Economic justice is a civil liberties issue

This commentary is by James Lyall, Executive Director, ACLU of Vermont.

The Fair Share for Vermont campaign is calling for Vermont’s wealthiest residents to pay their fair share in taxes so we can build a better state for all of us.   

As part of this campaign, the ACLU of Vermont and our partners are urging state legislators to ensure that those who can most afford it—the wealthiest two percent of Vermont residents—pay more in taxes to better support and address the needs of our communities. 

There are many reasons why we are proud to support this campaign, but they boil down to this: as an organization that works to remedy deeply entrenched sources of inequality, and to advance the rights and liberties of all people, economic justice is central to our vision for a more just and equitable state, and a healthy, vibrant democracy.  

Today, because of extreme and growing wealth inequality, more and more of our neighbors are denied access to opportunity and to basic necessities. As a result, many are prevented from exercising their civil rights and civil liberties to the fullest extent, participating in our democracy, and experiencing true freedom and equality in our society.   

As we have long recognized, wealth inequality also reinforces the many forms of systemic racism that we are working to dismantle each and every day. 

When our state invests in people in the here and now, it makes the state more sustainable and affordable for everyone in both the short- and long-term.  When we prioritize real solutions like affordable housing, healthcare, and education—all things that impact our civil liberties, directly and indirectly, every day—the benefits to our state, and to Vermont workers and families, are transformative.  

State legislators have started to make investments for healthier, more resilient communities—in housing, childcare, harm reduction strategies, and climate solutions. We applaud those efforts. At the same time, we know we must do far more to create a state budget that better addresses the needs of everyone who calls Vermont home.  

With more revenue from the state’s wealthiest residents, we can build a Vermont with affordable housing; where no child goes hungry; where everyone gets the healthcare they need; and where our environment and infrastructure can sustain a vibrant economy and a strong democracy. 

That’s why we look forward to working with legislators to advance this proposal in the coming year. We recognize there are other paths forward to raise revenue from those who can most afford it, and we hope policymakers will explore all available options to prioritize Vermont workers, families, and communities. 

When they do that, it’s important for our state legislators to know that they will have the support of the ACLU of Vermont, our members, and our partners in the Fair Share for Vermont campaign.  

They will also have the backing of the vast majority of their constituents. Voters overwhelmingly support proposals like Fair Share for Vermont, and those voters will be looking to their representatives for solutions this election year.

A version of this commentary also appeared in the Rutland Herald and other publications.