Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.
Nationally the economy (Republican in the making) is booming, millions of new jobs are being created, oppressive regulations on businesses are being repealed, the stock market keeps reaching new highs and Republican tax cuts have put more money in our pockets. Many businesses, even in Vermont, are passing on these benefits by giving cash bonuses to their employees.
Overall, though, in Vermont, things are different. Population is stagnant. Our student population is insufficient for our schools, so they have been forced to consolidate or close. Our graduates, young potential workers, face a scarce “good job” market and are leaving to follow their dreams elsewhere. Small businesses, being strangled with over-regulation, are struggling or closing. Businesses that are able are locating elsewhere in pursuit of tax friendly environments. Seniors, finding it increasingly harder to justify living here, are heading south.
Why is this happening and what can be done? When I look at a political map of the United States, I visualize not only a red Vermont, but one that is rosy red, with a work force created by first keeping our talented people here instead of them fleeing to other places with lower taxes, especially property taxes. I see a state with better opportunities and fewer obstacles for those pursuing their life’s dreams, plans and business ideas. I see a workforce populated with our own young people as they mature and take the place of retirees who want to stay and enjoy a senior-friendly Vermont. I want a state where our youth can join and learn from our seasoned Vermont workers, as we grow our state together in a sustainable and responsible way, with a vital rosy red economy that mirrors our national one.
I sounded an alert before the November election that unless a veto-abled House existed, Vermonters would be at the mercy of the Democrats/Progressives (for all intents and purposes being the same) as they put forward bills that would raise tens of millions of dollars in new taxes, tax increases, and fees.” Without at least 51 Republicans to sustain a veto, the assault on Vermonters’ pocketbooks would happen unopposed. It was only because there were 54 Republicans available to sustain vetoes in 2016 that we today are not further in debt than we are. But, alas, the voters ignored the warning and now there are but 43 Republicans, and so effective deterrence is no longer viable.
Facing a veto-proof Legislature, the only recourse is for the state agencies to find ways to innovate cost-cutting to “help close the gap between the projected growth in spending and available revenues.” We are at a point where history is likely to repeat itself. Just 10 years ago, for the first time in Vermont history, a governor vetoed the budget from the Legislature because he knew it would lead to unsustainable spending demands. The Democrats overrode the veto. As former Gov. Jim Douglas predicted, the growth in the gap between spending and revenue, with large deficits into future years, became reality. Hundreds of millions of dollars had to be made up with new and increased taxes as well as fees, thus reducing the take-home pay of working Vermonters.
The liberal left is again in the position to reject the fiscal responsibility of a Republican governor. Soon the Democrats will be forcing their will on the taxpayers and will exercise unrestricted spending that will prove to be unsustainable. As reported in VTDigger, the gap between revenues and spending “is expected to widen dramatically over the next five years, according to an administration analysis” and “in fiscal year 2025, if the state doesn’t move to reduce some long-term expenses, Vermont’s spending across all agencies will total $255 million more than the available revenue.”
So, the alert goes out again, and thankfully, this time it appears that many more people are getting concerned and engaged. There is a new wind blowing and a desire for a change in direction. Republicans are the adults in the room that can put some sense into an out-of-control situation, and we must win in the 2020 election. If our party rises to the occasion, fields candidates for all offices and meets the call we are hearing for this change, 2020 will bring the needed “red wave.” I am optimistically expecting that to happen, and we will soon see that rosy red color in our little part of the Northeast. It was just 13 years ago when traditional and seemingly perpetual Republican red control of the Legislature turned sadly blue (color appropriate), but there are many who remember, and long for, a return to those days of yesteryear. The Democrats have managed to keep Vermont in a state of stagnation, and our people are missing out on the wonderful possibilities that could be ours.
In checking that political map, I found a red state, Wyoming, with similarities to Vermont to give an example of how we can do better with Republican leadership. Both Wyoming and Vermont are fabulously beautiful, desirable places to live where people can visualize living out their dreams and happily ever-aftering. Both have majestic mountains, inspiring national parks, the wonders of outdoor living with fine skiing opportunities, and many other healthful recreational activities. Vermont has a potential economic advantage over Wyoming because her natural beauty and recreational activities are positioned near, and surrounded by, many high-population centers within a few hours of our border. Considering it is just 70 miles from 3 million people in Montreal, 2.5 hours from Boston and 5 hours from New York City, opportunities abound for Vermont business, but only if economic restraints are dramatically lessened. We should outshine Wyoming in opportunity, natural revenue and economic vitality; that would result in lower taxes for Vermont’s taxpayers. Sadly, that is not the case.
The tax contrasts are stark with Wyoming’s property tax being less than one-third what Vermont’s is. Wyoming collects an average of 0.58% of a property’s assessed fair market value as property tax per year, and Vermont collects an average of 1.59% of a property’s assessed fair market value. In 2019 Vermont collected $3,444.00 per median priced house whereas Wyoming collected $1,058.00 per median priced home there. Vermont has a relatively high state income tax while Wyoming has none. Wyoming’s sales tax is 4% compared to Vermont’s 6%. Wyoming does not tax real estate or seniors’ social security — Vermont does. Wyoming’s gasoline tax is 12 cents a gallon less than Vermont’s. Vermont’s services from tax revenue are not superior to Wyoming. Wyoming has a lower cost of living.
So why is Wyoming’s tax burden so much lower? It’s all about governance. Vermont is governed by radical spending liberal/progressive Democrats, and Wyoming by conservative fiscally responsible Republicans. Wyoming does so much better, and the cure for Vermont is obvious. With a simple adjustment by voters at the ballot box to match what they do in Wyoming, which is consistently voting Republican, our lives will improve.
It’s a simple fix! We can do this! We have talented people! We have the ability! We care about Vermont in real ways! While Vermont has claimed many firsts, the liberals rank at the bottom for properly representing our people. Republicans will lead the way so we can capitalize on our location, support and grow local businesses, encourage new businesses to come, keep our youth and retired citizens, and seize the opportunity to live well in the best place on planet Earth.