A wit once offered the “inspiration” that it was advisable to be at war with one’s vices, meaning growth comes when one turns weaknesses into strength. Typically, the advice is directed at the individual, with the end result being an improvement to society overall. But the advice can be directed just as effectively towards groups of people rather than individuals and following the economic and social train wreck known as Covid-19, perhaps it’s advice best followed by the Vermont Legislature, which will convene next week, on January 6.

The vice the Legislature needs to fight is consistency, or the relentless pull of inertia. This year more than ever.

Even with the benefit of federal stimulus dollars there will not be enough money to go around, to fill every request. Yet every request will have an advocate. Every request will have constituents. Every request comes with expectations.

The metric that’s already in play to gauge “success” is deciding when things have returned to normal. Then, everything’s okay.

As comforting as that might seems, it’s more a Pyrrhic victory; winning the battle but losing the war. If we return to where we began before the pandemic and hold our positions, then yesterday’s unaddressed challenges remain unaddressed today and allowed to fester.

To do better means being able to recognize limits and to set firm priorities. And that requires leadership of the most devoted sort.

Three examples loom before the Legislature:

First, is addressing the needs of higher education. The Legislature is expected to have before it a request from the Vermont State College system for upwards of $100 million over the next five years. That’s new money, over and above what is now appropriated. The University of Vermont is also going through difficulties of its own. Legislators are going to be faced with difficult choices, knowing there is not enough money to fill all needs, but understanding that higher ed is vital to the state’s economic future.

Second, is stepping up to ensure the survivability of OneCare Vermont and the state’s push toward the all-payer model, the nation’s strongest push toward a health care system that survives because its population base is focused on wellness. This is our only means of lowering health care costs.

Third, is the workplace initiative focused on strengthening the state’s child care system, which not only strengthens the cause of women in the workplace, but which will serve as the foundation for any economic strength the state might develop, or attract. It also boosts the educational system.

Being successful at any of the three would be worth celebrating. All three issues are difficult. All three have been before us for decades and unresolved. All three would require a political focus uncommon to the times.

But the opportunity Covid-19 has laid before us is one of all normal routines and practices being tossed upside down. We’ve managed. We’ve figured out work-arounds. What we need to figure out now is a work-around that puts “normal” on the shelf, and one that gives us the energy and determination to address fundamental challenges before us. It’s time we refute the vice of kicking cans down the road. It’s the only way of truly strengthening ourselves.

by Emerson Lynn

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