May 11, 2007

Freedom & Unity Vermont's Motto on Display

Published in the Colchester Sun May 10, 2007

Freedom and Unity

Most of us would agree that Vermont is a wonderful place to live. That statement includes a shared set of values exemplified by the generally positive living conditions and natural environment we enjoy compared to other places. What are those ideals that we hold individually and communally that conspire to make Vermont 'wonderful?' They are not always easily identified and our shared and diverse principles often clash with the need to pay for their realization. Our state motto is "Freedom and Unity," those cherished, but not easily reconciled, values of a free society have been sorely tested this year in Montpelier.

Stepping back from the daily media accounts of events for a moment to think about the values on display in the capital, we see them revealed in the issues that received attention amid the myriad decisions in next year's $4 Billion budget. Senator Shumlin and Speaker Symington decided that global warming, physician assisted suicide, and impeaching the President and Vice President were priority issues that consumed weeks of testimony and debate with little result. In the legislative global warming 'group think' exercise the targeted value was the 'Unity' part of our motto. Personal 'Freedom' must be constrained for the common good, i.e., saving the planet with hope, but no evidence, that mankind can reverse climate change.

End-of-life physician assisted suicide advocates believe that individual choice, 'Freedom,' when pain and suffering are present, override the long standing core societal belief in the sanctity of life (Freedom trumps Unity). Resolving to impeach the President and Vice President? Well, that borders on foolishness. Neither Freedom nor Unity was involved. Instead, our Legislative leadership chose to give voice to an ideology over which the legislature had no influence. We deserve better from leaders when so many Vermont-specific issues cry for attention.

Meanwhile, Governor Douglas wisely has charted a course for affordability, tightly controlled education spending and a bold initiative for telecommunications. His values are a healthy economy and reining in Vermont's cost of living so that those of us who believe Vermont is a wonderful place to live can afford it. His healthy economy mantra embraces the 'Freedom' theme. Good jobs and constrained taxes give us the 'Freedom' to pursue our personal goals and spend our own money rather than let Montpelier decide.

Will the diversity of our values be an insurmountable impediment to continuing Vermont's 'good life?' A healthy society must identify and share core values and we must be willing to commit ourselves and allocate our resources on that basis. We can all agree that Freedom and Unity are shared goals until we must decide how to spend tax dollars when the demand always exceeds the supply. The devil is always in the details and core values sometimes succumb to political ideology in spending decisions. Those values of Freedom and Unity should underlie Vermont's policies, legislation, and spending but frequently we seem unable to set the right priorities for the common good. Instead, our lawmakers choose to dole out the limited dollars to the competing agendas of various squabbling advocacy groups. 'Unity,' our common good, is often badly served by compromise and legislators' attempts to satisfy everyone. The result is ever increasing costs, proliferation of bureaucracy and lingering discontent among our citizens. We should seek consensus on the values we hold in common and the priorities will come clearer for devoting resources to the issues because there will never be enough money to meet all expectations. Unless our leaders establish sensible and sustainable priorities with the courage to act on them, I fear more Vermonters will vote with their feet ('Freedom').

Both of my children chose to return to Vermont after living elsewhere. I want their children to have a reason to make our state their wonderful home, too.

David Usher
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