ”

            You seem to be unaware that most people receiving government aid work. I know, you don’t believe this because of a Reaganite fantasy where welfare recipients are just a bunch of lazy drug using moochers who barely even count as humans; but facts are facts.

            The fact you had a job does not mean you are owed government subsidized aid, nor does the fact that your parents worked entitle you to extra special privileges. Your having a job does not mark you out as unique, special or much different from anyone else.

            You sound like a farmer getting rich off government farm subsidies while railing against those evil poor folk who get food stamps. They’re mooching, but you have a right to government money…. at least in your own mind.

            “I worked in the “dreaded” Private sector my entire career.”

            Are you now saying you worked in private schools?

            “Unlike “union” or other pensions, teachers self funded our pension system.”

            So you took a government salary from a government position and paid someone else to invest it, truly you should get a standing ovation.

            “I will say that if I do not stand up to your standards I don’t really give a crap. ”

            This isn’t about my standards, but your hypocrisy. You call the poor a bunch of lazy bums who need to get random drug tests as a condition for having food and shelter, yet insist your own government funded bennies were “owed” to you because you worked part time and had parents with jobs. Unlike the millions of people you denigrate who would say much the same.

            They irony would be hilarious if not for the fact that this kind of double think is destroying the nation.

          • Janice Prindle

            So if government helped you, as it did anybody who has received a public education, why are you complaining about it helping others? That’s what I don’t understand. You were ranting against progressives, but your comments here and below sound progressive to me. I’m not calling you a moocher– I am questioning why the apparent double-standard.

            Also, I question how much better off you’d be if you’d not paid into Social Security. So many have lost their savings or seen the value of retirement funds shrink in the recession.

      • Irene Stewart

        Vermont seniors accept the social security that they paid for in advance, since they started working at age 18. PREPAID! Just like Medicare. Started PREPAYING for it and continue to pay for it each and every month. It is taken OUT of our social security check before we ever receive any money. I fear for those that hang out on the street corners, NOT wanting to work, who think they are worth more than they are offered, and will never have PREPAID for their social security. Maybe their parents will leave them a big trust fund, as they will need it.

    • Patricia Goodrich

      Social Security and Medicare are “social programs”, which we seniors have paid for (SS) and are paying for (Medicare). If we didn’t get a raise in our Social Security benefits in 2016, it was because the cost of living adjustment (COLA) didn’t go up enough in 2015. Congress is responsible for how the COLA is determined and for voting (or not) for a raise.

      Senior citizens, like my husband, held full-time jobs that included health insurance, a retirement fund you could invest in, and a pension. His one job supported a family of seven. Many jobs nowadays throughout the country, which used to be able to support a worker and his family, have disappeared. They have been replaced with “service” jobs which are part-time with no chance of going full-time, irregular schedules which mean you can’t easily work a second job, no health benefits, at minimum wage or below. This is why there are so many people on Medicaid, using food pantries, etc. These people are being subsidized by the government because of the greed of company owners, who also park their money offshore so they don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.

      Why would the Congress turn a blind eye to these unfair practices and not change the laws? Because some members of Congress are paid to vote against a fair tax code for all of its citizens. All of our citizens deserve the same services, including affordable health care and a good public school education. That is the basis of a citizenry which is educated and healthy. Ignorance is expensive.

      • Paul Richards

        “These people are being subsidized by the government because of the greed of company owners, who also park their money offshore so they don’t have to pay their fair share of taxes.”
        If these company owners are doing something illegal then arrest them and put them in jail. If they are working within the system that our liberal government set up and you don’t like it then work to get them to change it. In the meantime consider that the government is doing exactly what they set out to do.
        “They have been replaced with “service” jobs which are part-time with no chance of going full-time, irregular schedules which mean you can’t easily work a second job, no health benefits, at minimum wage or below.”
        This is one of the results of obamacare. Again; consider that it is doing exactly what it was designed to do which is to make more and more and more people dependent on government (aka create democrat voters). You reap what you sew.

        • David Bell

          “This is one of the results of obamacare.”

          No, it was happening long before.

          “Again; consider that it is doing exactly what it was designed to do which is to make more and more and more people dependent on government (aka create democrat voters). You reap what you sew.”

          Does the fact the “news organizations” who spoon feed you this drivel have been wrong about pretty much everything for over a decade ever give you pause?

