Once again, Vermont’s future is the topic of an initiative by a high-powered collection of partners, this time under the auspices of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
A good case can be made that today is an apt time for another Futures report, hopefully free from interest group agendas. That’s because demographic trends, the COVID pandemic, a crippling flood, billions of federal dollars, a soaring homelessness problem, and the belief in a global climate emergency have put a lot of forces into motion to seek the driver’s seat for the state’s future.
Let’s take a look at some earlier efforts. In 1987 Gov. Madeleine Kunin appointed a Governor’s Commission on Vermont’s Future, chaired by the former head of President Carter’s Environmental Protection Agency. This important person had settled in Vermont earlier that same year, and the governor seemed to think he was well suited to advise Vermonters on their state’s future.
Its theme was centralized control of land use to prevent private landowners from doing anything contrary to the public interest. That interest was to be defined and enforced through regulations ominously described by Kunin as “uniform in standard, specific in requirements, and tough on delinquents”. The legislature passed Act 200 of 1988, but her longed-for state land controls faded away soon after passage, when 125 towns adopted resolutions condemning the scheme.
In 2006 the Ethan Allen Institute, aided by a Project Advisory Group heavy with economists and business leaders, produced a report entitled Off the Rails: Changing Economics, Accumulating Obligations: How Will Vermont Cope with a Challenging Future? Alas, its analysis, projections , warnings and recommendations did not appeal to legislators and others determined to extend the reach and responsibilities of state government and find some way to extract the new costs from increasingly overburdened and overregulated taxpayers.
In 2021 the Federally-funded Vermont Council on Rural Development held 22 “rural summits” around the state to learn what our communities need to do, and to stand for… to build a successful, prosperous and unified Vermont in 2050.” It produced “The Vermont Proposition” featuring , as I wrote at the time, “what you would get if you assembled a dozen of the most high-minded, most sincere, politically correct liberals in the state, who as liberals are not at all hesitant to use the power of government to make sure everyone falls in line with the grand Vision.”
The Vermont Proposition was the first to point to the supposed climate emergency to bolster its pleas for “bold action” to defeat “the existential threat of our time” that if unaddressed, “will result in catastrophic impacts on communities, states and ultimately on world civilization.” Their leading proposal was “carbon pricing”, better known as a carbon tax, to generate a huge revenue flow to subsidize favored people and enterprises waging war against climate change.
In December of 2021 the Vermont Climate Council, a government within the government, released its Climate Action Plan promoting similar far-reaching goals. Last May the legislature approved the VCC’s Clean Heat Standard (over Gov. Scott’s veto) and gave the Public Utility Commission two million dollars to find a workable way to impose higher costs on home and business heating fuel users without calling it a tax. In January 2025 the legislature will vote on this plan, designed to extract $500 million from heating fuel users by 2030.
And now comes the Vermont Futures Project. With a Board of business-friendly leaders, the Project is at work to use the magic of data to define updated economic development goals. Central to this work is the goal of increasing Vermont’s population to 802,000 and increasing housing inventory to 350,000 non-seasonal units by 2035.
“It’s essential that we invest in strategies and remove barriers to strengthen our economy, scale up Vermont’s impact on sustainability, and make progress on social equity,” stated Kevin Chu, the Executive Director. “Vermont needs to prioritize helping the people who will be most affected by climate change". Climbing aboard the Climate Catastrophe Express and declaring for “social equity” are predictably necessary to gain sympathetic attention for data-driven recommendations these days.
Without prejudging what one hopes will be a timely and useful report, it’s certainly debatable whether a 24% increase in the state’s population will assure Vermont’s happy future. If the majority of the new arrivals come here to work for and create businesses, hire workers, pay taxes, and sell products into a national or global market, it would be a very happy day.
If the bulk of the new residents are unskilled immigrants fleeing socialist regimes, plus non-workers who come here to sample Vermont’s generous benefit programs, participate in the controlled substance trade, and/or demand the many varieties of “social justice”, well, not so fast.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.