Democratic candidate for state Senate: Vermont should have universal basic income

Editor’s note: Steve May is a 2020 Democratic candidate for state Senate in Chittenden County. May is a former member of the Vermont AFL-CIO executive board and former vice president of Champlain Valley Central Labor Council. May is a clinical social worker from Richmond, where he also served on the Selectboard.

For years Vermonters have heard about the cost of living in Vermont. We are all too aware of the realities associated with making a life here. Wages are too low and costs are too high. This past week, the Legislature took up an override vote on paid family leave. This vote promised to be just the first in a series where the Legislature will likely consider on a series of economic justice issues. These votes also are likely to be just the first of a series of bills destined for a gubernatorial veto and promised override efforts in the state House and Senate.

The reality is that these bills are empty gestures. Don’t misunderstand — I support them, and if elected I would have voted for them. But in reality they are too small, they offer too little change. These bills provide too little progress in exchange for too much disruption in our system. They aren’t half the loaf; they represent a fistful of breadcrumbs. A paid leave bill that refuses to allow someone to take time off to care for their own health emergency is an embarrassment. A minimum wage bill that only gets to $12.55 per hour helps some but leaves a many, many more Vermonters abandoned in its wake.

Steve May

Steve May: “Vermont’s economy needs a systemic change. This is why I support a Universal Basic Income.”

To be clear, we as Americans are laughingstocks compared to the rest of the industrialized world. These half measures proposed for consideration are enshrined as basic rights in most countries. The industrialized world accepts that paid family leave is part of the set of rights associated with living in a free society. Nobody should have to choose between their career and caring for their family members. The message from this vote is clear — in light of the proposal taken up by the Legislature this past week, disability coverage isn’t a right covered by the law but instead is a privilege. Vermonters will not be able to take time off to care for a sick parent or child for some time now as a result of this vote’s failure.

Central to the argument of many who opposed the paid family leave bill was concerns over cost. Costs will go up, but they certainly will go up as well when those workers can’t work because they are absent from the workplace. Costs will go up due to lost productivity. Costs will go up either way. More to the point, I reject the idea that people will avoid doing business in Vermont because of the increased costs of doing business here because of a small increase in payroll taxes necessary to support paid leave. Instead, I believe any increased cost will be offset by value driven consumers and business owners who want to be part of a family-first Vermont business environment. I believe that people will want to do business here because of the family-first environment that we have created, which will deepen and broaden the already immense appeal of the Vermont brand. This is no less true when it comes to minimum wage legislation or subsidized child care, both of which have been hotly debated due to their cost in past years.

We need a paradigm shift — big, wholesale, systemic change. Our current economic unreality is mired in muck. The “moonlighting in Vermont” economy of some other time is no longer a symptom, it’s the disease. Too many people are working three mediocre part-time jobs in the middle of a booming economy. We are consistently being told that we are at full employment. Data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston responsible for measuring Vermont’s unemployment numbers affirm what the state Department of Labor is already telling us. For all the talk about hiring, there seems to be a disconnect for a wide swath of working Vermonters. Low wage, part time, sub-standard, menial, uninspired drudgery — this is not a work environment to be proud of. This is why our children leave Vermont. We have reached full employment, with “now hiring” signs multiplying by the day.

Vermont’s economy needs a systemic change. This is why I support a Universal Basic Income. Basic income has been in the press a lot because Andrew Yang, a 2020 Democratic candidate for president, has spoken about it a lot. Like Yang I believe in starting with a broad-based funding mechanism to support it. In fact, the most versions of basic income are based on multiple funding sources.

A basic income similar to Alaska’s Permanent Fund could deliver Vermonters an annual dividend which permits state residents to use monies to address their needs as they see them, placing the responsibility on individual citizens. Alaska derives its funding from oil revenues, returning a check to Alaskans based on a percentage of gross sales. That having been said, any Vermont-based plan need not be based a funding mechanism. In fact, a most robust basic income would depend on multiple streams of funding to insulate a dividend program from any potential financial shocks.

