Republican gubernatorial candidate John Klar has put forth a comprehensive economic plan focused on reviving the struggling economies of the state, especially the agricultural sector.
The economic plan described in the materials envisions supporting farmers by slashing state regulations and spending, and by granting food producers as much as $25,000 in property and income tax credits. It also calls for a broad range of other policy aims, such as shortening the legislative session, stopping welfare fraud and taking on the teachers union.
“For decades, Vermont government has told dairy farmers to ‘Get big or get out!'” the 14-page plan states. “Now those farms that followed that command are being condemned for polluting state waters and are told to just get out — even though most farms are compliant with state water quality management guidelines while suburban and urban sprawl continues.”
Klar, a self-described “Agripublican” — a mashup nickname of “agriculture” and “Republican” chosen to emphasize agriculture and the economy — wants to revive the rural and agricultural character of Vermont. However, his plan covers everything from education and health care to energy and pension obligations.
In one place, he argues for tax abatement targeting the agricultural sector.
“Vermont has the 6th highest real estate tax burden in America, which constitutes a crushing burden for farmers,” he writes. “… What is required is property tax relief directly connected to food production. This is not a subsidy — it is the elimination of destructive taxation disincentives which harm true farmers while compromising those ‘externalized benefits’ that benefit all Vermonters.”
He details the mechanics of this proposal, saying significant tax credits could help farms.
“Vermont should grant food-producing farmers a tax credit equal to 50 percent of gross food sales, through a 25 percent income tax credit against gross sales up to $50,000 (much like an Earned Income Credit), and a 25 percent property tax credit: also on the first $50,000 of gross sales, but limited to one-half of real estate taxes (after the homestead exemption or Current Use program relief),” the plan states.
Klar argues that by encouraging production, such tax credits will help the state by generating robust economic activity.
“‘Incentivized’ to produce and sell food, Vermonters’ incomes will rise, perhaps only modestly at first for farmers, but immediately for grain, equipment, and animal dealers; hardware and lumber companies; carpenters and mechanics; veterinarians; and farmers’ markets and other grocers. More dollars will remain in Vermont rather than be transferred to out-of-state growers.”
Klar writes that in light of the current economic and food-security concerns associated with the coronavirus, having local food sources is the ultimate insurance for uncertain times.
“How expensive would that California food get if inflation sets in due to excessive federal debt?” he asks in the plan. “Where would Vermont be then, with its farmers dismissed as unneeded?”
Some non-agriculture initiatives include shortening the legislative session to eight weeks, which he argues would not only save millions, but also would make chamber seats more accessible to those who can’t take a third of the year off from work.
On the state’s unfunded liabilities, Klar notes that the recent economic downturn amplifies the mounting teacher and state worker pension commitments.
“The current stock market decline means that all those rosy games of projecting returns on pension investments at 7.5 percent are now revealed as nothing short of fraud,” he wrote.
Regarding the growing size and cost of government, he notes that government salaries continue to grow while other Vermonters struggle. For example, he points out that more than 500 state workers earn over $100,000 per year, and school superintendents earn an average of $153,000 annually, even while enrollment declines.
On the issue of welfare reform, Klar takes aim at a range of fraud targeted at the state’s $1.7 billion welfare net, including “working illegally while receiving benefits, taking aid to which individuals are not entitled, or refusing to seek employment.”
Other thought-provoking policy ideas detailed in the plan include a return to local control of schools, a reform of the Act 250 land use law that helps farms, and opposition to carbon pricing schemes.
“Those efforts target carbon dioxide, which is not a pollutant, and cannot accurately be measured despite claims otherwise. Improving local food production creates very obvious reductions in pollution, chemicals, GMOs, fossil fuels, animal cruelty, overuse of antibiotics — however measured,” he states.
The platform is a dramatic departure from the agenda set by supermajority Democrats and Progressives at the Statehouse, and even from the policies of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, a popular incumbent and the presumed frontrunner in the race.
Klar hopes that the “Agripublican” vision can help boost at least 10 other candidates who share a focus on Vermont’s neglected rural economy.
“For a change, let’s invest in our farms and farmers rather than more bureaucracy,” he writes.
A general overview of the “2020 Vermont Farming Manifesto” can be found on Klar’s campaign website.