        • David O\’Brien

          Paul on the issue of U.S. corporations parking their earnings overseas to avoid paying taxes the issue is U.S. tax policy. We tax foreign earnings at a much higher rate than our competitors around the world. Many politicians running for office on the GOP side have brought this up. If we simply reduce the effective tax rate on foreign earnings then trillions in capital will flow back here. Rail against corporations all you want, they are simple organisms that seek to maximize return for shareholders. Many of whom are all of us with pensions and college funds. If we want the capital back invested here let’s make it attractive to private capital.

    • David Bell

      Great, how about you provide a nice long list of all the things you are personally willing to give up?

    • David O\’Brien

      Peter you are right a big part of our problem in Vermont is how much we spend in general and especially relative to our means. We are generous in terms of the benefits we pay and the ease of access to programs. Under the Douglas Administration it was cause number 1 to live within a sustainable budget path where spending growth could not exceed the rate of economic growth. In the past 6 years that has not been the case as we have spent beyond the meager growth rates of this alleged economic expansion.

      But I think the fundamental point being missed is our anti-growth posture in Vermont. Many states, especially here in the Northeast, have liberal benefits but that is at last somewhat balanced by a growing economy and growing personal wealth. We really do not have that in VT, especially outside the Burlington-Montpelier beltway. The high taxes, Byzantine permit system, etc do not send a welcoming sign to business investors. Vermont will always have a disadvantage due to being remote from cities to the south, climate, etc. But we sadly exacerbate this by being unfriendly to business. Makes no sense to me. And the harm this is causing working families is extreme.

      In Rutland County and the City in particular our population is declining, household income is increasingly made up of public support payments instead of wages, and poverty rate increasing, all much worse than the rest of the state and nation.

      While conservative I really don’t like to put things in a Liberal category versus conservative. I would simply say our elected officials are failing to address a very real humanity issue that left alone will rot us out from within. As others have posted the young will continue to leave after college, others will refrain from coming and before you know it we will have a two part system of the wealthy with their gentleman farms and the poor at the other end of the spectrum. That is the reality the numbers indicate.

  • John Freitag

    The forces in Vermont which create the conditions of which Mr. Miller so eloquently writes are not new, just much much more intense. Paul M. Searls in his book “Two Vermonts: Geography and Identity, 1865-1910” provides historical background towards understanding the continued conflict between “uphill” and “downhill” Vermont. His book can be acquired from your local library via the Vermont lending library system or for a few dollars at Amazon.

    • Bruce S. Post

      John, that is an absolutely excellent recommendation. Paul’s book is a classic. Here is just one brief quote that puts it and your comment in perspective:

      “The line between those who welcomed progress and those who eschewed it was by no means clear. Every individual, to some extent, inevitably harbored conflicting attitudes about the implications of modernity. As a shared identity that bound individuals together as a community, then, the designation ‘Vermonter’ held the promise of creating empathy between different kinds of Vermonters. Little of that potential was realized, however, because, in Vermont, America’s divided mind about the long transition from community to society was evident not only within individuals but also between two distinct groups of Vermonters. In this study, these groups are referred to as ‘downhill’ and ‘uphill’ Vermonters. These labels originate in Vermont’s settlement patterns and roughly correspond, respectively, to ‘village’ and ‘country.’ From the beginning there were also economic dimensions to the labels, the generalization being that downhillers were professionals, uphillers farmers. But, as its originator Robert Shallope has argued, if the distinction was originally geographic or economic, it was ultimately always ideological. The historical struggle over who was a Vermonter was at its heart about neither nativity more location. It was about values.”

    • Bruce S. Post

      John, re: Paul Searls, you might enjoy this video snippet, which, while certainly provocative, only scratches the surface of the Two Vermonts. https://youtu.be/JH-i2AVpB0M

    • Raj Chawla

      It may also be available at a local bookstore that is owned by your neighbors. Suggesting people shop at Amazon instead of locally tells me you missed a large portion of what Mr. Miller was talking about. Buy local, books, photographs, whatever you can. The prices are often equal to online sites. Help your neighbors.

      • Bruce S. Post

        Actually, Raj, finding this in a local bookstore is problematic. It is an academic imprint, University Press of New England, and may not have had wide availability. I was fortunate to have found some remainders at Crow Booksop in Burlington and purchased about six. Gave four away as gifts.