Selecting a funding source or multiple funding sources is a concern that can ultimately be addressed at a future time. Though important, it is essential that we are not caught up in the question of addressing funding source at this time, because to do so would miss the underlying issues of larger fundamental and systemic failure in the economic system. Basic income is supported by economists across the political spectrum — left, right and center — at a time when almost nothing else is. Robert Reich and Milton Friedman agree on the utility of UBI as sound public policy, and perhaps nothing else. That point should not be taken lightly.

The simple truth is that the American workplace is changing. That change is dramatic and it’s creating wholesale displacement of workers across our financial system. Vermont is not exempt from these pressures. The gig economy and automation are major drivers in this economic reality. Simply stated, something has to give. With more automation there will simply be less need for people to labor and the work they preform will be transformed. Progressive Rep. Brian Cina from Burlington should be lauded for his leadership on the Advisory Committee on Artificial Intelligence in framing the underlying question on the future of work and the relation between people and technology in their workplace moving forward.

Basic income is uniquely positioned to place a floor under working families through a period of great displacement. It enables individuals to follow their bliss and pursue work that can feed their souls. Equally important is the idea that we need to do something transformative in the economy, because our economy is letting down the vast majority of ordinary Vermonters in some way or another. The problems are systemic: We aren’t just being failed a little bit, we are being failed on a massive scale, in multiple phases, and a large-scale re-think is needed in light of the changes confronting the average Vermont worker.

Image courtesy of Steve May

15 thoughts on “Democratic candidate for state Senate: Vermont should have universal basic income

  1. To be clear, Milton Friedman supported the concept of a “negative income tax” not UBI. A minor distinction to be sure. What is not minor is that, along with this negative income tax, was a complete cessation of all other welfare services. The goodly candidate whistled past the graveyard on that part.

    “We need a paradigm shift — big, wholesale, systemic change. Our current economic unreality is mired in muck.” With this, I couldn’t agree more. The difference here is that “the muck” is Act 250, Act 46, the Clean Water Act, TCI, GWSA, additional fuel taxes, enhanced vehicle inspections, etc, etc…

    If we clean that muck out, our state can wake from this economic nightmare. Then, we can grab a collective cup of coffee and our state can get back to growing and working!

  2. “To be clear, we as Americans are laughingstocks compared to the rest of the industrialized world. ” This must be why millions of people flock to this country every year. Mr. May wants to put another nail in Vermont’s legislatively crafted coffin, to make the Welfare State complete. UBI is not a new idea, nor is there a lack of evidence it is flawed concept. https://www.investors.com/politics/commentary/universal-basic-income-experiments-fail/
    Then again, helicopter money is so much easier to promise than the actual hard work of unwinding the damaging Democrat policies that have resulted in an economy in a death spiral.

  3. “Selecting a funding source or multiple funding sources is a concern that can ultimately be addressed at a future time.

    And so there’s the catch . Free money without a funding source. Anyone got a few money trees in their back yard? He goes this entire speech that I read up until that line. It was a good laugh but the sad part is this is what is being put forward in Vermont.

    Damm glad I don’t have to deal with folks like this anymore. Picked up my bags and packed them leaving VT in the rear view mirror. Thank goodness.

  4. Hey, Steve. Look in the mirror and you’ll see you’re part of the problem. You and your cohorts have spent years of incompetency with the folks’ purse strings squandering millions of dollars on foolish pipe dream projects to get us in the current state we’re in. Your proposal just throws gasoline on the mess you and your cronies created. Enough already!!!!

  5. This guy must have been around Bernie too much after Bernie ate beans. He must have been a student of Bernie and carried Bernie’s political ideology to a higher extreme.

    6 Senators now from Chittenden County, are they going to expand to 7 or who is he going to replace? What is worse, those established or May? Guess it won’t really matter. It’s a scenario in choosing your method of dying: firing squad or hanging. The end result is the same.

  6. Another crazy, VT sucks them in like a sponge. “What is yours, is mine”.
    VT is a true socialist state and those socialists don’t know the harm they are doing. Another Chittenden County controller. They must drink Champlain water that needs cleaning. With no jobs, he has to get elected to survive.

