Why I Support a $10.10 Minimum Wage

I am able to be represent our community in the legislature in large part because my wife is running our family’s café business. We have a great staff of seven employees. During this week’s debate I thought long and hard about what our work on the minimum wage would mean to small businesses like ours.
I whole-heartedly support an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 next year and a move toward a living wage in future years. We have always paid more than the minimum wage, but I know that some of our employees have still struggled to pay the bills. A move to $10.10 won’t solve that, but it’s a step in the right direction.
If all else remains equal, the increase to a $10.10 minimum wage will cost us thousands of dollars in 2015. However, our businesses are not islands. If I remember my college Economics class this kind of increase will also put more money into the hands of people who will spend it in small businesses like ours. We’ll have months to adjust pricing and will continue to look at the right mix of hours on our payroll to make the new wages work. I also know that employees who are able to pay their bills and are not working with the constant anxiety of not making ends meet are more productive and keep the total number of payroll hours down.
I’ve worked at my business without pay. I’ve borrowed money to get through a tough winter (or a longer than expected construction season). Through all of that I’ve never found that keeping wages down makes sense for my business, my employees, or for the image that Main Street businesses like ours want to project to our customers. Some have said that this bill is the death of small businesses, but I think it helps revive the financial lifeblood of Vermont’s lowest-paid workers.
In the end I know that people in my community value those who serve them in retail, food service, and other jobs that pay at or close to the minimum wage. Vermonters overwhelmingly support an increase in the wages of people who work at this end of the pay scale. That’s why I supported H.552.

Transportation BIll FY2015 

Transportation Bill on The House Floor Today

Today I’ll join several of my colleagues to report on the Transportation Bill which came out of our committee last week with unanimous, tri-partisan support. This bill represents a much-needed investment in roads, bridges, rail, airports, bike and pedestrian facilities and public transportation. Transportation infrastructure keeps our economy moving. Our recent investments are paying off in the form of better road conditions, state airports that support economic development and rail programs that reduce truck traffic and are getting closer to being ready for 21st century passenger and freight up and down the state.

The $665 million Transportation Budget includes $104 million of one-time funds. These funds primarily come from FEMA and FHWA Emergency Relief grants to state and town projects in response to Irene and other disaster declarations.

We heard from town road officials that VTrans has been working well and more closely with municipalities post-Irene. We will continue to support technical assistance to town road programs with district-level techs. To help town highway conditions after this winter weather, we successfully pushed for changes that will allow spring leveling funds to be used to help Class 1 Town Highways that have been damaged this year.

In spite of this unprecedented level of investment, we are still more than $200 million short of the figure needed to bring our infrastructure into a state of good condition across the system. We continue to look for ways to provide more pavement miles per dollar, even as asphalt costs continue to rise. Here are some of the highlights of the FY2015 Transportation Program that begins this July:


-$80 million of maintenance funds, including leveling and winter plowing
-$115 million of state paving program funds
-$50 million of roadway construction and resurfacing
-$124 million of bridge funds
-Nearly $30 million in funding for rail infrastructure
-$113 million in Town road and bridge program aid and support

We will see the benefits of the Transportation Bill in Franklin County as paving on highways including Route 105 and Route 78, maintenance of numerous bridges and culverts as well as support for capital projects in towns across the county. From sidewalks in downtown Saint Albans to work on paving Route 242 up to Jay Peak, the Transportation Program touches all of our lives.
As I look forward I’m excited to see that our effort to reduce vehicle miles traveled and fuel waste from idling are paying off. As cars become more fuel-efficient, electric and hybrid vehicles phase out traditional fuels, our rail and bus services improve and more Vermonters carpool we will need to look beyond fuel taxes for fair and reliable ways to pay for the future transportation needs of all Vermonters.

