By Rob Roper

Rob Roper

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Vermont has gone from one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country to one of the highest. According to the Vermont Commissioner on Labor, 90,000 Vermonters have applied for unemployment insurance. That’s out of a total workforce of about 340,000. As we come out the other side of this, putting policies into place that encourage rapid employment, capital investment in new and old businesses, and entrepreneurial creativity must be our number one priority. Policies that present obstacles to this must be set aside or removed. 

Even before COVID when the nation’s economy was booming, Vermont was struggling under the burden of high taxes and complicated regulation. So much so that in January the British financial magazine The Economist noted in an article titled, As wages grow across America, one state is left behind, that, “In the past decade Vermont’s gdp has grown at two-thirds the rate of America’s. Critics point to a mountain of red tape and regulation.” Because of that red tape and regulation, Vermont never really recovered from the last recession. This was bad enough then; it is unacceptable now.

Current estimates show Vermont facing as much as a $430 million budget shortfall for the 2021 budget year. We are looking at a potential 25 percent property tax increase to cover the prek-12 education budget. Potential tax increases discussed to fill the hole include increasing the 6 percent sales tax by a penny or two, expanding the sales tax to services, adding or increasing “sin” taxes to candy, sugary drinks, and tobacco products, taxing clothing over $150, and taxing “cloud” based services.

Respectfully speaking, this is not the way to go. Thinking of my barber, who has had to close her shop and forgo income for two months, is the legislature really going to tell her that as she tries to open back up she’s going to have to shoulder a massive property tax increase on her small Main Street shop and start collecting, tracking and remitting a new sales tax for which she will have to increase prices on her also financially strapped customers? This is not how to re-open an economy.

Additionally, the Vermont legislature has been hostile to people working as or employing independent contractors, even when both sides are desirous of the arrangement. This has to stop. The sad reality is that many businesses will not be able to reopen even when allowed. We are going to need new businesses cropping up in their place. People are going to have to be creative in finding employment for themselves and others, and the state is going to have to take steps to make it easier, not harder, for them to do so.

And, lastly, we need to reform our tax structure in such a way as to attract large amounts of private investment capital, which means allowing for competitive returns on investment. High up-front regulatory costs coupled with confiscatory tax rates – our current policy — is the opposite of how to do this. Vermont legislators have preferred an economic growth model of picking winners and losers, subsidizing with tax money the endeavors of the favored, and crushing with taxes and red tape the unwanted (at least according to them). This approach was failing before the economic crisis, and it is an impossible formula now.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see the Vermont Senate taking up bills like the Global Warming Solutions Act, as this bill’s purpose is to quash economic activity that results in greenhouse gas emissions – which is nearly all economic activity. If ever there was a wrong place and time for a piece of legislation, this is it.

Vermont has a reputation for being unfriendly to job creation. All the rankings put out by financial publications, tax watchdog groups, etc. place our state at or near the bottom. We must  move quickly to reverse both the reality and the perception of this or we’re going to be in real trouble for a long time.

Moving forward, helping people get back to work and rebuilding their financial security has to be the number one objective of every state policy, whether it is returning to an old job that’s coming back on-line, moving into a new job that didn’t exist before, or creating a job for one’s self where no other job is available. Every policy should be examined through that lens. 

If we continue down the policy path that choked off Vermont’s ability to recover from the last recession, we will never, ever recover from this one.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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By John McClaughry

A year from now Vermont state government will almost certainly look quite a bit different than it does now. We will hopefully have worked through much of the economic destruction of the COVID- 19 pandemic. State government will have pocketed and allocated $1.25 billion in Federal funds to cushion the pandemic’s impact, but that pot of gold will not be continually replenished.

Vermont, facing a $250 million shortfall in General Fund revenues for the fiscal year that starts a month from now, will have to rethink what it is and what it does. To undertake that task intelligently we must bravely launch a thorough-going Performance Review.

A Performance Review is not merely a process for squeezing out waste from the current operations of our $6 billion state government. Every administration proposes to take aggressive action to improve operational efficiency and squeeze out waste. 

The present administration, for example, is carrying on a Program Improvement for Vermont Outcomes Together (PIVOT).  It has generated a Program Modernization and Efficiency Plan “to identify and eliminate confusion, waste and duplicability (sic) in operational processes”. Under the direction of a very capable Chief Performance Officer, the administration is striving for “results based accountability” based on the answers to three questions: “How much are we doing? How well are we doing it? Is anyone better off”? 