    • Ed Brennan

      Before anyone looks to Republicans and capitalism to solve societal problems, I reccomend that they read John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath…

  • Wendy Wilton

    Peter, how right you are in this assessment. Vermont’s government has become cruel to her people. We’ve built a welfare state that discourages work and thrift, yet traps the vulnerable. To pay for it we have overburdened those who do produce. As a native and lifelong Vermonter I am saddened. Your book will document the loss of a culture that was so special at one time, only the memory of which now exists, seemingly, in Norman Rockwell paintings.

  • Thank you for sharing your story and to VT Digger for “printing.” A changing landscape such as Vermont (whether demographics, climate, economics, politics et al) can feel destructive. I am, Peter, 20+ years “behind” you, but I get it. Things often fall apart, feeling out of my control. I am not sure that they ever were in my control, but it sure felt more that way at 30. After spending the last three years visiting my mother every day (she just passed at 98) in a nursing home and watching the lives of so many folk being deconstructed, shrinking, your piece will linger and haunt. It is all so complicated. I can already see the easy and quick answers coming from some of the comments here. For instance, one person says that it is property taxes. Move to income tax. So many of my neighbors and friends have moved to TN where taxes are frozen at 65. If your income fails, your taxes don’t follow you like a starving predator. Let me share, however, how crazy, complicated and interlaced this discussion can get. Your reasonable, if desperate, attempt to hang on by opening up your home through Airbnb is my nightmare. We have spent tens of thousands of dollars establishing a B&B in our home, licensed (VT just raised the fees yet again), regularly inspected and happily adding to the Vermont economy and the State budget through the 9% rooms and meals tax. Like many inns and B&Bs in Vermont, our investments are dissolving because the State has chosen to ignore the “sharing economy” and allow hundreds of unregulated and untaxed rooms and entire houses to compete with us. Like many owners, we make beds because we can’t afford to stay in our homes. (In our case…a home that we built in 1976.) I need to stop writing…the tractor is running and the wood will not cut itself. Winter is coming and is predicted to be cold and snowy…a great thing to me, but we won’t all see that the same. Prayers for you, Peter, and hope for you, for all of us. It does feel like “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.” Perhaps my old, dusty copy of Yeats will sustain me later…after I return from the woods.

  • Meg Streeter

    Dear Mr. Miller – thank you – for your photographs and your books and your honesty. I hope all Digger readers will buy your books to help support all you have done for us

  • Janice Prindle

    Peter, I am Vermont broke too, only I disagree that this is a Vermont problem and that only Democrats are to blame. All over America, hardworking and creative people who never used to be poor are sliding into poverty. The real root of the problem is hinted at in your experience of Getty Images… Over the past 40 years, starring with Reagan and continuing to the present, our federal tax code was rewritten to shift the burden from corporations and the wealthy onto the working and middle classes. Trade policy was transformed by NAFTA, a corporate bill of rights, allowing corporations to ship jobs overseas and take advantage of all sorts of tax loopholes and to stash their profits in overseas tax havens. The financial industry was deregulated, leading to the recession from which we have not recovered, though the wealthy have, as even the Washington Post acknowledged in a recent article. Virtually all of the profit of American productivity is going to the one percent; wages are stagnant and their purchasing power has declined. Small businesses are hurt as badly, in particular in the food industry where federal regulations are intended to favor factory farms over family farms, which severely impacts Vermont. The net effect is that money is not circulating through our economy as it used to. It flows in one direction, up, into the pockets of the obscenely wealthy.
    This is why hardly anybody has any disposable income to buy your photographs from you directly, while a corporation can squeeze our royalties and commissions and control the market.
    If you don’t believe Bernie, check out the Public Assets Institute, and compare key indicators from 1979 vs. today. Or check out Nobel prize-winning economists such as Joseph Stieglitz.

    • Janice Prindle

      Perhaps you can support your charge against Bernie. I referenced him as the only major political figure to make our plutocratic oligarchy a public issue, as it needs to be. I’m not blind to the reality that what has happened over the past 40 years, while led by conservative Republicans as tools of the Koch brothers, has been a bipartisan effort (NAFTA, for instance, under Clinton). Corporations win, we lose, and are left to fight over the crumbs.