Representative Mike McCarthy
Saint Albans

Mike McCarthy
mike@ilikemikevt.com
(802) 233-7587

Town Meeting Day Report

TRANSPORTATION
I serve on the House Transportation committee. This year’s budget makes sound investments in our infrastructure that will grow Vermont jobs not only by directly supporting the construction industry, but also by supporting important economic sectors such as tourism, agriculture, hospitality, and manufacturing, among others.
Several years of record level transportation investments are yielding positive results. We are seeing improved performance in pavement and in the condition of our bridges. In 2008, Vermont ranked near the bottom of all states, 45th in the nation for structurally deficient bridges. By 2013, our strong investments have improved our rank to 28th. Overall percentage of structurally deficient bridges has declined from 19.7 percent of all bridges in 2008 to just over 8 percent in 2013.
Mindful of our continuing energy challenges and our need to drive down our carbon footprint, this transportation budget continues to invest in all modes of transportation including railroads, public transit systems, airports, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

EDUCATION
The legislature is considering updating Vermont’s education system to ensure that it provides our students with the core competencies needed for our workforce and citizenship in the 21st century.
For over a century, Vermont’s education structure has remained largely unchanged. The legislature is considering consolidating our 60+ Supervisory Unions into 14-16 Districts. While this alone won’t result in cost-savings, governance changes may help us gain some efficiency and improve services to students.
Financing our school system leads to a perennial debate. Throughout the state there are communities with small increases in spending, but large tax increases. Our school boards struggle under the pressure of rising staff costs like healthcare and increasing needs for student services like special education. The tax system is complicated. Those making less than $90,000 pay based on income, not just home value. We are working to devise a formula that is more predictable, easier to understand and less volatile. At the same time we must give all of Vermont’s students access to quality, public K-12 education.
While we make changes that will create a less volatile property tax environment, I believe we need to keep outcomes for students at the top of our priorities. This debate won’t result in major policy changes in this biennium, but good work is being done to change school governance and financing while maintaining the best qualities of our locally controlled school systems.

VERMONT HEALTH CONNECT
Many of us on both sides of the aisle are frustrated and disappointed by the technological challenges experienced during the Vermont Health Connect roll out. This ambitious project has had significant and serious bumps along the way. At the same time, there are many Vermonters who, once getting past the technical glitches, are now enjoying the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.
The Health Care committee continues to keep close watch on the enrollment updates and the technical challenges with Vermont Health Connect. The good news in Vermont is that our insurance carriers, our navigators and our health care providers are working very closely together to be sure that Vermonters don’t see a lapse in coverage because of the technical glitches. Although there are still technical problems with the VHC web site, the insurers are working very hard to do what is right by Vermonters.
As we come to the end of the open enrollment period, it is very important for Vermonters who are uninsured or were on VHAP or Catamount need to get on the Vermont Health Connect website and enroll by March 15 for coverage beginning on April 1. If you have insurance now that renews later in the year, you will still be able to enroll on your enrollment anniversary. If you need help resolving an application that is in process, or if you need to enroll please contact me and I can help you get connected with an enrollment navigator.
I’ve spoken with several small business owners who have had trouble signing up through VHC and have now enrolled directly through MVP or Blue Cross. Businesses can still enroll directly through the insurers and we heard today that they will be able to use VHC for payment and enrollment for 2015.

DISTRACTED DRIVING
I was proud to be the reporter of the Hands-Free Cell Phone bill on the House Floor for the Transportation Committee. All Vermonters have seen drivers weaving, speeding or simply looking down at a cell phone while they move along our roads. Distracted drivers who are texting, scrolling through contacts to find a number or typing an email are a growing concern to police and other emergency responders. Here are the facts:
Each day in the US, 9 people are killed and 1060 are injured as a result of accidents that involve distracted driving. The Governor’s Highway Safety Plan for 2014 sites that 24% of Vermont crashes involve distracted driving. An April 2013 National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) study from Virginia Tech found that talking on a cell phone did not increase safety risk, but that the visual-manual manipulation of devices increased risk of “safety critical events” significantly. The 2010 ban on texting has been difficult to enforce because drivers can simply claim they were dialing a number, rather than texting.
H.62 as it passed the House in February, prohibits the handheld use of portable electronic devices on Vermont highways while a vehicle is in motion. Portable electronic devices include cell phones, PDAs, MP3 players, GPS and other mobile electronics. The bill allows the use of these devices in hands-free mode. It also allows drivers to activate or deactivate a device if it is mounted in a cradle or otherwise fixed to the vehicle.

