June 12, 2020

By David Flemming

On Tuesday, the Vermont Senate considered a bill for amending the selection process behind the Board of Trustees at the University of Vermont (a public university). One Vermont Senator lambasted the new approach, calling into question why diversity should take precedence over merit to be on the Board.

The UVM board currently has 20 men and 5 women. The bill would create a “State goal” for which the UVM Board would “achieve gender balance by 2025…that the 25 member Board is composed of 12 or 13 members who identify as women.”

Senator Brock (R-Franklin) questioned this thinking (watch Brock’s statement here). “When we fill positions, when we elect people, when we do any other form of selection, we do it on the basis of the best person for the position. We don’t assign them to particular groups and classify them as in effect, fungible, in terms of women, or men, or disabled, or members of minority groups, or by color, or by sexual orientation or anything else. And what this bill does is it does just that.”

Brock continues, “I wonder if we’re going down a very slippery slope in which today we say there should be a certain number of women, on the board regardless of qualifications or over-qualifications.”

He concludes, “next, we’re going to say that we need a certain number of people of color, we need a certain number of people who need to be classified and included because of their sexual orientation. In this particular case, we say a certain number who identify as men, a certain number who identify as women. But we make no mention of people who don’t identify as either or who are transgender. How often do we need to include a definition of what a person is, as opposed to who a person is?”

And that really is just the point. Positions such as those on the UVM board should not be looked upon as checking off a box to fill a position. This is even more true in the aftermath of Covid-19. UVM just recently cut salaries and is facing the prospect of paying “$8.7 million in pandemic-related expenses.” UVM needs the very best Board members with the most creative ability to balance the needs of its students while preserving its reputation as one of the best research universities in the country.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020, MYERS AMENDMENT

FAILED
in the State House of Representatives
on June 10, 2020, by a vote of
50-95

Purpose: The underlying bill, S.348, would remove the Governor from the decision making process of how to conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearing the way to allow for a process in which “live” absentee ballots would be mailed to all registered voters on the statewide checklist, regardless of a request (roughly 500,000 ballots). The purpose of the Myers Amendment is to, under these circumstances, discourage the practice of “ballot harvesting,” a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters, often resulting in undo influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the amendment reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.

Analysis: Mailing live ballots to 500,000 addresses for an election in which roughly 300,000 Vermonters are expected to vote will create a situation where 200,000 unclaimed/unwanted ballots are in circulation for anyone to collect, fraudulently fill out, and submit.

Those voting YES on the bill believe that with the unprecedented action in Vermont of mailing ballots to voters who did not request them, knowing that tens of thousands of names and addresses on the statewide voter checklist are invalid, people having died or moved away, and examples of “ballot harvesting” fraud occurring in other states, specific safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this from happening in Vermont.

Those voting NO argue “ballot harvesting” should not be prohibited in Vermont, and the practice will not lead to fraud.  


As Recorded in the House Journal, June 10, 2020: “…Shall the House propose to the Senate to amend the bill as offered by Rep. Myers and others? was decided in the negative. Yeas, 50. Nays, 95. (Read the Journal, p. 1160-1162). Watch the floor debate on YouTube.

Related: 
Roll Call! Senate Removes Governor from “All-Mail Election” Decision, 21-7 (2020)
Roll Call! Senate Blocks Measure to Prohibit “Ballot Harvesting” (5-24), 2020

How They Voted
(Click on your Rep’s name to send an email)