  • Joyce Travers

    While I am not a “true” Vermonter, in that I was not born here, I have invested the last 25+ years to a life here. Shortly after moving to Vermont I found myself single again and on my own. I used my divorce settlement as a down payment on a home thinking that it would be more secure than renting. And for a time that rang true. But after several economic downturns resulting in stints of unemployment, a hurricane, and being taken to the cleaners by a family member – I’m right there with you on the bottom rung. I am a single woman, in her 60’s and while I am working at a job I love, ends are no where near meeting. It is always a juggling act as to who gets paid and yes, sometimes the power gets shut off. I too live the frugal life, I don’t have any frills like a cell phone and when my car died earlier this year I had to borrow money from a friend to buy a (very) used vehicle for $2000. Hard to remember a time when $2000 was an affordable number. My house desperately needs work and the coming heating season scares the hell out of me. The sad part is that – this is the boat that so many are in. This is the reality of the New Vermont and it is the direct result of having had leadership that is so far removed from the everyday lives of the people of this state that, as you said, “The canary is gasping.”

  • Karen Jones

    We have recently relocated to Florida from Vermont…..we simply could not afford to live there any longer. High property taxes, high gas prices, high income tax, heating a home in the frigid winter with no snow to keep the house insulated, NO jobs for our children…..I could make a list a mile long. We have hospitals in Vermont telling patients that if you do not have health insurance….we will only charge you half of what we charge those with health insurance…..
    In the area that we lived the VSP cover our emergencies….sometimes they show up and sometimes they don’t! Shumlin has done his best to make Vermont his own little personal playground….with us paying the cover charge.

    • Elsie Gilmore

      Florida is not the panacea you think it is. I’m sure some day I will move back to Vermont because Florida is becoming a toxic waste dump. The city I live in can’t withstand even a strong, rainy storm anymore without having to dump untreated sewage in the bay. Florida is wholly unprepared for our increasingly strong weather events. It will take at least a decade just to get up to where we should be TODAY, much less spend the tens of millions of dollars needed to be prepared for the future. Florida is and has been in a serious state of denial.

  • Karen Jones

    No longer just surviving in Vermont

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Peter Miller is not alone. There are many of us in the same situation. At least he has water. In Bennington we have PFOA in our wells. Except for the DEC, I have not heard one VT official address this issue.

    The younger folks can get out of Vermont. Many older folks are trapped with no options.

    • Rosemarie – my heart goes out to you and all Vermonters impacted by the PFOA contamination in Bennington. That said, we as Vermonters can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t argue for lower taxes and less government intrusion with one breath, and with the next demand that the state step in to fix every problem. Remember a few months ago when the house that was about to fall into the Winooski River had to be demolished? A total loss that was not covered by a homeowners policy. Did the state step in to bail out the homeowner? I doubt it. Hopefully, you will have recourse in court against St. Gobain and the other polluters to compensate you for this misfortune. The state should do everything they can to facilitate those efforts.

      • rosemarie jackowski

        Tim… I agree. We should not depend on the government to solve all our problems – but maybe the government has some responsibility here. I have been working since 1947. I have been paying taxes for a very long time. There are some things that private citizens cannot do – such as being a Lone Ranger and protecting the environment. Across the border in New York, legislators have been very active. The voices of Vermont legislators would help a lot. All I hear is silence.

        In addition, the town Select Board has not been very open. At a recent SB meeting, one board member asked for an update and was immediately silenced. The meeting then adjourned to the hallway out of the eyes and ears of the public. We need transparency.

        Access to safe municipal water is a political decision. I have been requesting town water since I built my house in 1985. The municipal line is at the end of my street – only a few hundred feet away.

        Besides the health issue, this is also an economic disaster for home owners. We can’t sell our houses now. Our houses have lost value. Will the town lower our taxes to fit the new decreased value?

  • rosemarie jackowski

    Maybe for a change Vermonters should consider not voting for democrats or republicans in November. There are better options on the ballot. We can’t get change if we continue to vote the same way.

  • Ralph Colin

    And all this while Peter Shumlin spends a casual two-week vacation (one of several annually) on his third home on Cape Breton Island in Canada.

    He cares. He really does.

    • William Hays

      As a former Cape Bretoner (“Herringchoker”), I know why Shumlin vacations there: he envies their 15% sales taxes!

  • Karen Schwartz

    With all due respect this is not just a Vetmont problem — it’s across the country. Why isn’t Social Security be sufficient to live on if we work all of our lives, revardless whether artist or carpenter or clerk? Why are seniors on paying high monthly fees for “Part B and Part D” Medicare from fixed incomes?