RENEWABLE ENERGY
Vermont is a national leader in solar energy and green jobs in part due to our net metering program. Solar net metering benefits the environment, encourages job growth, reduces energy costs, promotes energy independence, and diversifies Vermont’s energy resources.
Tripling in volume since 2011, the success of this program has also caused some growing pains.
The current cap on net metering forced utilities to turn away customers who wanted to participate in the program. The House recently passed a bill lifting these caps from 4% to 15% on a 136-8 vote and is now in the Senate. By shaving electric consumption during hot summer days, solar net metering reduces utilities’ need to buy expensive power off the grid. Efficiency measures, combined with net metering, have already deferred $400 million in Vermonters’ future transmission costs by lowering our overall demand for energy. This means real savings on everyone’s monthly energy bills.

LAKE CHAMPLAIN and The TMDL
In 2002, the State of Vermont developed a plan to reduce the amount of phosphorus pollution going into Lake Champlain. Despite spending a great deal of money, this plan did not address the problem, triggering a 2009 lawsuit and an EPA response demanding that the State develop a stronger plan. The new EPA Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL for phosphorus pollution limits is due this summer. At present, the EPA requires the State to reduce the amount of pollution by 36% and provide “reasonable assurances” that the State has the ability and the resources to do the job.
Reducing pollution by this much is no small task. The solutions to the problem will require changes to our road and bridge standards, floodplain development, actions in rivers and streams, forestry practices as well as substantial changes in agricultural practices. In addition, the State will need to identify a means of funding these solutions. A variety of House committees are working on these issues and expect to see a bill, H.586 emerge sometime after Town Meeting Day.

PAID SICK DAYS
Many people have contacted me about the Paid Sick Days bill that was passed by the House General committee. This bill mandates that employers provide 56 hours of paid sick leave to employees. The bill has not yet come to the House Floor for a vote.
In its current form, employees can begin using the paid leave in 60 days. There is much debate about this bill, and it currently is in House Appropriations. There are many unanswered questions about the way this bill would impact small businesses, effect other employee benefits and be administered by employers or their payroll service companies. I appreciate your feedback about this issue.

OPIATES
The Governor focused his State of the State address on opiates, but long before that Saint Albans was standing up to fight the disease of addiction. Addiction is a major threat to individual’s lives and has strained the fabric of many Vermont communities.
The legislature has been proactive on many fronts. We gave law enforcement and emergency service personnel tools to root out illegal drugs and to save the lives of those who overdose. We have renewed our investment in recovery centers like Turning Point and treatment programs that help people get off and stay off drugs.
We recognize that there are not enough openings for opiate treatment and are expanding those resources. I support a shift from corrections budgets to drug treatment that hasn’t yet been embraced, but Vermont is moving in the right direction.

THE BIG ECONOMIC PICTURE
By the summer of 2013 the state had recovered nearly 11,000 of the 15,000 jobs that were lost during the recession of 2008-2009. We’ve added jobs in our growing specialty food industry, software and programming jobs, high tech manufacturing and renewable energy. We have also seen big manufacturing employers leave the state or downsize as they shift with the global economy.
In 2013 we added 3,700 jobs for a growth rate of 1.2%. To keep moving forward we have to face tough challenges like cuts in federal programs- even vital services to our economy like transportation. Some of these critical needs the state has to meet if the federal funds are no longer available We have to change the way we do business—reforming healthcare, education financing and delivery and continuing to build public-private partnerships in a variety of sectors.
We can meet challenges like cuts in federal heating assistance by putting Vermonters to work insulating and updating these homes to bring down costs not just for this season but for many winters to come.We can meet the challenges of climate change with smart investments in infrastructure and agriculture that will improve our water quality and boost our tourist economy.
We can work together across the aisle to provide a 21st century education to all Vermont students at a cost that is affordable. Let’s not forget that last year Vermont ranked 2nd in the nation on the Nation Assessment of Educational Progress. If Vermont were a country, we’d have the 7th highest score in the world for academic performance.
I look forward to finishing the session with a balanced budget and an eye toward making this and even better place work, live and thrive.

I’m on TV! The bill banning handheld cell phone use is on its way to passage. It passed the House by a large majority and is now being considered by the Senate.

Hands-Free Bill Passes the House

H.62, a bill prohibiting the handheld use of cell phones and other portable electronic devices passed the house today with overwhelming support. I was proud to be a reporter of the bill on the floor. In the House Transportation Committee we heard from law enforcement, from medical personnel and from many Vermonters who are concerned about safety on our roads.

I would ask all of you to keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel whether or not H.62 becomes law. If you need to use your cell phone for GPS or music, you will still be able to as long as the device is mounted and hands-free functions are enabled. Distracted driving is an increasing cause of traffic deaths, and H.62 is an important step for highway safety.

