The following are important issues that must be faced by the 2014 Legislature:
1. Jobs and the Economy
3. Substance Abuse
Jobs and the Economy
Vermont continues to have a low unemployment rate at 4.6%. Vermont is the 6th lowest nationally and lower than any other New England state.
This year the legislature will attempt to strengthen those in technical fields to be successful in starting Vermont businesses. We have to offer young people training needed in software, information technology and health care and other jobs that will be created in the future. The legislature must work to achieve a balance between higher education system and our K-12 system. We have to teach young people to be critical thinkers and provide specific training for employment opportunities.
The budget is the key issue that has to be dealt with this year. Over the past five years, Vermont has been increasingly reliant on federal funds which puts us at a risk for federal fund reductions. This last year the federal government provided for mandatory sequestration with across the board reductions unless other reductions are negotiated. The areas that consume the largest resources are Medicaid at 28% and education at 32%. The estimated general fund budget gap is projected at $72 million, which is the result of the use of one-time funds in previous years and decreasing federal participation in the Medicare program. Areas that will require additional funds are corrections, current use and state police.
A new trend in state government is called results-based budgeting. Under this system, different areas of government evaluate their programs by asking questions about the effectiveness of the program and how they benefit people. The results based budgeting is the way to “bend the curve” of rising costs. In the future more states will move in this direction.
The use of opiates and heroin is a major public health challenge in Vermont. Reducing the prevalence of those at the risk of substance abuse or mental illness is a legislative goal. Vermont was the highest in the nation for illicit drug use in 2010 and 2011. Over $27 million is spent through the state’s Medicare program for substance abuse annually and $6 million is specifically for outpatient treatment. People being treated also have substance abuse, medical and health conditions.
Senator Bill Doyle serves on the Senate Education Committee and Senate Economic Affairs Committee, and is the Senate Assistant Minority Leader. He teaches government history at Johnson State College. He can be reached at 186 Murray Road, Montpelier, VT 05602; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or call 223-2851.