The People's Budget Campaign in Vermont

The People's Budget Campaign in Vermont is a grassroots campaign for state budget and revenue policies that meet human needs and fulfill human rights. It is part of the Vermont Workers' Center's umbrella initiative, Put People First, and supported by a partnership with NESRI. The Campaign uses human rights to develop and promote an entirely different way of making budgets.

Within a year of its formal launch in March 2011, the People’s Budget Campaign succeeded in taking the annual budget debate to a new terrain and achieved its first legislative success. The Vermont legislature included in its annual budget bill new requirements for the budget process, as demanded by the Campaign. For the first time in history, Vermont statutes now define the purpose of the state's budget. This definition closely matches human rights obligations: the state budget must address people's needs in a way that advances dignity and equity.  The new law also requires the Administration to set up a meaningful process for public participation in budget and revenue decision-making, and to monitor whether the budget meets its purpose through a system of outcome measurement.

These new legal provisions constitute a very first step toward developing a People's Budget. They were taken from a comprehensive model bill created by the Campaign, which continues to serve as the basis for future legislative advocacy. 

The People’s Budget bill (2012) for an equitable, rights-based state budget is grounded in the principle that the real purpose of a budget is to meet people’s fundamental needs. It serves as a vehicle for shifting the defensive discourse on budget cuts to a dialogue about government obligations to meet human needs and realize human rights. 

Much organizing and advocacy preceded the Campaign's first legislative achievements. After submitting a petition with thousands of signatures at the start of the 2012 legislative session, hundreds of Vermonters took to the microphones and testified to legislators at the annual state budget hearings. The People’s Budget was the number one issue at the public hearings, and legislators took note, meeting with their constituents to discuss how human rights could become the foundation of the budget process. At the very end of the legislative season, negotiations with the Senate Appropriations Committee finally came to fruition, resulting in a rights-based definition of the budget in Vermont statutes. For the People's Budget Campaign, this is merely the beginning of a long process toward turning the state budget into a real People's Budget.

Campaign Tools

The People’s Budget Framework offers an outline of a detailed accountability system for Vermont. It proposes budget and revenue goals guided by human rights principles along with indicators for measuring progress in meeting needs and realizing rights.

A People’s Budget:

  • directly addresses people’s needs
  • is connected to accountability measures, with human rights indicators
  • starts with public participation and is fully transparent
  • decides revenue policy after determining a budget based on needs

Vermont's first People’s Budget bill (2012) is a blueprint for laying the legislative foundation for human rights budgeting. After passing initial commitments into law, the second People's Budget bill (2013) proposed to operationalize two elements of a People's Budget process: public participation at state level and rights-based needs assessments. The third People's Budget bill (2014) focused on defining the principles to advance accountability, and set out guidelines for a needs assessment process.

Tools for participation and needs assessments:

General campaign tools:

For more general human rights budgeting info and tools, visit our human rights budgeting page.

Watch an abbreviated recording, below, of a People's Budget workshop.

The 2011 People’s Budget Report

In the fall of 2011 the Vermont Workers' Center surveyed hundreds of people across the state and held numerous community meetings. It found widespread unmet needs among Vermonters, with many people struggling to meet their fundamental needs of food, housing, health care and livable wage jobs. The survey findings, published in Voices of Vermont's Economic Crisis, show how serious the situation is for many people, and that cuts to public services have further exacerbated the situation. The report concludes that this ongoing human rights crisis requires a fundamental shift in the way the state spends and raises public money.

The survey also shows that Vermonters have a vision for change, a vision of a more democratic and accountable government, of public policy focused on meeting needs and realizing rights. Many respondents signaled that they are willing to stand up for their social and economic rights and hold elected representatives accountable. The vast majority affirmed that government has an obligation to meet people’s needs and protect their human rights.

The Background: Why a People’s Budget?

Early on in the current economic recession, the Vermont Workers’ Center decided to embed the fight against state budget cuts in a broader rights-based vision of a People's Budget. This has spurred a growing unity among various campaigns and constituencies, centered on the demand for a pro-active, systemic solution to the budget and revenue crisis. It also avoided competition between different groups defending their slice of a wholly inadequate pie. The People’s Budget fosters a coherent approach to economic and social rights, expanding the successful, ongoing campaign for rights-based health care financing to other rights that also require a more equitable distribution of resources.

In 2011, TV show host Traven Leyshon interviewed James Haslam, director of the Workers' Center, and Anja Rudiger, NESRI, about the background, strategy, and objectives of the campaign.

 

More recently, in July 2012, Anja Rudiger and Traven Leyshon discussed the People's Budget in the context of the austerity agenda promoted by the Conference of New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers.

The 2010 People’s Budget Report

On Human Rights Day, December 10, 2010, the Vermont Workers' Center published, in collaboration with NESRI, the first People's Budget Report. After consulting with experts from the Universities of Connecticut and Massachusetts about preparing a human rights audit of Vermont’s budget, the Workers’ Center interviewed 17 social service providers and conducted extensive background research. The findings showed that the state of Vermont had been neglecting its human rights obligations by cutting public services and public jobs in a time of economic crisis. This has had a significant negative impact on Vermonters, who are struggling to meet their fundamental needs of housing, health care, food, education, and work.

The report's recommendations include:

  • Greater transparency, accountability, and participation in the state's budgeting.
  • Tax policy reform that increases equity among Vermonters and raises essential resources for meeting needs and protecting Vermonters’ economic and social rights.
  • Legislation for a new health care system that makes health care a public good with universal, equitable access, and that uses resources in an accountable manner through tax-based, public financing.

Equal Time Radio on WDEV recorded a discussion about the People's Budget report; and below you can watch a Channel 17 conversation about the report on Traven Leyshon's show Live@5:25 Talk Television, with Peg Franzen, president of the Vermont Workers' Center, and Anja Rudiger from NESRI.

 

In January 2011, Vermont governor Peter Shumlin delivered his budget proposal, which threatened further cuts to already underfunded essential public services. The Workers' Center responded by reminding the governor of the state’s human rights obligations and demanded a strong public sector and a People’s Budget for Vermont.

The Beginnings: The People’s Plan

Back in 2009, the Vermont Workers' Center proposed a People’s Plan, a human rights alternative to inequitable budget and revenue policies that privilege the wealthy and corporations. The People’s Plan had three main thrusts, foreshadowing the recommendations of subsequent People's Budget Reports:

  • Maintaining and expanding public programs in areas of fundamental need, including human services, housing, education and employment;

  • Instituting equitable revenue policies that increase contributions by the wealthy and tax unearned income at no less than the same rate as other income; and

  • Establishing a system of universal health care that is equitable, accountable to the people and eliminates all barriers to the enjoyment of the human right to health.

Media Coverage
April 16th, 2015 | Rutland Herald
April 1st, 2014 | Burlington Free Press
November 21st, 2013 | Times Argus/Rutland Herald
 

 

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