A Montpelier Minute with Rep. Mike McCarthy

Elizabeth Malone of NW Public Access TV gave me a chance to talk about what’s up in the House Transportation Committee so far and the discussion we’re having about multiple responses to opiate addiction and crime.

Hitting the Ground Running

What happened in my first couple of weeks back in Montpelier?

House Transportation Committee

I sit on the House Transportation Committee. With a relatively small budget adjustment for the current fiscal year (revenues from fuel taxes are about on target and spending was close as well for FY2014) we’ve begun looking at the FY2015 budget which will begin in July of 2014. Yesterday, Governor Shumlin announced a $686 million Transportation Budget Recommendation which we will be delving into thoroughly over the coming weeks. This is a record level of investment- but still falls far short of meeting all of Vermont’s transportation needs.

Focus on Safety

I’m working with a group of Franklin County legislators (from all three political parties) to bring Vermont’s laws about the possession of deadly weapons and firearms on school grounds more in line with federal law. This will give local and state law enforcement the ability to help schools keep weapons off campus. This issue came up last year after someone brought a car with multiple weapons onto the BFA campus and was a real concern for school leaders, staff and parents.

I’m also keeping my eye on changes in the childhood passenger safety program. Making sure children are safe in appropriate, properly installed car seats saves lives.

Focus on Economic Development

I’m continuing to work on several fronts to make sure that the work we’re doing in downtown Saint Albans and throughout Franklin County has support and help from across state government. The robust transportation program as well as gaining support for the expansion of Mylan and the sale of the state office building are just a couple of examples of how I’m working to make sure our progress continues.

Focus on Accountability

How do we know we’re accomplishing our goals and getting value from government programs? Results Based Accountability (RBA) is a process that we are beginning to implement across state agencies. RBA forces us to ask:

1. How much are we doing?

2. How well are we doing it?

3. Is anyone better off?

The answers to these questions will inform our decision-making and help government be more efficient and effective for all of us. We’ve only begun to formally request that agencies follow RBA in their management. I’m excited to see it become standard for all statewide budget and policy planning and evaluation.

Campaign Finance

I reluctantly supported the final, much-compromised Campaign Finance bill S.82. This bill started with a desire to bring Vermont law into compliance with the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. After this decision Independent Expenditure Political Action Committees (known commonly as Super PACs) could spend and receive unlimited contributions with very little requirement that they report who gave the money and how it was being spent.

Without being able to place limits on Independent Expenditure PACs, Senate and House members of the conference committee raised the contributions that individual Vermonters can give to campaigns and political parties. S.82 also raises the amount that parties can receive and spend. Fighting big money with big money is not my idea of good Campaign Finance Reform, but that’s the world we live in after Citizens United.

