Where Gubernatorial Candidates Stand: Keeping Young People in the State

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – The Vermont Legislative Joint Fiscal Office reported in August 2019 that “Vermont lost 4,167 taxpayers to migration over the five-year period” and “Net out-migration is strongest amongst taxpayers aged 45 to 64 with incomes between $25,000 and $75,000 … This was fourth worst in the country as a percentage of total taxpayers.”

The report also found that over half the out-migration was among those under the age of 35. At the same time, Census data and a December 2019 state report showed that Vermont’s population is steadily aging, with the Baby Boomers representing the largest cohort and soon retiring.

In 2020, the financial situation of the Vermont State College (VSC) system has been reported on multiple times, most recently to describe a $30-46 million budget shortfall. In April, then-VSC Chancellor Jeb Spaulding drew fire for a proposal that would close three campuses, including the Northern Vermont University campuses in Lyndon and Johnson. The VSC says it “educates more Vermonters annually than all the other institutions of higher education in the state combined” and is focused on affordability.

Governor Scott

Gov. Phil Scott has said the demographic shift of Vermont due to young people leaving the state is a threat to its economic future.

In May, 2018, Governor Scott created the Remote Worker Grant Program, which paid up to $5,000 a year for two years to people who moved to Vermont and worked remotely for out-of-state employers. The program had used up all its $500,000 funding as of January, 2020. Governor Scott proposed and then dropped a targeted tax cut for those aged 18 to 26 in January of 2020.

In his 2020 State of the State address, Gov. Scott said “And here’s my biggest concern: Today in Vermont, there are about 55,000 fewer people under the age of 45 and 44,000 more over the age of 65 than there were in the year 2000. For years, we had more deaths than births, and have seen more people move out of Vermont. My friends, this is what a demographic crisis looks like. In too many places, and in the lives of too many Vermonters, I see and feel the emotional and financial toll of policies built for a few areas in the state that can afford them when the rest of the state cannot. Businesses, families, entire communities doing their absolute best to balance budgets and meet their needs with fewer options, fewer people and higher costs than they had last year, and the year before that, and the year before that.”

John Klar

Klar said that as a farmer he has proposed a plan called “the 2020 Vermont Farming Manifesto” that “would make Vermont more attractive for young people, especially entrepreneurs and young farmers.”

That Manifesto reads in part: “what is proposed is that Vermont radically “incentivize” increased food production by small, sustainable farms, specifically by providing tax relief to counter the excessive tax burden currently stifling farm profitability. Additional proposals will help improve marketing, distribution, and sales of quality Vermont food products. All businesses will benefit; our culture will be reclaimed; we will actually produce valuable goods for export, built proudly on the world-famous Vermont ‘brand.'”

Klar believes this plan could turn around the trend of young people leaving,

David Zuckerman

Zuckerman said lack of broadband has helped created inequity and is part of the reason young people leave Vermont. Of the VSC situation in April, “The governor was ready to let those three institutions close when the proposal came forth, and it was not until 30,000 signatures and others spoke out that he changed his mind. The opportunity for Vermont to have higher education degrees through its state schools would help keep kids.”

He said that his progressive tax plan on the wealthiest 5% would alleviate stress on working families who “shouldn’t have to bear the weight of economic climate crisis.”

Rebecca Holcombe

Holcombe said young families she has spoken with “want good child care at a price they can afford, even if this means rethinking the system to make better use of buildings the state and school districts already own, to bring down the cost and better support our early childhood educators. Many young families want affordable, climate, and family-friendly homes in walkable downtowns and villages, near where they work so that they can get out of their cars. They want good schools for their children, and health care they can afford and access when they need it. They want help getting industry-recognized credentials or college degrees that qualify them for jobs in which they can earn a living wage, not just a minimum wage, and more opportunities for advancement. They want more diverse and just communities, where everyone has a fair chance and everyone has a stake in our shared future. And, they want the state to lean into, invest in and market our green, clean, and sustainable Vermont brand. We need broadband for the remote workers, transportation for folks who cannot get to work, and affordable family- and climate-friendly housing for both rental and purchase.”

Holcombe also addressed the VSC situation and said “We absolutely must protect the state college system, which is an anchor industry in the NEK, which supports economic development, and which is the primary means by which many Vermonters get the skills they need to create better job opportunities.”

Holcombe also said that if elected she would make “education funding reform that adequately accounts for the higher cost of educating students who live in sparsely populated regions, and students who live in poverty, will support many communities in the NEK in ways that free up municipal resources for other investments in opportunity.    Similarly, more flexibility in statutes related to how, for example, schools support early care and learning, would reduce cost and increase options in places like Hardwick, where the models that work well in urban centers do not work as well.”