Note that this jargon-rich process, like several feeble predecessors (such as the costly failure called “Challenge for Change” and an ephemeral  creation named GRORC), assumed that our state government  has properly become the Great Caretaker of Us All, charged with maintaining a prosperous economy, healthiness, cleanliness, sustainability, safety, nurture, education, family, caring for children and the disabled, and so on. These felicitous “population-level outcomes” were actually spelled out in the statute books in 2014 (3 VSA 2311). 

A Performance Review, by contrast, is not based on a foundation of expansive and expensive government serving as Great Caretaker of Us All. Performance Review is a careful and deliberate study by knowledgeable and disinterested people – not people who labored for decades to constantly create and expand government – of what state government is doing, how it does it, and how what the people want done can be done better and more efficiently. The goal is to balance over the long term the cost of state government’s programs and the revenue from taxpayers, without imposing regulations and taxation that would shut down economic growth, affordability, and revenue production.

In a more pointed formulation, a Performance Review asks “what are the core functions of government? How well is state government performing those functions? Are there better ways to achieve the same results, at less cost? What functions can be entrusted to a free people without invoking the governmental powers of regulation, confiscation, coercion, and prohibition? What should our state government just stop doing?” With my pro-liberty bias, I would add, “Are the activities of state government protecting or endangering our constitutional rights and liberties?”

The modern Performance Review idea has strong bipartisan roots. In the 1990s Texas Controllers John Sharp (D) and Carole Keeton (R) fed hundreds of cost-saving recommendations to Governors Ann Richards (D) and George W. Bush (R), saving Texas taxpayers billions. Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) was soundly reelected in 1996 due to the success of his review called PERM, for Privatize, Eliminate, Retain or Modify. 

In fact, the Vermont Democratic platform of 2004 pledged that party to conduct a “top-to-bottom ‘performance review’ of the functions of state government… to find creative, smart new ways to make government run more efficiently on the resources we have.” Unfortunately the Democratic legislature elected that year seems to have forgotten this promising proposal, but it’s not too late for them to catch up.

It won’t be easy to conduct such a review under the fierce and immediate pressure of a pandemic, huge looming deficits, and the ever –present resistance of special interest groups. But unless it’s done, the state government will from stumble haphazardly on through the recurring cycle of politically-driven program expansion, increased spending, revenue shortfalls, tax increases, and then expanding all over again until the next recession.

If the Democratic majority in Montpelier needs inspiration, they need look no further than their leader, Barack Obama. In naming his director of the Office of Management and Budget on November 25, 2008, the President-elect said: “We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists, or interest groups. We simply cannot afford it. This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works.”

 – John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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May 29, 2020

By Aimee Stephenson, Ph.D.

As Vermont begins to re-open, I am hopeful to see more of my friends beginning to relax. Fear is a funny thing. Similar to our perceptions of risk and safety, fear is deeply personal. Getting over fear and moving toward a feeling of safety again is something each individual must reconcile within them self. But what will help us along the path to getting over our fears? For me, there are three things I find helpful. The first is learning more and gathering additional information to rationally and logically assess a situation. The second is knowing I am not alone in the conclusions I draw. The third is doing something with these ideas, which usually entails communicating with others. That is what I am attempting here.

Although it was only a few months ago, it seems like a different world when our political leaders justified their executive orders with phrases like “flatten the curve” and “abundance of caution?” Armed with only erroneous models and absolutely no real data, they declared a state of emergency to grant themselves enormous power with incredible latitude to exercise it. They claimed a “data-based approach” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even now, with their models disproven, there is little attention given to the data we actually have from the pandemic. If our political leaders are earnestly taking a “data-based approach,” then why is it okay to ignore this data, and in doing so, subject us to irrational and absurd precautionary measures that continue to strangle the economy and demoralize society?

So what is the real data from the pandemic telling us? As tragic as the situations were in New York and Italy, we now know that 70%–80% of COVID-19 deaths occur among those over 70. This same data also confirms that the risk of death for the population under 50 years of age is close to zero. Yes, I am very aware there are some heart wrenching stories about younger individuals succumbing to COVID-19, but these cases are extremely rare.

The stark reality is that across the board, regardless of age, 93% of all COVID-19 deaths have been in individuals with an average of 2.5 pre-existing medical conditions. This is an incredibly telling statistic! Even with the older population, deaths are predominantly among those who are quite sick already, or at the very least, those who cannot be deemed healthy. If you are under 50 without health issues, you do not need to worry about the coronavirus any more than you worry about getting in in your car every day.