Janet Ancel (D – Calais) – NO
Peter Anthony (D – Barre) – NO
Sarita Austin (D – Colchester) – NO
Robert Bancroft (R – Westford) – YES
John Bartholomew (D – Hartland) – NO
Lynn Batchelor (R – Derby) – YES
Christopher Bates (D – Bennington) – YES
Scott Beck (R – St. Johnsbury) – YES
Matthew Birong (D – Vergennes) – NO
Thomas Bock (D – Chester) – NO
Patrick Brennan (R – Colchester) – YES
Timothy Briglin (D – Thetford) – NO
Nelson Brownell (D – Pownal) – NO
Cynthia Browning (D – Arlington) – YES
Jessica Brumsted (D – Shelburne) – NO
Thomas Burditt (R – West Rutland) – YES
Mollie Burke (P – Brattleboro) – NO
Scott Campbell (D – St. Johnsbury) – NO
William Canfield (R – Fair Haven) – YES
James Carroll (D – Bennington) – YES
Seth Chase (D – Colchester) – NO
Robin Chesnut-Tangerman (P – Middletown Springs) – NO
Annmarie Christensen (D – Weathersfield) – NO
Kevin “Coach” Christie (D – Hartford) – NO
Brian Cina (P – Burlington) – NO
Sara Coffey (D – Guilford) – NO
Selene Colburn (P – Burlington) – NO
Hal Colston (D – Winooski) – NO
Peter Conlon (D – Cornwall) – NO
Charles Conquest (D – Newbury) – NO
Sarah Copeland-Hanzas (D – Bradford) – NO
Timothy Corcoran (D – Bennington) – YES
Mari Cordes (D/P – Lincoln) – NO
Lawrence Cupoli (R – Rutland) – YES
Carl Demrow (D – Corinth) – YES
Eileen Dickinson (R – St. Albans) – YES
Kari Dolan (D – Waitsfield) – NO
Anne Donahue (R – Northfield) – YES
Johannah Donovan (D – Burlington) – NO
David Durfee (D – Shaftsbury) – NO
Caleb Elder (D – Starksboro) – NO
Alice Emmons (D – Springfield) – NO
Peter Fagan (R – Rutland) – YES
Charen Fegard (D – Berkshire) – NO
Martha Feltus (R – Lyndon) – YES
Marianna Gamache (R – Swanton) – YES
John Gannnon (D – Wilmington) – NO
Marcia Gardner (D – Richmond) – NO
Dylan Giambatista (D – Essex) – NO
Diana Gonzalez (P – Wioski) – NO
Kenneth Goslant (R – Northfield) – YES
Maxine Grad (D – Moretown) – NO
Rodney Graham (R – Williamstown) – ABSENT
James Gregoire (R – Fairfield) – YES
Sandy Haas (P – Rochester) – NO
Lisa Hango (R – Birkshire) – YES
James Harrison (R – Chittenden) – YES
Nader Hashim (D – Dummerston) – NO
Robert Helm (R – Fair Haven) – YES
Mark Higley (R – Lowell) – YES
Matthew Hill (D – Wolcott) – ABSENT
Robert Hooper (D – Burlington) – NO
Philip Hooper (D – Randolph) – NO
Mary Hooper (D – Montpelier) – NO
Lori Houghton (D – Essex) – NO
Mary Howard (D – Rutland) – NO
Kathleen James (D – Manchester) – NO
Stephanie Jerome (D – Brandon) – NO
Kimberly Jessup (D – Middlesex) – NO
Mitzi Johnson (D – Grand Isle) – PRESIDING
John Killacky (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Charles Kimbell (D – Woodstock) – NO
Warren Kitzmiller (D – Montpelier) – ABSENT
Emilie Kornheiser (D – Brattleboro) – NO
