• Better than the rest?
    January 29,2014

    Better than the rest?

    Tom Pelham (“Steering the ship toward the rocks,” Jan. 26) warns of budgeting problems which would occur come the failure of one-time revenue inputs in the next recession, but his prescription —“Don’t spend so much”— fails to meet the challenges imposed by the changes time imposes on circumstances in public safety, education, health care, transportation and citizens’financial well-being.

    He ignores one key number which makes his prescription null and void: $16.4 trillion.

    Imagine that a population of 261,000 households had a $16.4 trillion pool of money divided equally among themselves, for an average household income of $75,900. That of course would be a very comfortable income. How much of it would each family have to spend to survive? Let’s imagine that the “livable wage”— the amount of money needed to get by - rent/mortgage, utilities, food, taxes; in short, everything except health care costs — for that family is $49,800. That after-taxes surplus of $26,000 for each household would total $6.7 trillion. The $66 million in one-time revenues that Mr. Pelham frets over is 0.9 percent — less than 1 percent — of the household surplus, and suddenly Mr. Pelham’s worries are resolved by the realization that if every household chips in $738 more, the budgets for the last 22 years would have been recession-proof.

    Now, where could such a population and such a livable wage condition exist? The 2010 census reported 600,000 Vermonters living in households averaging 2.3 people. The Vermont tax data for 2011 in-state adjusted gross income (federal returns) was $16,442,857,010. Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology computed (http://livingwage.mit.edu/places/5000710675) that the most expensive place for a family of three to live in Vermont is Burlington, where one adult with two children needs to earn at least $49,800 a year to keep afloat.

    The trouble is, that our tax structure is so inequitable and the forces opposed to fairness are so entrenched that our political leadership in both parties continues to behave as though Vermont, like a syphilitic hooker, must keep driving down her price in order to afford her next night in a flophouse. Until we understand that fairness matters and quality costs more, we will continue to compete against other states in the race to the bottom. There’s no reason why we shouldn’t be better than the rest.

    Chuck Gregory


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