Editor’s note: This commentary is by Deb Billado, chairwoman of the Vermont GOP.
The Vermont legislature just adjourned for a two-month break in what would normally be the economic boom time period of summer tourism season. Of course, these are not normal times. Events are canceled, restaurants and lodging establishments are closed or operating at limited capacity, and tens of thousands of Vermonters are out of work.
When we come through the other side of this COVID-19 crisis, fixing our economy needs to be our number one priority. We need to get people back to work, help businesses start employing people again, and allow citizens to rebuild the financial security they lost during the shutdown.
Rather than increasing taxes and making regulations more complicated and expensive to comply with, our lawmakers should be putting policies in place that will make Vermont a better, easier place to find and create work and save for the future.
But this is not what our Democratic controlled legislature is doing. While Vermonters were waiting in hours long lines to get military surplus MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) in order to feed their families, Democrats were focused on passing the Global Warming Solutions Act, with the objective of tamping down any economic activity that uses fossil fuels. This is the opposite of being helpful.
At a time when the state treasury is facing a more than a $400 million revenue shortfall, the Global Warming Solutions Act will cost taxpayers nearly a million dollars we don’t have for three new six-figure-a-year state employees just to get the program started. After it is up and running, and “any person” can sue the state for not meeting emissions reduction goals with the taxpayers picking up the tab for the legal fees, Katy bar the door.
During the debate over the Global Warming Solutions Act, Democratic and Progressive legislators actually complained that it didn’t go far enough because it didn’t raise taxes high enough or spend enough taxpayer money on things like electric vehicle and renewable energy subsidies. What they really said they wanted is a carbon tax on gasoline, diesel and home heating fuels. Re-elect them in November, and that’s exactly what you’ll get! A regressive, economy killing tax on those who can least afford it at a time when citizens are at their most vulnerable.
While our lodging industry is in dire straits, unable to take new reservations and dealing with countless event cancellations, these same legislators’ priority was to make it illegal for hotels, B&Bs, etc. to leave mini-plastic shampoo bottles and conditioner out for their guests. This is helpful, how?
While our restaurants and retail stores are struggling with how to serve cash-strapped customers and dealing with a contagious disease, the majority’s priority was to enact a ban on sanitary plastic bags, and impose a 10 cent per bag tax/fee on paper bags, driving up grocery costs at a time when people can least afford it.
A recent article in the Valley Reporter discusses local business owners’ frustrations: “[T]he 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.’”
While the Democrats’ agenda may have been somewhat defensible six months ago, it is totally inappropriate now. The times and circumstances have changed dramatically, but their agenda hasn’t.
Vermont Republicans understand that we need to put policies in place that will lead to economic growth and higher employment. Government’s role needs to be one of actively easing burdens and cutting red tape, not creating more of the same. If the next chapter in Vermont’s history is going to be a story of success, we need to elect many more Republicans to the Vermont House and Senate, to get our economy moving in the right direction again.