Jill Krowinski (D – Burlington) – NO
Robert LaClair (R – Barre) – YES
Martin LaLonde (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Diane Lanpher (D – Vergennes) – NO
Paul Lefebvre (R – Newark) – YES
Felisha Leffler (R – Esburgh) – YES
William Lippert (D – Hinesburg) – NO
Emily Long (D – Newfane) – NO
Terence Macaig (D – Williston) – NO
Michael Marcotte (R – Coventry) – YES
Marcia Martel (R – Waterford) – YES
James Masland (D – Thetford) – NO
Christopher Mattos (R – Milton) – YES
Michael McCarthy (D – St. Albans) – NO
Curtis McCormack (D – Burlington) – NO
Patricia McCoy (R – Poultney) – YES
James McCullough (D – Williston) – NO
Francis McFaun (R – Barre) – YES
Leland Morgan (R – Milton) – NO
Kristi Morris (D – Springfield) – NO
Mary Morrissey (R – Bennington) – YES
Michael Mrowicki (D – Putney) – NO
Barbara Murphy (I – Fairfax) – NO
Linda Myers (R – Essex) – YES
Logan Nicoll (D – Ludlow) – NO
Terry Norris (I – Shoreham) – YES
William Notte (D – Rutland) – NO
Daniel Noyes (D – Wolcott) – NO
John O’Brien (D – Tunbridge) – NO
Jean O’Sullivan (D – Burlington) – NO
Carol Ode (D – Burlington) – NO
“Woody” Page (R – Newport) – YES
Kelly Pajala (I – Londonderry) – NO
John Palasik (R – Milton) – YES
Carolyn Partridge (D – Windham) – NO
Avram Patt (D – Worcester) – NO
David Potter (D – Clarendon) – YES
Ann Pugh (D – S. Burlington) – NO
Constance Quimby (R – Concord) – YES
Barbara Rachelson (D – Burlington) – NO
Zachariah Ralph (P – Hartland) – NO
Marybeth Redmond (D – Essex) – NO
Peter Reed (I – Braintree) – NO
Lucy Rogers (D – Waterville) – NO
Carl Rosenquist (R – Georgia) – YES
Brian Savage (R – Swanton) – YES
Robin Scheu (D – Middlebury) – NO
Heidi Scheuermann (R – Stowe) – YES
Patrick Seymour (R – Sutton) – YES
Charles “Butch” Shaw (R – Pittsford) – YES
Amy Sheldon (D – Middlebury) – NO
Laura Sibilia (I – Dover) – NO
Brian Smith (R – Derby) – YES
Harvey Smith (R – New Haven) – YES
Trevor Squirrell (D – Underhill) – NO
Thomas Stevens (D – Waterbury) – NO
Vicki Strong (R – Albany) – YES
Linda Joy Sullivan (D – Dorset) – YES
Mary Sullivan (D – Burlington) – NO
Randall Szott (D – Barnard) – NO
Curt Taylor (D – Colchester) – NO
Thomas Terenzini (R – Rutland) – YES
George Till (D – Jericho) – ABSENT
Tristan Toleno (D – Brattleboro) – NO
Catherine Toll (D – Danville) – NO
Casey Toof (R – St. Albans) – YES
Maida Townsend (D – South) – NO
Joseph “Chip” Troiano (D – Stannard) – NO
Kelly Cota-Tulley (D – Rockingham) — NO
Tommy Walz (D – Barre) – NO
Kathryn Webb (D – Shelburne) – NO
Rebecca White (D – Hartford) – NO
Theresa Wood (D – Waterbury) – NO
David Yacovone (D – Morristown) – NO
Michael Yantachka (D – Charlotte) – NO
Samuel Young (D – Greensboro) – NO

