A group of wealthy Vermonters is pledging to keep up the heat on Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders in an effort for someone, anyone, to raise their taxes before session's end as a way to close Vermont's budget gap.
Now, these folks aren't up for shouldering the entire $176 million burden, but would be OK with a temporary surcharge on their own millions to help the state out of its fiscal crunch. Mostly, they want to ensure that vulnerable Vermonters don't have to bear that burden.
About 50 well-heeled Vermonters sent the governor a letter (pasted below) on March 22, and which I reported on in last week's "Fair Game."
The gov was asked about the proposal — again — at a legislative breakfast in Middlebury. According to attendees, Shumlin stood his ground on his pledge to not raise taxes on Vermonters for fear that those able to do so will take up residence in New Hampshire, or warmer climes such as Florida. Neither of those states collects income tax. I guess that would leave less-mobile Vermonters who to shoulder any cuts or targeted tax increases.
This topic also came up on today's "Vermont Edition" on Vermont Public Radio, when one caller — claiming to be a wealthy Vermonter — asked Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell if he had read the article and would support raising taxes on the top 5 percent of wage earners, as proposed by H.401 --sponsored in part by Reps. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington) and Paul Poirier (I-Barre CIty). Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington) supports a similar measure in the Senate. A third proposal by Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) would create an alternative minimum tax in Vermont. In 2009, according to the tax department, 300 Vermonters earning $100,000 or more paid zero income tax. That includes seven millionaires.
Campbell sidestepped the question and instead focused on the fact that lawmakers are looking to cut services in a way that doesn't impact direct services for vulnerable Vermonters.
With several weeks to go until the end of the session, it seems unlikely that legislative leaders and the governor will raise anyone's income taxes. And, given that next year is an election year, I highly doubt they'll be calling for a tax increase then, either.
Curious about who signed the letter? I pasted it below.
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March 22, 2011
Dear Governor Shumlin,
We are Vermonters who share your long-term goals — sustainable energy, good jobs and the nation's first single-payer system. We have also had the good fortune of prospering in our beautiful state. And we are increasingly concerned about our neighbors who are not so fortunate and are struggling to survive these difficult times.
We strongly support H.401 and its companion proposal in the Senate, proposals which would reverse a small share of the Bush-era tax cuts on wealthy Vermonters to help meet basic human needs, and we ask you to join us. This proposal would both help our neighbors and strengthen our long-term economy.
You support ending Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy on the national level but think wealthy Vermonters would leave our state if we acted alone. This is a mistake. People like us, with good jobs and careers in Vermont, would not leave our homes, friends, careers and the state we love if asked to pay a bit more to help our neighbors. Doing what we can to help others is the Vermont way. Even the Blue Ribbon Tax Committee found no evidence that taxes result in flight. And we know cutting needed services will cost us all more in the long run.
As you know, H.401 would raise a relatively small amount of money ($17 million) given our state deficit and the fact that the wealthiest Vermonters (top 5 percent) will receive a $180 million tax cut this year thanks to extension of the Bush tax cuts. But that money will go a long way in helping vulnerable Vermonters through these hard times.
In difficult times we talk about sharing the pain, but it is not just fair [for] the most vulnerable to bear the greatest burden. We love our state and will contribute our fair share to keep it a great place to live … for everyone.
It is the Vermont way.
Elizabeth Skarie and Jerry Greenfield
Ellen Oxfeld and Frank Nicosia
Jeffrey and Sheila Hollender
Ron and Jessica Liebowitz
Don and Mary Ann Horenstein
Judy and Mike Olinick
Peter and Joann Langrock
Crea and Phil Lintilhac
Dottie Deans and Lydia Spitzer
Alison Byerly and Stephen Jensen
Mike and Tawnya Kiernan
Eleanor Mille and Dale J. Jaffe
Ginny and Bruce Hiland
John and Mireille McWilliams
Carole Cavanaugh and Nobuo Ogawa
John and Amy Emerson
Amy Briggs and Daniel Scharstein
Ed and Huguette Knox