    • Lance Wilson

      From SSA.gov (see below) SS was never intended to be an “only” source of retirement income – although some can do it. They do IF they prepare (ie. fully own their or control their housing needs, adjust their lifestyle accordingly, get lucky with health or have alternate means for health care needs, live in a tax friendly area, etc.) – and by that I mean just relying on social security (not family, inheritances, other sources of income, etc.).

      As you can note below, anybody who relied on just social security was not paying attention.

      “Today, replacement rates for medium earners retiring at the age of 65 are about 42 percent. The rates for high and low earners are 35 percent and 56 percent, respectively.21 Financial advisors often recommend having retirement income sufficient to replace 60 percent to 80 percent of preretirement earnings (EBRI 1996–2005), but even from the program’s earliest days, policymakers have expected individuals to supplement Social Security with savings, pensions, and other income.

      https://www.ssa.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v66n1/v66n1p1.html

      • Janice Prindle

        Savings which Wall Street ate up in the recession… Pensions that corporations have found ways to renege on… That is part of the problem.

    • Eric Rosenbloom

      And Miller hinted at another issue regarding Social Security: that “self-employed” workers pay twice as much Social Security/Medicare tax as “W-2” employees. That burden, on top of property tax in a high-value state, is huge.

      (Not to mention the absurdity that people pulling in a million dollars per year pay the same as those making 118,500 a year.)

      • Lance Wilson

        Eric – true, but don’t kid yourself that the 50% “contribution” by those working for an employer doesn’t get factored into the wages, especially depending on the elasticity of demand for that particular job. You are correct for self-employed (by definition) the economic burden and the actual tax burden are equal since there is only one entity involved.

        Businesses “pay” the sales tax, but who really bears the burden (depends on the price sensitivity of the item)?

        Sure, you could lift the FICA wage cap, but will you also lift the maximum benefit if you believe in the philosophy of “I’m getting back what I paid in?” or do you mean the wealthy (annual income wise) should subsidize – as they do in other ways – right, 45% of Americans pay no federal income tax.

        http://www.marketwatch.com/story/45-of-americans-pay-no-federal-income-tax-2016-02-24

        Look more at the regressive state tax policies – that’s a VT issue!

        • Janice Prindle

          But: raising the Social Security cap (not the maximum benefit) and other changes to more fairly tax the wealthiest, and provide more money for the rest of us to meet our daily needs, would create an economic stimulus, because the money would circulate, as indeed it used to do pre-Reagan. Trickle down has been totally discredited over the past 40 years. And as long as Vermont’s tax structure is based on the federal structure, though somewhat more progressive as Mr. Hoffer pointed out, this is equally a state issue. The reality is that Vermont’s economy is tied up with the national economy. And as I said, national changes, including deregulation of the financial sector, led to the recession and destroyed or seriously reduced many folks’ retirement savings.

  • Jim Hilton

    Mr. Millers photos are beautiful, and his personal story is sad, but this is ultimately a very educational piece about a man who woke up one day and realized he didn’t plan for his financial future. There are lots and lots of families in Vermont living happily on modest incomes. Financial literacy is a critical life skill. Blaming the global economy or politicians seems like a cop out. I’ve never met anyone, in Vermont or anywhere, that didn’t complain about their property taxes.

    We all have to save for the future. Saving for retirement should begin the day you start working. Compound interest works. It’s just math. Unfortunately it sounds like that didn’t happen. Yes, the photography market has changed, as have all industries in the 50 years. We all have to adapt and change over a long life. I’ve changed professions many times as the economy has changed.

    If your house is the only asset you have remaining, then selling it may be your best move. I can’t live in a house I can’t afford either. I hope Mr. Miller sells a ton of books and prints due to this infomercial piece, but there is definitely a lesson to be learned here about taking care of our personal financial futures, before it’s too late.

    • Neil Johnson

      This is where coming together can be helpful and beneficial for all. Owning his own home can be his saving grace. He can take on some boarders/room mates, yes we might have to make adaptations, but it might work very well for all parties. My Saxophone instructor did, it helped with his expenses and provided a reasonably inexpensive place to live for others. One has to be careful with choosing a roommate. Could easily bring in another $1150 per month for 3 bedrooms. If his tax bill was $800 per year….then things might be doable. Take some photos for a carpenter and his bride at the wedding, might get you some small repairs done.

      There are other seniors that could use an affordable place and good company. If we come together we can solve problems….

