Fighting the downsizing of education at the University of Vermont.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Remarks at the Burlington Save Our State Rally

It’s only Monday and already this week has seen rallies for gay marriage and against the state budget cuts. In both cases we have the opportunity to reverse inequality in this state. Over the past 30 years, the tax rate for the wealthiest Vermonters has plummeted by two thirds. As Howard Zinn recently put it, we need to put class back into how we talk about taxes. Douglas says the rich pay too much; we should say they don’t pay nearly enough. Douglas says state workers should give back on wages, health benefits, and full-time hours. We should say no concessions, workers have been sacrificing for 30 years with stagnant and declining wages and an eroding social safety net. Douglas is trying to use the crisis to further undermine wages, unions, and social services. We need to use this crisis to reverse gaping inequality in this state starting with preserving jobs, paychecks, and programs and by taxing the rich.

I’m also heartened to witness a brewing fight against state budget cuts because it helps us at UVM in our struggle against budget cuts and our argument that if cuts must be made, they must come from the top and not by refusing to negotiate decent contracts for UE workers and part-time faculty, not by pressuring full-time faculty to open up their contract, and not from shifting full-time staff with full-time work into part-time hours and pay. At UVM we also have a chief executive who’s overseen the upward transfer of resources into the hands and pockets of executives. If the 40 people at UVM who currently make more than $150,000 a year each took just a 5% pay cut, that would restore jobs to the 27 College of Arts and Sciences lecturers who are slated for layoff. If the 21 executives, including Fogel, gave back the nearly $1 million in extra salary and bonuses they’ve secretly paid themselves, that would bring some 100 service and maintenance workers up to the state’s livable wage standard. Likewise if Vermont repealed the capital gains tax loophole so that Vermont’s wealthiest 1% can no longer squirrel away 40% of their investment returns, that would bring some $40 million in new revenues each year.

The math is on our side. Public sentiment is also on our side: At UVM more positions for vice presidents than English professors, money for executive bonuses and not for livable wages: I don’t know a student or a parent to whom that makes any sense. Cutting social programs in the midst of a recession, telling LGBT couples that civil rights are a distraction: that makes no sense to most people beyond Jim Douglas’s small-minded circle. And at the federal level spending $1 trillion a year on war and occupation and another trillion on bank bailouts while saying, “Don’t worry, this time it really will trickle down to the rest of you”—that really makes no sense.

What does make sense? At UVM, stop the layoffs and give back the bonuses; at the state level, stop the cuts and adopt the Save Our State coalition's People's Plan—if the stimulus money isn’t enough, let’s argue for more. And maybe that’s what will finally compel Washington to redirect war-funding and bank-bailouts into the education, healthcare, unemployment insurance, housing, and jobs people actually need.

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