Yet the media and our political leaders would have you believe the opposite – not only is infection both imminent and probable, but if infected, death is almost a certainty. We have the data now to know this is an extremely unlikely scenario for the 71% of Vermonters who are 50 or under. While it is not clear how many Vermonters have pre-existing medical conditions, it is probably safe to assume many are healthy and would be unlikely to die from COVID-19.

There is a whole other side of data from the pandemic that relates, not to COVID-19, but to the economy and society. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed higher than it has been in nearly 100 years, millions of Americans are struggling financially, businesses of all kinds are at risk of closing, and our personal freedoms have been taken away and are severely threatened moving forward. We are at the mercy of a very small number of people hoarding enormous power, and as a result of their policies, suicide and child molestation rates are on the rise. And unlike COVID-19, the economic and societal fallout from the pandemic is both universal and pervasive. No one, not even the very rich, have been able to escape these impacts.

What’s even more horrifying is how little some around me seem to care about what we have lost and the real damages we have suffered as a result of the incredibly disproportionate and inappropriate reaction to the pandemic. I’m astounded by the complacency, and even more so, the willing submission in the hopes that the government will protect us from the coronavirus. Our government can no more protect us from an airborne illness than they could protect us from Hurricane Irene. Vermonters need to realize it is not the virus we need protection from but our own government. The evidence and despair are all around us on a daily basis, and no mask or 6-foot rule will save us from these policies.

Perhaps my situation is incredibly rare, but I don’t know a single individual who has had COVID, much less died from it. But I can say that 100% of my friends, co-workers and acquaintances have been impacted, some staggeringly so, by the economic fallout of the government edicts we are living under. Pointing to the incredible inequality in this country made starkly worse by the pandemic, Margaret Atwood recently warned that a “French Revolution” scenario is inevitable if the American political system does not change. Well I, for one, feel the proverbial heads should roll. Are there other rational and logical Vermonters who feel the same? We need to stand together and make our voices heard by the very few who are currently micromanaging our lives with what seems like an endless stream of dictatorial executive orders and addendums.

Your voice is urgently needed now so we don’t go any further down the “abundance of caution” rabbit hole. The re-opening restrictions are so severe, it’ll be a wonder if businesses of all kinds survive this unnecessary prolonging of the crisis. I am also appalled by the changes being discussed for schools in the fall, all in the name of “accommodating COVID-19 safety precautions.” School in shifts or entirely online, insisting kids wear masks, keeping desks 6 feet apart? These are completely absurd, irrational, and pointless guidelines. And lest us not forget, before it is too late, that these are currently “guidelines,” not outright laws. I fear legislation is right around the corner. Now is the time to speak up.

While I am hopeful my friends are relaxing, I am even more hopeful to see many of them shift toward anger and indignation over the current situation. More and more they are realizing there is little to fear about COVID-19, but there is a lot to be angry about. Our political leaders have perversely taken advantage of the power provided through “state of emergency” statutes. If anything productive comes out of this crisis, let’s hope it is a reform of these laws. Governors in other states are being sued over their stay-at-home orders, and many are losing. Look at Wisconsin. Whether our political leaders honestly believe they are protecting Vermonters or their egos are too big to admit their mistakes, they have painted themselves into a corner and this whole situation is an atrocity. The media and the political class are the ones we truly need to fear and the ones we need to protect ourselves from.

— Aimee Stephenson has a doctorate in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Vermont (2001)

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May 28, 2020

by Rob Roper

The three biggest advocates of an all-mail-in ballot election are Democrat Secretary of State Jim Condos, Democratic legislators, and Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). The “election by mail” proposal they are pushing calls for mailing all active voters on the statewide checklist a “live” absentee ballot for the November 2020 election, regardless of the voter’s request.

Here’s the math. There are roughly 480,000 registered voters in Vermont, and in the 2016 presidential election year, which had a high turnout, just 67% of registered voters cast ballots (and many of those still on the checklist are invalid voters having died or moved away). This means that the Condos/VPIRG vote-by-mail proposal, if allowed to move forward, will lead to something like 160,000 unclaimed or unwanted ballots just floating around – for any unscrupulous actor(s) to collect, fill out, and mail in.

There are no meaningful safeguards or mechanisms in place to detect or track down, and therefore prosecute, anyone who illegally fills out an absentee ballot, or multiple ballots, in someone else’s name. As the St. Johnsbury Town Clerk Stacy Jewell admitted in a recent interview when asked if she had seen any cases of vote-by-mail during the previous election, “Not that we would know. Like I said, you’re not gonna know.”

