By Don Keelan
Vermont has a collection of candidates seeking to represent the state in Washington next January. Today, they are campaigning in each corner of the state, presenting their position on dozens of issues.
It is disappointing that the candidates are not addressing the most critical reason why Vermont sends its top three congressional candidates to Washington: to bring back federal money.
Money flowing from Washington to Vermont is equivalent to what blood is to the body. If not restored, any measurable decrease is fatal.
Knowing a candidate’s position on the front page issues of the day is worthwhile. What matters is how a candidate proposes to bring back to Vermont the hundreds of millions of dollars Vermont needs to function.
Specifically, how will the candidate(s) cozy up to their 532 non-Vermont colleagues in the House and Senate? Without such support for Vermont’s needs, our State could face catastrophic fiscal conditions. I am not just referencing earmark funds, of which $200 plus million for Vermont was announced in early August.
Senator Patrick Leahy was a legend in accomplishing such feats. He will be remembered more for the dollars he brought back to Vermont than any specific piece of legislation he sponsored, co-sponsored, or committee chaired.
There is no hyperbole: throughout Vermont, there are buildings, attractions, and events that bear the Senator’s name — only exceeded by his former colleague in the Senate from West Virginia, the late Senator Robert Byrd.
It is strictly an American tradition: the taxpayers pay for the project, but the politician gets their name on the building. Oh well, not important!
For some, it might be news, but Vermont cannot function financially without vast sums of cash from Washington. Some projections put the annual amount at around eight billion dollars. It is not just to fund the state government but also a large number of funds — aside from Social Security and Medicaid payments — pass through State agencies to Vermont-based nonprofits.
For example, the Vermont Council on Aging, which has five regional centers, oversees Meals on Wheels. Before the five councils get their annual funding, the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging, and Independent Living (DAIL) must determine the distribution to Vermont from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Although the focus of this column is not on bureaucracy, it is interesting (and disappointing) to see all the “hands” that handle the four dollars and change for a daily senior meal.
After 48 years in Washington, Senator Patrick Leahy’s retirement announcement was a cataclysmic strike for Vermont. The second shoe will drop when we hear Senator Sanders is ready to come home. Soon, 79 years of seniority on Capitol Hill will have evaporated. Then where are we?
Vermont has tragically allowed itself to become financially dependent on Washington. Even local police departments can’t purchase body cameras unless they procure funding from the U.S Department of Justice.
It’s not the U.S. Senate and House of Representative candidates’ positions on issues that matter, but how they bring the dollars so many State agencies and nonprofit organizations annually depend on back to Vermont. How will Vermont receive $100 million to clean up Lake Champlain? Or get millions to build new wastewater lines throughout Vermont’s towns and cities? That is what is essential.
When our representatives arrive in Washington, they will be up against an army of lobbyists–at last count, about 12,000; many of whom will be stalking the halls of Congress seeking funds for their constituents, the other 49 states.
The folks we send to Washington act as conduits, defined by Google as “a person or organization that acts as a channel for the transmission of something.” In Vermont’s case, the transmission of money.
Don Keelan writes a bi-weekly column and lives in Arlington, Vermont.