    Don’t you know Vt’ers, you’re stupid and need help throughout your life and we’re here to help. Utopia VT, the envy of the nation.

    Thanks for letting me know how screwed up I am.

  7. The rights that really matter are property rights, they incentivize us to produce, our legislators of today do not understand this concept, but our economic system was based on it. This system works very well compelling us to fulfill our obligation to contribute a product to society, but it breaks down when legislators do not understand their responsibility of protecting and preserving it.

    Steve May is like most today believing micro management and manipulation is more important than the principles of free enterprise that encourage our prosperity. He advocates consumption above obligation and penalty over reward for producing!

    • So very well spoken. Property rights are central to a free life. It is stuff that makes us comfortable, that motivates us. Your warm clothes, your place to live, the food in your fridge,are a property rights.

      If you have your property rights challenged, there is far less reason to work, or strive. If “your property” came by force from some else’s work/efforts/ability – it is not yours.

      The naked human immediately works for property – in the larger sense – in order to survive, to be comfortable, to provide for himself/ ok herself/ and for those whom he/she/they chose to support – until they can work for private property themselves.

      If the property becomes a business employing 20 workers – all are working for property rights. The fact that only one owns the factory does not mean that he is the bad guy.

  8. “For all the talk about hiring, there seems to be a disconnect for a wide swath of working Vermonters. Low wage, part time, sub-standard, menial, uninspired drudgery — this is not a work environment to be proud of. This is why our children leave Vermont. We have reached full employment, with “now hiring” signs multiplying by the day.”

    No, these low wage, part time jobs … are SYMPTOMATIC of a Democrat-led government (Gov. Phil Scott, notwithstanding) that has forced high paying jobs out of Vermont and prevent those from coming in, due to a tax and spend frenzy that never ends. Obamacare regulations are also contributing factors.

    “Selecting a funding source or multiple funding sources is a concern that can ultimately be addressed at a future time. Though important, it is essential that we are not caught up in the question of addressing funding source at this time…”

    Isn’t that so typical of pie-in-the-sky liberal “solutions” to societal issues? Let’s come up with a feel-good plan and worry about paying for it later, which ALWAYS comes across in the form of higher taxes AND a failed program.

    Mr. May uses all the right words and catch-phrases: “paradigm shift,” and “the underlying issues of larger fundamental and systemic failure in the economic system,” while missing the point and underlying root causes of a failing Vermont economy.

    While it’s great, even utopic, to dream of eliminating “want,” it is just that, a dream, as any program like this merely leads to higher taxes and further economic enslavement by those who, somehow, “know better.”

    My response: Blech!

    Low taxes, reduced regulations, and freedom of enterprise is what leads to true economic prosperity not this, as stated, pie-in-the-sky disguised form of socialism.

    Please Mr. May, reconsider your run for a senate seat, as we have enough like-minded individuals such as yourself in Montpelier already ruining the economic health of our state.

    • And so it becomes just another social welfare program, enabling individuals and families to stay forever beholding to the state. Isn’t that, after all, the liberal “Big Government-answer-to-everything” goal?

    • It surely sounds like the statements Nancy Pelosi made about Obama Care…………that they just need to pass the bill and then they can find out what is in it.

  9. In 2007 I asked my friend in the upper Austrian government why gas prices were $10 /g. there .
    His response left me with an “Ah, hah” moment. They tax it heavily so that the money can cover social programs such as their $2000/m basic income.
    On deeper thought, I then wondered why the economically challenged did not drive much or drove tiny cars while he drove a Porsche and his wife and Audi. “Well , I am kind of wealthy, so it, the high gas price, does not affect me so much.” But it certainly restricts those with less.
    It did not seem to be a win/win situation, especially when there were no incentives to get off the basic income, ever.
    One plus was the lack of homeless on the streets, but then Europe in general has not gone the way of LA and San Fransisco, yet.
    They have however, encountered a new societal burden with the influx of migrants coming from the Syrian exodus, streets filled with burkas and unemployed young”non-native”men who are not assimilating, but turning to pick-pocketing and home robberies. OH JOY!

    The question begs to be answered, “who will pay for this ?”

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