  • Peter – My heart goes out to you and every other Vermonter who is struggling to make ends meet. I concur. Many of our elected representatives are out of touch with the day to day challenges faced by Vermonters. The good news is that because Vermont is so small, we still have time to fix it. Imagine if we were living in NY or PA! The network of patronage and bureaucracy is so bloated and intractable, we would have no choice but to throw our hands up. I do have a suggestion for generating some income which you may find in line with your political leanings. I believe the “Vermont Strong” license plate program expired in June. Perhaps we need a replacement plate? “Vermont Broke” The photo at the attached link is screaming for a some Photoshop editting!

    http://digital.vpr.net/post/vermont-strong-plates-extended-two-years#stream/0

    • edward letourneau

      PA does not tax social security or retirement income. NY exempts the first 20K and puts a lock on property taxes for seniors. Vermont taxes everything, and taxes the money you pay in property taxes twice.

  • Don Peterson

    If the arts were to be profitable, then corporations would soon control it; if the State subsidizes it, then the content will have to meet its approval. Neither of these conditions furthers civilization.

    The rest of your comentary applies to us all, except those who bring baskets of money with them to Vermont. It’s not a state for poor people.

  • John nute

    Hang in there bud, abd god bless Texas

  • To a greater or lesser extent we are all responsible for Peter’s plight ! Having failed to vote in sufficient numbers to keep destructive individuals out of the State House, all Vermonters should hang their heads in shame for the parasitic creature our state government has become.

    As to Peter’s current predicament, please consider reaching out to him and lending a hand – by patronizing his business with a book or photograph OR in some other meaningful way.

    Anyone who is not moved to action is either heartless (OR has fallen into the same financial condition as Peter) !

    Peter can be contacted at: [email protected]

    • Scott Greene

      And even though he is not soliciting, Mr Miller’s Address is also on his Website.

      Mr. Miller I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated your work over the years, especially the way in which you offer your respect and admiration of Vermonters, while preserving their modesty. Thank you.

    • Seth Barrows

      Just ordered the book. Also earlier this morning requested my absentee ballot for the Nov elections

  • Peter – Thanks for sharing and I wish you well. I”m in for the current book.

  • I was always under the impression that following your calling meant accepting a degree of discomfort with the threat of downright destruction thrown in for effect. If all it took was the creation of an interstate highway or two to bring down the Vermont Way then maybe it didn’t possess the necessary strength to survive the long term; maybe, since its undefinable, it wasn’t very important to begin with. Idealism seems to be the culprit in most of our problems and for some reason corruption is always a surprise. Change yourself to change the world.

  • Jacob Miller

    Apparently one only has to scratch the surface of the bucolic Vermont photograph to reveal the underlying bigotry and animosity generated by this commentary. Sad. Very sad and disturbing.

  • John Grady

    Nobody ever paid a penny into a mythical social security trust fund, it doesn’t exist. All federal taxes we pay go to the US Treasury and the 535 Bernie Madoffs called Senators and Congressman spend all the money and than some. The social security tax revenue went to pay retirement benefits to prior generations like our parents and if anything was left over they spent it on PORK. Vermont got many servings of PORK.

    The Population of Vermont has elected the NEA sponsored democrats for years and also approved all the school spending so has nobody to blame but themselves. They got what they voted for. Electing a RINO who will change nothing isn’t going to help.

    Cutting school spending over 50% and becoming a Right to Work State would be a good start. It’s not going to happen anytime soon so it’s pointless to complain or go on hoping it’s going to get better.

    Vote for Sue Minter and help them hang themselves. Electing Minter is like giving them the rope to finish the job and after the dust settles the rebuilding can start. It’s evident tons of people have a death wish because they will cling to their failing culture too the death so lets get on with it, vote for Sue Minter and finish the job by doing some good old fashion creative destruction so the failed 20th Century economic theories can be buried.

    • Joe Perry

      I agree, the RINO sat by for 8 years while Ponzi Peak stole 400 Million dollars, lets elect Sue or Phil, it wouldn’t matter, the butcher’s bill is gonna get paid by you and me, unless we MOVE. Sad but true.

  • Mark Huntley

    I served two terms in the VT legislature, and I’m one of those awful “D’s” you mention so glowingly.
    There is only 100 cents in a dollar and the rules of common reason apply, ALWAYS apply.
    My clients (in 20 different states) have many stories about the grass being greener, until you realize, it still has to be mowed—no free lunch and no “new” legislature is going to sprinkle fairy dust and make VT a Disney movie…wherever you are there you are.

