MONTPELIER — In 2009, the Vermont Workers’ Center convened the first-ever May Day rally as a way of demonstrating political support for single-payer health care.
Four years later, this annual “day of action” will include a call for increased government spending on programs to improve the lot of poor and working-class Vermonters. James Haslam, director of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said he expects “thousands” to show up for a daylong event Wednesday that will include a rally on the Statehouse lawn.
Haslam said the event comes as lawmakers consider a slew of fiscal policies that threaten to undermine living conditions for low-income, elderly, and disabled Vermonters.
“We seem to be moving backward in some areas,” Haslam said. “And what we’re trying to do is show legislators that the priorities of Vermonters are for policies that meet the needs of our communities. And to show them that if that means we need to raise revenue, then there’s a tremendous amount of support for that.”
Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he’s also dedicated to lifting low-income Vermonters out of poverty, and building jobs and incomes for the middle class. Shumlin has called for $17 million in new child care subsidies for low-income parents, and is pushing for universal access to pre-kindergarten.
Haslam and Sen. Anthony Pollina said those programs would be welcome additions to the slate of government services. But they said Shumlin’s method of funding the new initiatives — budgetary cuts to other human services programs — violates the principles of a “people’s budget.”
“Inside the Statehouse, we hear a lot about how tough the economy is,” Pollina said. “But the proposals you see coming from the Legislature and governor are only going to make life more difficult for people outside the building.”
Pollina said proposed cuts to the earned-income tax credit, reduced health care subsidies for lower-income Vermonters, and the imposition of time limits on welfare benefits are symptomatic of a legislative environment that “tries to balance the budget on the backs of the poor.”
Shumlin last week reiterated his opposition to tax increases, saying Vermont’s fragile economic recovery can’t withstand increases in taxes on sales, rooms and meals, or income. Pollina, however, said that not only can the rich well afford a tax increase, but that assessing one on them would stimulate the economy, not depress it.
“The economy isn’t going to get better until middle- and low-income people have money to spend,” Pollina said. “We can’t talk about fairness and equity taxes unless we’re willing to talk about growing inequality in incomes, and that’s not a conversation people in Montpelier seem very eager to have right now.”
Haslam said the Wednesday rally will include residents representing organized labor, environmental organizations, migrant justice groups and more.
A march through Montpelier will depart from the Statehouse lawn at noon. The event will continue throughout the afternoon, with speakers, exhibits and live music.
Haslam said he hopes the event will compel legislators to consider their votes carefully as the session nears its end.
“The way things typically get done in Montpelier, and in politics in general, is with professional lobbying, and usually with lots of money spent by corporations and special interests,” Haslam said. “What we are all about, and what May 1 is all about, is the power of people — the power of people acting together to create change.”