Amidst the continuing deluge of departures from the Vermont Legislature, a handful describe a troubling pattern. Two of our youngest state senators, Corey Parent and Joshua Terenzini, are not seeking re-election. Toss in Rep. Tim Briglin, the very accomplished chair of the House Energy & Technology Committee, and it once again looks like the Statehouse is purely a country for old folks.
As Briglin told VTDigger, “You gotta have a job. And I think that, you know, for somebody in their 20s and 30s and 40s, that’s even more excruciating.”
We pay our lawmakers a pittance. That’s a powerful disincentive for anyone short of retirement age. I’ve heard this over and over again from younger lawmakers: When they enter the Legislature, the clock starts ticking. If they’re not moving up the political ladder within a few years, they start looking for the exit. And it’s all about financial stability. Many of those people, very promising public servants, eventually moved on. This year we’re losing more of them.
Briglin and Parent each have two kids. Terenzini has four. Raising kids is expensive, even if you don’t factor in building a college fund. It also helps if you’re actually around the house after work instead of living in a Montpelier rental four nights a week. The Legislature, with its long hours and minuscule pay ($743 per week in session and nothing the rest of the year) doesn’t qualify.
As the old saying goes, “You get what you pay for.” We’re barely paying at all.
Last year, the Vermont Legislature put off many unpleasant decisions by creating study committees. Well, one of them has come back to roost, and it brings a passel of bad news.
I’m talking about the Select Committee on the Future of Higher Education in Vermont, because the longer the name, the better the work product. The SCFHEV was tasked with studying the money-starved Vermont State College System and charting a path to sustainability. It issued a preliminary report in early December. That document was presented to the Senate Education Committee Tuesday afternoon. (The preliminary report can be downloaded from Senate Ed’s website. The panel’s final report will come out in April, with some changes likely and a lot more detail assured.)
The high points, if that’s what they are: The system needs dramatic restructuring to cut costs; even so it needs a much larger ongoing commitment from state government; and it also has to cut tuition rates, which are staggeringly high compared to public institutions in other states.
Well, that’s quite a lot.
The path ahead is long and arduous. It will involve multiple committees in the House and Senate, discussion of politically unpopular cutbacks, a search for funding at a time when demands for state money are everywhere, and scrounging for legislative time in what’s likely to be the most demanding session in years. Like I said, a big heavy lift.