Among those in attendance were Sen. Bob Hartwell (Bennington) and State Representatives Patti Komline (Bennington-Rutland-1), Cynthia Browning (Bennington-4), Charles "Tim" Goodwin (Windham-Bennington-Windsor), and Jeff Wilson (Bennington-4), each explaining the kinds of change they see as the most important to the state.
Sen. Hartwell led the discussion by talking about Vermont's population decline and some possible ways to control state spending.
"We are losing a lot of kids every year, last year Vermont was one of only two states with the dubious distinction of losing population overall. That really causes me to wonder where we are going with finances," he said. "Right now we are losing people who are in their early 20s to their early 40s. Not very many of them yet, but if that trend accelerates we are going to have a serious problem. Demographics are extremely difficult to control and it gets much worse the longer you wait to do something."
Hartwell said he thinks the population loss is directly connected to the abrupt rise in taxes, but he might also have a solution.
"We have gotten to a point where we are spending a lot of money and there is nowhere else to go. This is compounded by the healthcare situation. The property tax issue is now where we have reached the point that we are going to have very big increases in taxes because we do virtually nothing to control spending," he said. "I have a bill to require that if spending increases by more than the rate of inflation from one year to the next it has to be voted a second time by townspeople, similar to the state of Massachusetts system, which has worked very well."
Wilson spoke next about tax reform and the saving money by using thermal energy.
"I am not sure there is the political will or a consensus to move forward on the problems we are facing, and some of the ones we are dealing with is property tax reform, tax reform in general, things of that nature which are extremely important and we need to take a good hard look at that to be competitive in the future," he said.
Wilson said that focusing on thermal efficiency is both environmentally and economically helpful and that investing money now could lead to saving for homeowners in the future.
"Thermal efficiency is something I think is extremely important. I think right now we have money that we are appropriating to give to folks who need support and much of that money is going right out the window. If we could do a better job with assisting folks in insulating their houses its not only a smart thing environmentally but it also makes sense economically," he said.
"My fear is that we may not do anything on these important issues," he added.
Komline spoke next and focused her discussion around the property tax issue and healthcare reform, both of which she sees as the most important issues facing Vermont.
"We feel like there has got to be some pressure to do something. There is talk that after this much time we should start something different," she said. "The two biggest issues I see that we have, one we just voted on which was the property tax issue. The other issue I see is healthcare and what is coming; I think you have two things. You've got the exchange that I know a lot of business are involved in and then there is the Governor's single-payer idea."
Komline said she thinks it would be best to give people the option of switching over the a different healthcare system in the first year, making for a much smoother transition.
"I don't think we are ready for the exchange," she said. "I would like to see an amendment out there that says, at least for a transition year, you have the option of being in the exchange because I really just don't see how we are going to be prepared by 2014 to get everybody in."
Browning was up next and, although she said she was trying to stay positive amongst these daunting issues, that it is hard not to worry and be critical of the situation Vermont is facing. "I spent a lot of time in Montpelier criticizing what is being done," she said. "We have created a vicious cycle in our tax code where you have high rates, where we give people exemptions and everyone else has to pay more to cover the difference. We cannot afford to keep going the way we are going." Browning said that she is also worried about the gas tax and how that will impact people's wallets and how Green Mountain Care board has too much power when it comes to health insurance.
"This year, I think we need to cut back and hold tight. We need to get enough revenue to match the federal funds. We need to help ease the transition to the health benefits and that's it," she said.
Last to speak was Goodwin who expressed some worry in the drug problem Vermont is facing as well as his view to support the gas tax due to the poor conditions of state roads.
"One of things that I brought up was the gas tax. I think that we have to do something about our roads because every time I drive from Weston to Ludlow it takes more out the car than the increase in gas tax would, I think," he said.
Goodwin's stance on drugs comes from being on the Judiciary Committee in Montpelier and said he believes the issue on drugs needs to be confronted.
"There is a drug problem in Vermont. I could talk way too long about this issue. People who cook meth are rising in this state and it is relatively easy to make," he said.