So, who would take advantage of 160,000 “floater” ballots plus hundreds of thousands more confused Vermont voters suddenly receiving absentee ballots they didn’t request?

In January, VPIRG announced that they were forming a Political Action Committee, VPIRG Votes, described as the “political campaign arm” of the left-wing organization. According to VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns, “The PAC would go door to door in the fall to canvass for [“pro-climate”] candidates and encourage people to vote, said Burns (VTDigger 1/21/20). And maybe help those confused folks to fill out their ballots and collect the unclaimed ones in the process.

A partisan PAC, organized for going door to door “encouraging” people to vote for just “pro-climate” candidates, after that same group advocated heavily for an all-mail election, looks an awful lot like a planned, systematic “ballot harvesting” operation.

Ballot harvesting is the process by which campaign operatives go door to door collecting absentee ballots and remitting them to polling places. In some states this is illegal, such as North Carolina where a 2018 election in that state’s 9th congressional district was invalidated due to the practice. In other states, like California, the practice allowed. In all cases it is unethical.

During testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee on May 26th, Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) asked regarding ballot harvesting in Vermont, “Is there anything to prevent an individual, could be a candidate or not, or a group or association, for offering to pick up completed ballots and bring them into their town clerk’s office or a polling place or to mail them?”

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters answered, after a long, awkward pause, “The current law does, I believe, allow for that.” So, ballot harvesters, start your engines!

If third parties were simply going around providing a service of collecting and handing in legitimate absentee ballots like some kind of volunteer postal service, that might be okay. However, in North Carolina collectors pressured citizens into voting for their preferred candidates, stole ballots and filled them out themselves, and destroyed the ballots of those voting against their preferred candidates. This is a practice easily abused.

More so when the chief election official of the state is in league with the probable perpetrator of the activities, blithely assuring the public that “there is no fraud in Vermont,” nothing to see here.

We have a situation here in which the special interest group, VPIRG, with a $2 million a year plus budget, is lobbying the legislature to pass a bill that will allow them to aggressively ballot harvest – legally and potentially illegally — on behalf of the majority party in that legislature, which is all too eagerly clearing the path for them to do so, with the Chief Election Officer of the state, also of the majority party, putting his stamp of approval on the scheme. On a party line vote, the Senate Government Operations Committee just moved a bill that would strip Governor Scott of his ability to block vote by mail.

Vermont already has a very easy absentee ballot program – by voter request — in place and allows for 45 days of early voting. 30 to 40% of Vermont voters already take advantage of this system. There is no need to mail every active registered voter a live ballot, flooding the state with unclaimed, unwanted ballots. If we are going to see a heavier reliance on vote-by-mail, either under the present system or the Condos/VPIRG scheme, Republicans and honest citizens should at least demand that “ballot harvesting” be made clearly, unambiguously illegal before November.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 26, 2020

by John McClaughry

Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time denouncing what I call the worst democracy-shredding bill in Vermont history. It’s titled the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688), and it’s now before the Senate.

Here’s one particularly deplorable feature of the House-passed bill. If the Secretary of Natural Resources does an inadequate job of issuing sweeping and invasive rules to make Vermonters stop emitting carbon dioxide, the bill allows the Conservation Law Foundation to go to court, like it did in Massachusetts, and get a court order to demand that the Secretary issue even more sweeping and invasive rules.

And if the group bringing the suit substantially prevails in the court, the court is supposed to pay its legal expenses and send the bill to the taxpayers – even if nothing actually comes of this political fund raising exercise. 

What if the Secretary of Natural Resources, who works for the Governor, replies to the Court “we’re not going to impose more stringent rules because we think we’ve gone far enough in wrecking Vermont’s economy.”

Is the court going to sock the Secretary of Natural Resources, and the Governor, with a contempt of court citation, and fine them maybe $100 a day until they do something the court finds satisfactory? Like decree a climate change surcharge on motor fuel sales? Or shut down Thunder Road?

At this point no one really knows, and I assure you it is not worth finding out.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 22, 2020

by Rob Roper

As Vermonters struggle to figure out how to re-open our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is taking up the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) – a scheme that essentially would keep many aspects of our economy, those relying on fossil fuels, shut down in perpetuity. If ever there was a wrong time and wrong place for a piece of legislation, this is it.

Basically, what the GWSA would do is empower the Agency of Natural Resources to come up with and enforce “rules” designed to shrink the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to specific levels by 2025, 2030, and 2050, regardless of any collateral impacts and consequences. It would work by severely restricting or stopping entirely economic activity that produces GHGs, which is, of course, practically everything.

