House Majority Leader Says Quest For Single Payer Will Continue
The Vermont Legislature is back in session and this week, VPR's Morning Edition checked in with legislative leaders about their priorities in the coming session.
Sarah Copeland-Hanzas represents Bradford, Fairlee and West Fairlee in the House of Representatives, and she's the newly chosen House Majority Leader.
"There's a strong historical precedent that Vermonters believe that the top vote-getter is the next governor." - Rep. Sarah Copeland-Hanzas
When the joint assembly meets on Thursday, they'll be casting ballots to decide the outcome of the November gubernatorial election. Gov. Peter Shumlin won the most votes, but did not get over 50 percent, so the Vermont Constitution calls for a vote in the Legislature.
Copeland-Hanzas says she has not advised her caucus on how to vote. "There's a strong historical precedent that Vermonters believe that the top vote-getter is the next governor," Copeland-Hanzas says. She'll be casting her ballot for Shumlin. "We had an election in November. The majority of Vermonters, a plurality of Vermonters, chose Peter Shumlin and I see no reason why, since he won my towns, why there would be any reason not to vote for him," says Copeland-Hanzas.
Many Democrats and Progressives were disappointed that Gov. Peter Shumlin will not pursue single-payer health care this year. Copeland-Hanzas has served on the House Health Care committee for most her 10 years in office. "I too was heartbroken and disappointed that we couldn't move forward, but in looking at the numbers and looking at the very deep analysis that the governor's health care team did, I understand why he says that the economic head winds are not in our favor right now. But I am, by no means, going to set down my quest to figure out how to publicly fund health care," says Copeland-Hanzas.
"And since we know we all will need to access health care at some point, I think we all should contribute to paying for each other's health care."
Copeland-Hanzas says that health care should be a right of citizenship. "And since we know we all will need to access health care at some point, I think we all should contribute to paying for each other's health care."
Addressing the Medicaid cost shift is one way to keep the cost of private health insurance down, and Copeland-Hanzas says that will help make health care more affordable for Vermont businesses and individuals.
Lawmakers will need to address a $100 million budget deficit this session. That will be the biggest challenge of the 2015 session, Copeland-Hanzas says. "After several years of a recession and several years of closing budget gaps that were perhaps not this large, but significant nonetheless, we have been combing through and finding efficiencies in state government. I think to some extent we can continue to do that, but I don't foresee us being able to close a $100 million budget gap without making severe and significant cuts to services that Vermonters rely on," says Copeland-Hanzas.
"I don't foresee us being able to close a $100 million budget gap without making severe and significant cuts to services that Vermonters rely on."
"I'm not going to speculate on what the governor may propose to us in his budget address, but I certainly hope that he comes forward with good recommendations on where to find those savings and perhaps how to find some revenue to close part of that," Copeland-Hanzas says.
"I think we need to carefully review what's going on in other places where marijuana is more available ... we need to understand what the implications would be for a small, rural state like Vermont before we try legalization here."
Some have suggested that legalizing marijuana would create more revenue for the state. Copeland-Hanzas says legalization of marijuana is too important an issue to have the reasons behind it be driven by a budget gap. "I think we need to carefully review what's going on in other places where marijuana is more available and more used and we need to understand what the implications would be for a small, rural state like Vermont before we try legalization here," she says.
Property tax reform is likely to be a big issue. A report last month laid out several different proposals to make changes to the way Vermont funds education.
"The solutions need to be student-centered education reform, as well as changing where the revenue is coming from. But I don't believe that it would be financially responsible for us to simply shift from the property tax onto an income tax or something like that, without addressing the fact that our education spending is increasing during a time period when our enrollment is decreasing," Copeland-Hanzas says.
"We hear every summer of problems with algae blooms on Lake Champlain ... I think we understand that Vermont needs to start ponying up, investing in the changes that need to happen in order to really improve our lake water quality,"
When asked which other issues she'd like to see action on, Copeland-Hanzas cited water quality. "We hear every summer of problems with algae blooms on Lake Champlain, as well as some of our smaller waterways, and I think we understand that Vermont needs to start ponying up, investing in the changes that need to happen in order to really improve our lake water quality," she says. "I suspect we'll spend a lot of time talking about that and really engaging with Vermonters on how to find those solutions."
On Wednesday's Morning Edition, we heard from House Minority Leader Don Turner. You can read that story here.