To the editor: In Montpelier, marijuana, budgets on the agenda

Letters to the editor logoThe first month of the 2016 legislative session included Gov. Peter Shumlin’s last State of the State and budget address.

The Senate had the difficult job of deciding whether to suspend a colleague who faces criminal charges. I voted against suspension out of respect for the presumption of innocence and  for the separation of powers under which determining guilt or innocence is a judicial  function, not a legislative one.

Otherwise, at this early point in the session, the Senate sees very little floor action, most of the work being done in the various committees. I serve on the Health and Welfare Committee in the morning and on the Appropriations Committee  in the afternoon.

Health Care: The governor’s abandonment of a Single Payer Health Care system does not, in my view, kill the effort forever, for the simple reason that Single Payer works well elsewhere and more “moderate” approaches don’t. Indeed incremental, “middle ground” programs give us the inhumane exploitations of a free market approach but weighed down by liberal efforts to force the market to be more humane than market forces dictate; the worst of two worlds.

That said, the governor took the wind out of Single Payer’s sails last year, and the political reality is that we are again exploring half-way measures. This presents me with an old dilemma. Do I hold out for what I believe we really need or get the best deal we can?

I’m cooperating with the Health and Welfare Committee exploring “moderate” approaches like Universal Primary Care. Primary Care is less expensive than high tech, specialized care. Primary Care can avoid problems that require expensive care if neglected too long. This may be a reasonable compromise. We’re also taking testimony on various payment arrangements that some folks believe will incentivize lower costs to the public. I’m not yet clear on how any of this differs from the managed care of the 1990s.

Marijuana: SH&W has taken much testimony on marijuana, and has made comments to the Judiciary Committee who is developing a legalization bill. Marijuana has definite down-sides, especially regarding adolescent and young adult brain development. It correlates to lethargy and low performance, though cause and effect remain debatable. It can be a “gateway” drug leading to more powerful and dangerous drugs like alcohol. I do think, though, that we need to keep things in proportion. American life has many practices that are far more destructive than marijuana use but are nevertheless legal: obesity, alcohol, cigarette smoking. I think prohibition does more harm than marijuana. The bill will not legalize under-age use or driving while high. I disagree with keeping laws against home-grown marijuana, as the bill does, but will support legalization either way.

Budgets: Vermont budgets on a July 1 to June 30 fiscal year. The FY 2016 budget was developed last year during the 2015 legislative session, and we are currently developing the FY 2017 budget. Developing a future budget depends on fiscal projections. These projections are not predictions because no one sees the future. Rather, they are reasonable, informed calculations, based on what is known, to identify the most likely future revenues and expenses.

Around the middle of each fiscal year, the legislature passes a Budget Adjustment Act to correct the inevitable discrepancies between projected and actual costs and revenues. This year, expenses were almost $92 million more than projected, due mostly to rising health care costs. Much of this was Medicaid, and so addressed with federal dollars.


Dick McCormack
Vermont SenateD-Windsor

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