The Big Question(s) Vermonters deserve to have answered before this thing becomes law are: What would rules strict enough to meet the GHG reduction goals actually look like (spoiler alert, they will be draconian), how much would they cost, and what impact would they have on an economy desperately trying to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown? As of now, no formal economic impact analysis or cost assessment has been done.

Here are just a few examples of what kind of rules could ANR be empowered to implement to attain the GHG reduction goals outlined in the bill.

  • Ban ATVs, snow machines, pleasure boats, small planes and/or other fossil fuel base recreational vehicles.
  • Ban the use of wood stoves, fireplaces (and/or make it illegal to install these in new homes).
  • Ban backyard barbeques.
  • Ban fossil fuel powered lawn maintenance equipment such as gas powered leaf blowers (they tried this in Illinois).
  • Ban the sale of vehicles that don’t meet certain MPG requirements.
  • Ban the burning of yard waste.
  • Ban the purchase of fossil fuel based heating systems for new or renovated homes.
  • Require businesses and/or homeowners to purchase and install certain equipment to obtain licenses or permits.
  • Ban fossil fuel intensive entertainment events, such as racing at Thunder Road.

Use your imagination and you can probably come up with more.

When the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy debated this bill back in February, members asked some young witnesses how much economic “chaos” – their word — they would be willing to tolerate in order to bring about the goals of the GWSA. Needless to say, more economic chaos is the last thing Vermont and Vermonters need right now and in the foreseeable future – a point that seems lost on our elected officials.

VIDEO:

Bill Walk Through Part 1

Bill Walk Through Part 2

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May 21, 2020

By John McClaughry

Last week Senate President Tim Ashe ominously “turned open the spigot” to move legislation not related to the coronavirus pandemic. The lead bill to glide through the Senate was S.337, that would allow Energy Efficiency Vermont and Burlington Electric the authority to spend some of their ratepayer tax funds on transportation and heating efficiency projects.

To put this in perspective, one of Sen. Peter Shumlin’s big ideas a decade ago was to create a thermal efficiency utility to do just this: subsidize home heating efficiency and vehicle efficiency. Gov. Douglas killed that bill with a veto, but the Democrats keep trying to find some way to hit up somebody to pay for this pet  component of the Democrats’ never ending war against climate change. Last year it was taxing home heating oil to pay for the subsidies, which finally failed, and last January it was the Transportation Climate Initiative to levy a seventeen cents a gallon tax on gas and diesel fuel to subsidize mainly electric cars and bike paths, that has been put on hold for now.

The shocking thing about this bill, S.337, was that it passed 27-2. Only two Senators, Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin) and Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) had enough sense to see where this was going – namely, to shift taxes on electric ratepayers to subsidizing heating improvements and electric vehicles, thereby increasing the pressure next year for jacking up electric rates to keep on paying for ever more electric efficiency.

John McClaughry is the vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 20, 2020

By David Flemming

Just a few weeks ago, Vermont had the highest percent of its labor force in the US applying for unemployment. As Vermont has lifted business restrictions, our unemployment levels have sunk to levels that remain historically high, but are average for New England.

Using the mosty recent data (for the week ending May 9), it is clear that Vermont is in a slightly better position employment wise than just a few weeks ago. In fact, Vermont no longer has the worst unemployment claims rate in the country, falling to #10. We managed to get under 20% of Vermont’s labor force filing new and ongoing unemployment claims, at 19.7%.

While an 18.8% ongoing claims rate is still higher than Maine, Mass., and New Hampshire, it is lower than Rhode Island and Connecticut.

And our 0.9% new claims rate is the smallest of all 6 states in New England! While this number tends to fluctuate from week to week, it is still a good sign.

Since April 25th, the unemployment claims rates of Maine, Mass., New Hampshire., Rhode Island and Connecticut have all increased. Vermont is the only state in New England where it has actually decreased. Of course, when you have the largest claims rate in the country on April 25th, that might not be the most surprising.

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

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by John McClaughry

            A major and depressing casualty of the COVID-19 economic lockdown is the calamitous effect it is having on small business, especially retail, entertainment, and restaurant firms and the service market of electricians, plumbers, and other skilled tradespeople. Massive Federal aid spending, such as unemployment payments and the Paycheck Protection Program,  provide  welcome short term relief, but they won’t last forever.