    I left here at 30 and moved, lived and worked in NYC and LA—I built my practice in those places so I could come back to VT (where I was born by the way) to raise my family.
    My business is “portable” and despite hating winter, and yes, its expensive, but I love VT, no place like it on Earth.. love leaving my door open all day (okay, so now that I’ve written that, I might start locking it) — and will bury these old bones, right here, where it all started.
    At least were not in this list!
    http://www3.forbes.com/leadership/the-10-states-people-are-fleeing/11/

  • Dawn Archbold

    I recently left a long time position running a small VT nonprofit. One of the many reasons I left was because I found it increasingly difficult to feel compassion for the people who were coming in for help. Our state has taught people how to live quite well off the system with no incentive to get off. Without significant changes, our state will continue to fight this losing battle. After 20 years, I gave up the fight. My money and time will now be going towards animal causes. I still do love Vermont though.

  • Charles Bergmann

    An income tax is the only fair way to tax for government as income is the only real measure of how much money a taxpayer might have in a given year. I expressed this thought in a recent VTDigger Commentary and such a tax code should help Mr. Miller. One can say that Mr. Miller should have set more money aside for retirement but often that is not possible and thus many have to rely on social security income which is usually inadequate even without all the other added taxes that we must pay. I do not know what Mr. Miller’s net income from the Airbnb is but fear that he could find that he owes “self-employment tax” on it. This may seem strange as the “self- employment tax” funds social security which he is collecting but the government likes to grab every opportunity to raise funds for its’ endless need to spend money. I am pleased that many have written in support of Mr. Miller.

  • Linda Campbell

    You have hit the nail right on the head about our tax and spend legislature, especially with the way it affects the low income and retired population. Hoping for change soon.

  • Meredith Jones

    Thank you so much for your reality check words. Yes this is really hard. Just to maintain a roof over my head. And I have done the same work for about 30 years just to live here where I love. Little benefits,no insurance ,no retirement. And winter coming again. Need 5 cords of wood.

  • Nick Stuart

    A writer and photographer living in Vermont. Pretty sweet actually. Lifestyle maybe a lot of truck drivers, welders, sales reps, retail clerks, and so on would like if they could manage it.

    Can’t manage it, learn truck driving, welding, sell something or whatever.

    The people of Vermont have what they have because they’ve voted the way they’ve voted.

  • OMG is all I found myself repeating as I read this. I just need to say how much I’ve enjoyed Mr Miller’s photo’s and loved his book about when he was in France at the start of his career I have to admit he has never made a dime off of me, myself of limited means and pretty much always have been. Again all I can say is OMG.

  • Dick Cook

    The two things that happened to Vermont that helped us get to this point: the electrical grid and the interstate highway system.

  • If you watched the debate last night, you had the candidate from the Democrats speaking about new programs, unfunded, no clue as to how to close the existing gap – just more spending. The Republican candidate, be cautious, no new spending – no clue how to close the existing gap, just hope it goes away. I am not hopeful frankly.

  • Dee Hutchins

    Peter Miller, sorry to hear of your struggles in Vermont.
    I also struggle to make ends meet. Seems in Vermont the only answer they have to any problem is raise taxes! Soon I will have nothing to tax.

  • Peter-
    Like the frog that was in a pot as the water began to boil so too VT only realized it was in trouble until too late. I migrated back to the United States right before the Shumlin Regime came to power. Jim Douglas was a steady hand on the state tiller but all Shumlin seems to know is the NASCAR version of governance- go fast turn left. It is a shame- its a beautiful state that has in recent years increasingly only cared about the haves while the have nots crowd corners like Railroad and Western Ave in St. J waiting for a check and smoke cigs they bought with EBT.

    Maine seems a bit better- of course the left is very strong here but also is the right the farther away from Portland and Brunswick one travels. Our governor is a plain spoken guy that just wants to help- heck he only makes $75K a year- lowest in the country.

    I sincerely wish you the very best and I’ll have to scoot over to your blog and maybe find something I’d like to put on my walls here in Pemaquid- next to my William Wallace from Ryegate and my Nick Pelieros from St. J. Hang tough old timer there are plenty of warm afternoons left.