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June 11, 2020

by Rob Roper

Correction: The Mad River Barn contacted us and asked us to make clear that they are not closing. One partner in the business is leaving for Florida, but the other is trying to restructure the business to keep it going in this difficult health and legislative environment. We apologize for the error.

A sad story in the Valley Reporter tells of the closure of an iconic local business tells of the difficult challenges forcing major changes at an iconic local business, The Mad River Barn in Fayston, and one owner’s intention to leave Vermont for more business friendly Florida. While the COVID-19 economic shutdown was the last straw for the inn/restaurant/wedding venue, it was not the only straw.

As the Valley Reporter states regarding owners Heather Brown and Andy Lynds:  

Brown said that the impact of the political climate in Vermont on their ability to run a successful business was significant. She cited a minimum wage law that increased front-of-the-house hourly wages by 50 percent which means that front-of-the-house workers (receiving tips) are earning an average of $49 an hour which can’t be shared with back-of-the-house employees.

“That’s one reason why Vermont has not turned out to be a good place for us. The Legislature doesn’t understand the reality of running a business and thinks that business is bad and that business owners are bad,” she said.

“Those kinds of things should be considered in policies and they’re not, which have catastrophic downstream conditions.”

Yes, these things should be considered, and no they are not. Instead, rather than exploring ways to help businesses such as the Mad River Barn succeed, our legislators are now working on a bill make it illegal for them to provide their guests with shampoo, conditioner, etc. in mini-plastic bottles. So, you can understand why business owners are becoming increasingly disillusioned with Vermont.

If we want our state to successfully emerge from this COVID-19 recession, the priorities of the legislature as well as its overall attitude will need to change.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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June 9, 2020

by John McClaughry

Stowe businessman and columnist Tom Evslin, in his blog called Fractals of Change, wrote on Monday that the Global Warming Solutions Act, that passed the House back in February and is now before the Senate, has “huge implications for Vermont and Vermonters. It will almost certainly raise energy costs. It establishes a new unelected commission to set energy policy. It allows anyone to sue the state for any real or perceived lack of anti-carbon action.”

“Even if you like the bill, it needs work. It’s full of internal inconsistencies. It’s ambiguous on whether plants removing carbon from the atmosphere counts towards the State’s carbon goal. It’s an unprecedented (and perhaps unconstitutional) abdication of legislative responsibility. Certainly one would want the Senate to consider the implications of this bill in a state which was at full employment when the bill passed the House and now has historic unemployment and lines for food handouts.

“The more important you think the Global Warming Solutions Act  is, the less you should want it rushed. We don’t know what emissions will look like next year. We don’t know how vulnerable we will be to further pandemic. We don’t know if we’ll be dealing with an influx of urban escapees or exodus of the unemployed. We must focus on this year’s priorities. Hopefully we will deal with them well enough (and be lucky enough) to consider our next steps on global warming next year.”

Amen to that, Tom.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 8, 2020

by Rob Roper

In a spectacular example of fiddling while Vermont burns, the Senate Finance Committee voted 6-1 to advance a bill, S.227, to “to prohibit the provision by lodging establishments of personal use products in small plastic bottles.” This directive would come as Vermont’s hotels and bed and breakfasts, a huge part of Vermont’s critical tourism industry, have been decimated by the COVID-19 prevention measures.

Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) had this to say about it:

“Why are we doing this? Well, one of the things we heard is because the large hotel companies are already going in that direction. And they may be. So that again is my point of why do we have to legislate it if it’s something they’re already doing? Well, perhaps the reason we have to legislate it is they want us to force everybody else to do it. But, it’s in their competitive interest to do it that way. Not necessarily in the public interest. And as we look at what the public interest is here… we ought to be focused on issues that really matter at this point. Why are we spending the hours that we’re spending on dealing with tiny little bottles? To prohibit people from using them, but still making them available at the desk if anybody wants them, and then making it effective three years from now. That to me doesn’t make any sense. I look at what we’re supposed to do in this body, and I’m saying, yeah, the public will look at this and laugh at us. And they ought to!” (Video: 48:08-49:25)

Though other members of the committee expressed some reservations about the timing of the bill, and recognized the poor optics of passing it — Sens. Pearson (P-Chittenden), Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) and Cummings (D-Washington) — none but Brock, in the end, voted against it.

This bill impacts an industry that is, as one of the senators noted, “struggling for its existence.” Any added regulation, any added cost to doing business at this point is nothing less than cruel. So why would six out of seven senators do this? VPIRG is “bombarding” legislators with form letters demanding that S.227 be made law, so…. Hopefully the full senate and/or the House will apply more common sense and empathy should it get that far.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 5, 2020

By David Flemming

All of Vermont’s counties have been hit hard by unemployment after Covid-19 restrictions came into play in March. But some have been less impacted than others.

Orleans has had the “least worst change” going from 4.6% unemployment March 14 to 21.6% on May 23

Most of Vermont was doing pretty well unemployment wise before the crisis, with 12 of the 14 counties sporting unemployment rates below 4.0%. Fast forward to May 23,and the story is very different. Only two counties had unemployment rates below 20.0%- Franklin and Orange, at 19.8%. The other 12 counties were all in the low twenties, topping out at Lamoille’s 24.7% unemployment rate.

Before the virus hit, Chittenden had the lowest unemployment rate in Vermont. Now, it has fallen to the middle of the pack at 8th highest, with a whopping 21.6% unemployment.

