At the Roundtable’s membership meeting in mid-January David Coates, one of Vermont’s most respected statesmen and the 2006 recipient of the Roundtable’s Vision Award, presented “Dangerous Trends and the Need for Action” to the membership. At the onset, Coates framed his remarks by saying that there are no long-term problems; Vermont’s problems are all short-term and require immediate attention. Then he launched into a presentation of heavy commitments – mandatory expenditures and unfunded liabilities- that Vermont has on its books: debt service, retirement plans, other post-retirement benefits, and education funding. Taken in their totality the figures were staggering and implications alarming.
In addition to the data, which couldn’t be disputed, Coates identified various structural issues that prompted the audience to wonder about the fairness of current law and the sustainability of these commitments. Because several programs ~ long held sacred cows ~ are not readily transparent at the local level, including the residential rebate program, education fund, and state employees’ retirement fund, Coates suggested that the state conduct stress testing to illustrate the urgent need for action. And because Vermonters don’t fully understand the complexity or implications of all these funds in the aggregate, there is no informed and objective debate that includes more than the vested interests.
The Roundtable will begin a series of presentations of this information to a variety of audiences throughout the state. Coates’ slides will be posted to the Roundtable’s website at www.vtroundtable.org.