On the brighter side, numerous individual and community based efforts are springing up to help small businesses stay alive. Some of these can and should survive well into the future, when the economy has struggled back to something resembling normal. Here are some creative ideas that can be put into place without any drain on tax dollars.

First, people can make it a point to buy at locally owned businesses. For example, I could easily have ordered a couple of shotgun cases from WalMart or Amazon, but instead I called my local gun store. The owner will get them for me, perhaps for a couple of dollars more than the retail giants, but he’ll answer any questions I might have.  I’ll have to travel 8 miles to pick them up when they come in, but that will give me a chance to talk about olden times, like when his grandfather built our house in 1970.

 Second, this is a time to take part in Community Supported Agriculture. Buy products from the farm stands, and at the Farmers Markets. Your contribution to the Vermont Community Foundation’s COVID Response Fund will pay for gallons of fresh Vermont milk delivered by the Vermont Food Bank –milk that farms would otherwise have to dump because of oversupply.

Third, if you’re a small business creditor or lessor, and can afford to do it, take the initiative to offer to let the business postpone its payments for six months or a year. If you can do it, that’s a lot better than waiting for the business person to come to you pleading for help.

Fourth, buy gift cards from local businesses. That puts cash in their drawer, but also increases the liability side of the business’s books. If you forget about the card, then it’s (eventually) a welcome gift, but ordinarily you’ll come in and use the card for a meal or a purchase.  A variation is to put cash on their table and run a tab against it.

My local newspaper is helping by advertising the availability of local business gift cards. You go online at deals.caledonianrecord.com , select and pay for the gift card with your credit card. The program collects your payment, transfers it to the business, and sends coupons to your computer for future use.

Fifth, take this one step further.  A worker-owned company in Winnipeg, Manitoba offers a buy-local loyalty cell phone app called The Local Frequency. Every dollar you spend at a participating local business earns future discount savings at any of those businesses. That way the businesses don’t have a gift card liability hanging over their heads. Businesses get cash today and loyal customers get savings by continuing to spend money at the businesses when they reopen. It’s a valuable solution for local businesses with a loyal customer base.

Protegra, the sponsoring company, will help set up a local program. You can watch an explanatory video at https://www.localfutures.ca/for-businesses. If you and your local business organization are serious, contact it at tyler@thelocalfrequency.com.

Finally, there are local currency programs in many cities around the country. Because the goal is to stimulate the local economy, the currency – in effect a local discount coupon – can only be spent at participating businesses in the community. Ithaca Hours (Ithaca NY) and Berkshares (Great Barrington MA) are well-known examples. 

This is not a short-term solution. Establishing a local currency requires an enormous amount of commitment, expertise, and community support, as the creators of Burlington (VT) Bread learned. It started bravely in 1997, but expired in 2007.

For encouraging examples of many bright ideas for stimulating a local economy, buy Michael H. Shuman’s Vermont-published book “The Local Economy Solution: How Innovative Self-Financing ‘Pollinator” Enterprises Can Grow Jobs and Prosperity” (White River Jct., VT: Chelsea Green, 2015).

Your help to get your community’s small businesses through this pandemic crisis will help our local economies emerge stronger and better in the years to follow.  

John McClaughry is vice-president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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May 15, 2020

By John McClaughry

In an Earth Day opinion piece, published in the  Los Angeles Times on April 21, Middlebury College’s activist in residence  Bill McKibben claimed, In the last 10 years, engineers have driven the price of sun and wind power down below coal.” 

This is a falsehood that climate activists frequently tell to persuade us to abandon fossil fuel energy, but here is the truth. What McKibben doesn’t disclose is that he’s only counting the price of wind and solar on days when they are operating at peak capacity, while ignoring their capital costs

Also, he is calculating the costs of operating traditional electric power plants when they are operating at less than peak efficiency, due to their need to regulate wind and solar’s ever-fluctuating power supply.

Thanks to the wind production tax credit, wind farm owners can and do actually pay the utilities to take their wind power when the utilities don’t need it. That is, its price is actually negative. You have to know that when a gigantic wind turbine array is able to pay somebody to take their power and still stay in business, there is a powerful subsidy somewhere built into that calculation.

Wind and solar are both critically dependent on fossil fuel and nuclear power. Get rid of those energy sources, and you’d have wind and solar erratically generating, backed up by hydro inefficiently, unless there’s a drought and hydro runs out of water.  There’s a place for renewable energy, certainly, but let’s be clear: its price is not cheaper than coal, and its owners are riding on the backs of all other ratepayers and taxpayers.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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