I am curious to see how these trends will impact Vermont’s labor force after the Covid-19 restrictions are lessened. Vermont’s industries are not evenly spread out across the state. And some are more easily able to adapt than others. Tourism is the least flexible industry, simply because it requires a free movement of people to be sustainable, which seems highly unlikely in the near term.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

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June 5, 2020

by John McClaughry

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is creeping forward with the House-passed Global Warming Solutions Act. This is the legislative atrocity that would instruct the Agency of Natural Resources to do anything necessary to achieve carbon dioxide emissions goals that are almost certainly impossible of achievement  – all without any legislator ever voting on them. 

One particularly repugnant section would let any climate warrior organization sue the State government to get a judge to demand that the sweeping emissions rules be implemented further. Here’s what the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had to say about that:

“We oppose the section providing a Cause of Action to any person based upon the failure to adopt or update the plan or rules. In January we testified that our experience with the law suits surrounding the Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load was that a tremendous amount of money was spent on lawyers and lawsuits that could have been spent on implementing projects to address the problem. For seven years while cases were adjudicated, the regulated community waited to be told what exactly they would be required to do. No one wanted to spend vast sums of money to address stormwater management when there was no assurance that what they did would be acceptable or adequate.”

This bill is designed to feed climate change lawyers, and send the bill to taxpayers. It’s high time to scrap the whole sorry thing.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020, BENNING AMENDMENT

FAILED
in the State Senate on June 3, 2020 by a vote of 
5-24

Purpose: The underlying bill, S.348, would remove the Governor from the decision making process of how to conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearing the way to allow for a process in which “live” absentee ballots would be mailed to all registered voters on the statewide checklist, regardless of a request (roughly 500,000 ballots). The purpose of the Benning Amendment is to, under these circumstances, discourage the practice of “ballot harvesting,” a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters, often resulting in undo influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the amendment reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.

Analysis:  Mailing live ballots to 500,000 addresses for an election in which roughly 300,000 Vermonters are expected to vote will create a situation where 200,000 unclaimed/unwanted ballots are in circulation for anyone to collect, fraudulently fill out, and submit.

Those voting YES on the bill believe that with the unprecedented action in Vermont of mailing ballots to voters who did not request them, knowing that tens of thousands of names and addresses on the statewide voter checklist are invalid, people having died or moved away, and examples of “ballot harvesting” fraud occurring in other states, specific safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this from happening in Vermont.

Those voting NO argue “ballot harvesting” should not be prohibited in Vermont, and the practice will not lead to fraud.  

Senate Journal, Tuesday, June 3, 2020. “…Thereupon, the third recommendation of amendment was disagreed to on a roll call, Yeas 5, Nays 24. (Read the Journal, p. 682-684)”

Related: Roll Call! Senate Removes Governor from “All-Mail Election” Decision, 21-7 (2020)


How They Voted

(Click on Your Senator’s Name to Send an Email)

Timothy Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) – NO
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – NO
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – NO
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – YES
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – NO
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – YES
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – NO
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – NO
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – YES
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – NO
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – NO
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – NO
Debbie Ingram (D-Chittendent) – NO  
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – NO
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – NO
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – NO
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – NO
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – NO
James McNeil (R-Rutland) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – NO
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – YES
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – NO
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – NO
Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington) – NO
John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans) – ABSENT
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – NO
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – NO
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – NO
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – NO

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020

PASSED
in the State Senate on June 2, 2020 by a vote of 
21-7 


Purpose: S.348 would remove the Governor’s right to approve emergency elections changes in consultation with the Secretary of State for the 2020 election made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Analysis:  The proposal in question would involve mailing as many as 500,000 “live” absentee ballots to every registered, currently uncontested voter in the state of Vermont regardless of the voter requesting a ballot. Governor Phil Scott (R) has reservations about the plan while Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) insists that it is both necessary and needs to be implemented immediately.

Those voting YES believe that in order to move forward with mailing all voters a ballot the check and balance currently required by law between the Governor and the Secretary of State must be removed. They argue that mailing all voters a ballot is the best way to maintain the ability of voters to participate in the election while protecting their health (discouraging congregating in large groups at polling places) as well as the health of election officials given the potential threat of COVID-19.