  • Ronald Allbee

    Peter….it sickens me as to what has become of Vermont. My family goes back to 1760’s with legislators, doctors, farmers, governors, revolutionary and civil war heros, etc. They would be turning over in their graves many times if they could see Vermont today with it’s high taxes and expenditures. The legislatures and Governor’s I worked with (Snelling) spent money wisely and made sure the average Vermonter could live in Vermont. I have been gone from Vt. for 12 years and miss my Vermont. Thinking of coming back and notice all the properties in Vermont for sale. Seems that those that can flee the high costs and taxes leave. Those that are stuck or those that are independently wealthy stay. I look at legislature makeup and see people that do not depend on work. I worked for legislative council in 1970’s and 5 of us wrote laws and staffed committees. Now there are well over 24 doing the job. We did not have computers either. Sorry to hear about your plight and know that there are many more like you. Best wisehs

  • I live in Colorado and have seen the same kind of invasion driving home prices to a completely unaffordable level it is impossible to escape the masses there is a whole class of people taking to the woods and creating a massive amount of trash in the tons now left by the homeless our teachers are not even paid enough to cover rent and basic needs and most work another job working 12 hour days there is a whole class of people who can’t afford medical insurance yet their income is just over the line to receive help

  • Chad Libbey

    I am a vermont expat living in new mexico. I am a professional in my early 40s and my wife and i would love to move out family back there, but everytime we look at houses or for jobs we are deeply discouraged. I really miss my home state and hope the situation changes soon or vermont will become an empty panorama for tourists to gawk at and little else.
    PS: How do i buy your book?

  • Rich St. Gelais

    I soooo hear you Peter. I’m not self employed but An now on disability. I have been a Vermonter practically all my life. And I just can’t afford (and it doesn’t make sense) to own a place to stay any longer.

    I have owned a home for a number of years and had an energy audit done on the house. I invested over 25k in a heating system, blown insulation, new shingles on the roof, and a number of windows. I ALSO just had an appraisal done. After all those improvements the appraisal came back and it was actually the exact same value as before.

    So, My wife and I are in the process of selling the home here and moving west. Fortunately my wife grew up in Topeka, KS which we visited a couple times earlier this year. We have purchased a home there for way less than here in Vt., the taxes are half of what We’re paying here, and the weather is much better.

    Bottom line is, based on our income we can’t afford to stay. And it’s not going to get any better…… So we’re selling out and moving.

  • Jay \” Gary\” Davis

    What a frank look at our state, and why so many poor Vermonters in retirement have left. Yes a property owned for 70,000 and paid for 35 years ago now valued at 360,000. Is this really a good thing Vermonter? I now and for almost 11 years have a small 13000 food one home in South Carolina. Mr Bern and Jane poor indeed three homes and just paid 500,000 cash for the last.

  • doreen keith

    You’ve shared this story so eloquently. We moved our family here in 1989 because of the way of life here…not to change Vermont. The farmer who sold us the house told us to blow up the bridge behind us. This is not the same state that it was even in 1989.

    My husband, children and I own 3 businesses, 4 houses, and a large piece of commercial property. We are carefully trying to come up with an exit strategy. I am sad that my grandchildren may not get to grow up here like their parents did.

    My husband can be seen at the wonderful VA hospital here but I haven’t carried health insurance for all of my time here. When I looked into enrolling in a program earlier today, the banner across the page announces that VT is #1 in health insurance costs. I will continue to work on staying healthy and enjoying the scenery (for which I pay a view tax) as long as possible because I love it here almost all of the time. Today I see that my taxes will cover student records at Burlington College….ugh!

    I look forward to your book, but will probably be reading it in Texas.

  • Carolyn Clarkson

    I too took my mother and left Vermont. I could not find any affordable elderly living accomadations and my mother has Alzheimer’s Disease. Her home was paid for! She was taxed out. I have a fixed income but could not afford the living expenses.

  • David Randall

    Some ideas here. Go on the road in summer. Rent the house out to those invaders from the south. Maybe you can make enough to better make ends meet. Sorry it’s become a reinvent youself in your 80’s. It’s happening all over these days.

  • Annie Gaillard

    Sadness… and a reality that many people of all ages, political parties, genders, etc. across this country are facing. The entire system is broken and I blame corporate capitalism for it. When huge corporations buy out the smaller local companies, send the jobs overseas, dictate the prices so that they can become billionaires and then don’t even pay any taxes either by the CEOs or the companies themselves, I think this is the real problem. There is only so much money printed and if some hog it all, the rest grovel for the crumbs. You can look at Vermont or you can look at the big picture and any little people on this planet do not matter.