An early Christmas gift for Early Ed
The State of Vermont got an early Christmas present Thursday when Governor Shumlin announced that we were one of six states to receive a $36.9 million early education grant from the federal Race To The Top program. This much-needed financial support for Vermont’s early educators, families and young children is very important- and timely. Experience shows that investments in quality, professional early education lead to long-term cost-savings and better outcomes for students. Until now, it was hard to see how we would begin to pay for important investments and continue to be a national leader in early education. It was one of the great disappointments of my first year in Montpelier that we had to leave some important early ed. priorities on the drawing board.
When we return to the Statehouse, the legislature is poised to face another difficult discussion about statewide education spending. I anticipate hearing some of my colleagues in Montpelier blame local school boards and their voters for budget increases and call for consolidation while local leaders blame legislators, federal and state mandates and the Governor. We’ll talk about shrinking grand lists and the common level of appraisal and many will remind us with indignation that Vermont education spending is increasing as enrollment declines. Even before Act 60 (and the changes made by Act 68) Vermont’s community and legislative leaders have wrestled with the question of how to pay for schools each year.
While it’s true that Vermont enrollment is declining, there’s a larger story playing out in Vermont schools that is rarely mentioned in the debates about how to fund them.  An educator reminded me this morning that schools aren’t just centers of education anymore. Many schools do the work of preschool and childcare while both parents (or a single parent) work. They offer meals and health services. Schools must offer individualized education plans, transportation, security services and counseling.
The needs of our students are increasing every year. Is it any wonder that after more than a generation of stagnant wages and declining incomes that many Vermont families are tired, sick and frustrated- and that many of our students aren’t realizing their academic potential? Is it a wonder that educating students has also come to mean making sure that they have the basic necessities so that they are ready and able to learn? Add this to the fact that a 10% decrease in enrollment doesn’t mean a 10% reduction in building maintenance, bus routes, and most of the staffing and infrastructure and you can see how hard it is to bend the cost curve. It’s a testament to our value for education, reflected in our overwhelming approval of local school budgets, that we continue to have some of the best schools in the country here in Vermont.
Getting the most out of our education system for our students is going to require changes in more than just the statewide property tax formula. Schools have the power to give every child in Vermont a shot at being a successful citizen. As families struggle and the middle class disappears, being the great equalizer becomes an even greater lift.
I visited St. Albans City School early this week and asked the Dynamic Design team students to write down some of their priorities for me for 2014. One student wrote- in a rough print with many of the words misspelled- that we need “better education and more help for dyslexics. The help here is not enough.” Talk about a moving piece of advocacy for special education programs.
The debate over the future of Vermont’s public school system needs to take into account the growing impact of drug addiction,  mental illness and poverty that effect so many of our children and families. Let’s reaffirm our commitment to invest in Vermont’s children in 2014 and be thankful for the $36.9 million down payment. When we invest in early education now, we save on future spending in education, healthcare and corrections because all of our children have more of what they need to become healthy and prosperous adults.
Representative Mike McCarthy
Saint Albans, VT
Transportation Board Visits Saint Albans 11/14/13

It was wonderful to hear all of the comments and ideas that people from across Franklin County brought to the Transportation Board hearing last night. The board opened up discussion on a variety of topics. Some of the highlights/my favorites are listed below:

What is the “slurry” that’s going on roads instead of salt?

It’s salt! Only, it’s already mixed with water so that it begins working to de-ice or melt snow the moment it’s applied. Rock salt gets kicked off the traveled surface before it has a chance to work (and then ends up salting soil, which is no good!).

What is the deal with roundabouts!?

They are popping up all across Vermont, and many people are confused or frustrated by them. VTrans representatives assure us that roundabouts reduce the severity of traffic accidents at dangerous intersections by slowing traffic down and changing the angle of approach for vehicles. If a crash does occur, chances are it’s at low speeds and oblique angles, rather than a T-Bone at a high rate of speed. Keep the comments coming, because this will be under discussion!

What should Vermont’s policy be on Cell Phones?

Should we make handheld use of cellular devices a primary offense? Distracted driving is a key cause of traffic incidence, many of the fatal car crashes involve distracted driving. Is it enough to go handsfree, or should we make all use of electronic devices illegal while operating a motor vehicle? Should we continue to allow handheld use? Personally, I think we should start by going hands-free.

How should we facilitate transportation for those who are “aging in place”?

There are thousands of Vermonters who are over 65 living in rural areas, where they may have trouble getting to medical appointments or the grocery store. Volunteer coordination, bus routes, and coordination with care facilities were all part of this conversation.

Why I Support S.38

A driver’s privilege card will give mobility to undocumented migrant workers, as well as serving as a means for Vermonters who can’t prove legal residence (or don’t want to) to have the ability to legally drive.

 

What we are proposing in S.38 is not a path to citizenship, it’s not useful for federal identification (it won’t get you on to an airplane), it is not useful to gain additional state benefits, it’s not even a full-fledged driver’s license.

 

A driver’s privilege card will help to ensure that all Vermont drivers have taken and passed a written test and a road test. It will help to make sure that more Vermont drivers are legally insured.

 

The insurance industry has products ready to provide insurance to any driver who might take advantage of the privilege card. The concerns brought by the banking industry have been satisfied by the driver’s privilege card. The security concerns have been addressed, and we heard that there are benefits to public safety provided by this bill.

 

There is a special group of people living among us. We hear from some of their employers that they are essential, that many farms would not exist without them. In spite of their hard work, their contribution to our communities and to our economy, they are too often trapped without the ability to legally drive.

 

In S.38 we have an opportunity to enable and empower those who can prove their identity, their residence in Vermont, and their knowledge of Vermont motor vehicle laws to have the privilege to drive. Let’s grant them that opportunity and treat everyone we welcome to work in Vermont with dignity and fairness.