Those voting NO believe that the check and balance between the Governor and the Secretary of State should be maintained; that the proposal to mail 500,000 ballots is fraught with problems, including voter confusion, logistical problems with the postal service regarding the tracking and return of ballots sent to wrong addresses, logistical problems stemming from mailing thousands ineligible “voters” (people who have died or moved) who are still on the checklist; and the possibility of voter fraud on both large and small scales, such as “ballot harvesting” as the result of having as many as 200,000 unwanted/unclaimed live ballots “floating around” the state.

Senate Journal, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. “…Thereupon, the bill was read the second time by title only pursuant to Rule 43, and third reading of the bill was ordered on a roll call, Yeas 21, Nays 7. (Read the Journal, p. 649-650)”

Related:
Commentary: Vote by Mail Needs to be More Secure


How They Voted

(Click on Your Senator’s Name to Send an Email)

Timothy Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) – YES
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – YES
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – NO
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – NO
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Debbie Ingram (D-Chittendent) -YES  
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – YES
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
James McNeil (R-Rutland) – NO
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – NO
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – YES
Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington) – YES
John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans) – ABSENT
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – ABSENT
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – NO
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES

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June 3, 2020

by Rob Roper

Vermont is looking at a potential $430 million revenue shortfall for the FY2021 budget year. Dealing with it will require some hard choices that will hopefully lead to a leaner, more efficient, less intrusive state government in the future. Unfortunately, the first debates and public statements by Democrats running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor reflect a general desire to maintain the status quo ante COVID, relying on the old Leftist fall back: Tax the Rich!

Here are just a few of the challenges the next set of elected officials will have to tackle. Massive unemployment and the people who will need assistance, some estimates say as many as 30% of our restaruants will not survive the COVID shut down, the K-12 education system is facing a $160 million shortfall, the childcare industry has been devastated, the state college system is failing and will need an immediate infusion of $25 million just to stay afloat in the next year and likely much more after that, our hospital system has lost over $150 million, and tourism, one of our largest economic drivers, has been essentially turned off.

The notion that taxing “wealthy” Vermonters, those according to the candidates making over $250,000 a year, to cover the cost of addressing these issues is delusional for a number of practical reasons. As David Zuckerman said, “I’m one of the only candidates who’s talked about raising taxes on the wealthiest and we need to look at that for funding many of these initiatives,”

First of all, there just aren’t that many. According to the state income tax statistics for 2018, the last reported year, there are only about 13,000 tax returns reporting income over $200,000. (The state doesn’t break down the statistics at $250,000, so the number these candidates wants to tax is going to be much lower than 13,000. Just 5777 returns were for $300,000 and over). To force such a small segment of the population to shoulder this burden on its own is both unfair and unrealistic.

Second, Vermont already has one of the most progressive income tax systems in the nation at 8.95%. In other words, we already “tax the rich.” These folks ($200,000 income and up) already pay nearly half of all the income taxes paid in Vermont, $342 million, arguably already more than their “fair share.” Were these folks to cover the $430 million shortfall, it would require more than doubling their tax rates. Who’s going to sit still for this?

Third, many of the people who report this kind of high income don’t earn it every year. It is the result of a one-time event such as selling a property or selling a business. Often times, such a sale is to fund retirement. Are these candidates really going to tell someone who spent a lifetime building a small business, building its value, and are selling it to fund a well-deserved retirement that the state is going to confiscate a large chunk of that transaction? Why would anybody start and build a business in Vermont knowing that this was going to happen to them? Why would anyone invest in a home?

One certainly understands the political motivation behind this approach – tell most voters their lives will be unchanged, and the other guy will take the pain – but the policy would be devastating to Vermont. In the wake of COVID we need to attract more investment to our state, and, even before this economic downturn, need to attract more people to move here and put down roots. This would discourage both.

Vermont’s grotesque tax burden was a big reason why our state never really recovered from the Great Recession. This doubling down on a failed policy prescription will ensure an even greater failure to recover from this recession.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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