When I ran for governor in 2020, the plan was to create a platform to raise awareness about deep-seated problems within Vermont’s budget and bureaucracy — both are too big. My top fiscal issue was the state pensions scheme, grossly underfunded and vulnerable. Both Red and Blue Vermonters should be able to agree on the need to shore up employee pensions, right?
Unsurprisingly, union leadership wouldn’t even return my calls. The left alternated between ignoring me and slandering me. But somewhere that pensions message became sufficiently amplified that Vermont is now talking openly about the pension shortfall and how to fix it. I don’t seek credit for that — but I surely have put my shoulder to that issue, and joined others (like David Coates, Linda Joy Sullivan, and Don Turner) who have dared to push back on this vital issue.
I here propose a bold plan, which I will call the “Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan.” It surely is not the Legislature’s plan, nor will it be unless we Whos in Whoville yell like hell. Over time, our teachers, road workers and other state employees have been pitted against taxpayers because of chronic underfunding of state pension and benefits programs. I am determined to persuade all Vermonters that the “Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan” should be their plan.
It has never been more obvious that Vermont’s Legislature is largely oblivious to the economic and cultural damage that it is inflicting on Vermonters. COVID has decimated our economy, but not the ideological structures of the dominant progressive legislators, whose actions are now open to see. It is as if Vermont’s Candy Storefront fell away, and we can watch in real time as the thieves stuff their pockets from our cash register. And they have especially enjoyed that pensions till.
Instead of cutting waste or spending, our Legislature seeks in 2021 to, inter alia, restrict guns, ban trapping, require school buses to be electric, and set money aside for descendants of slaves in Vermont. There is not even a whisper of fiscal pruning, let alone the required forest-clearing. There seems to be zero comprehension of new demands for budgetary constraints due to declining tax revenues. Cares Act funds merely enabled this moral hazard to continue — and for taxpayer vision to become unclouded.
This is a gift — one must identify embezzlers before they can be held to account. And that’s where the “Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan” comes into consideration. I’m a student of tax policy — money impacts behavior.
The Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan would create a state task force to combat fraud and waste, replete with a confidential phone line for reporting. Reports of waste or fraud would be investigated, with a partial reward (say, $10,000) allotted to the informant when a tip proved accurate and resulted in taxpayer savings. Moreover, one half of all moneys saved or recovered would be diverted directly to the pension funds until they achieved a 100% funding level (as some fiscally responsible states already have achieved).
State workers and teachers already know where the deadwood is. This whistleblower plan will strike terror into the belly of the bloated tick in Vermont’s gluttonous dome — and it is high time that swollen beast experienced some indigestion from gorging itself on Vermonters’ hard-earned incomes. In contrast, as Campaign for Vermont reported on Feb. 8:
Teacher and state employee unions have proposed raising income taxes on Vermont’s top income earners to pay for the pension shortfalls. Understandably, they are trying to avoid their members having to pay higher contributions or receive less benefits from the system as the Treasurer’s plan would do.
But the proposed Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan would eliminate this friction between teachers and taxpayers — no longer would the government benefit from a division it has created and then exacerbated. Imagine how sensible and beneficial this plan is — new revelations about EB-5 fraud might suddenly surface! And some of those GWSA schemes — they would never pass muster as economically or environmentally sustainable if subjected to a cursory analysis. Imagine if every Legislative boondoggle was vulnerable to accountability.
What legislator would not endorse this simple, and very promising, proposal? In fact, why wouldn’t Gov. Phil Scott announce this initiative tomorrow? Vermont is in dire trouble while our Legislature fiddles! The governor no longer needs to offer $10,000 payments to out-of-staters — they are arriving in hordes. (And that money came out of taxpayers’ pockets: the “Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan” earns money — the $10,000 will be paid only if it is a product of savings in waste or fraud.)
I look forward to this common sense Vermont Pension Funding Action Plan being fully embraced by the governor and Vermonters — then it can be his plan, and ours.
The glaring first question is: why not? There is nothing to lose except fraud and waste.
Who could possibly object?
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and the former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. © Copyright True North Reports 2021. All rights reserved.