By John McClaughry
The 2020 general election campaigns are now under way, and it’s time for citizens to smoke out where candidates stand on issues that they will face in 2021, if not sooner.
I say “smoke out” because most candidates are notoriously gun shy about telling voters where they stand. That’s in part due to their limited understanding of the actual issues, and their anxiety about having to coherently defend any clear position.
But the voters have a right to know. So here are 16 timely questions, fairly stated, that voters need to try out on candidates seeking their vote. If the candidate can’t handle at least most of these, he or she likely is not well prepared to handle the job they’re seeking.
1. Barring an unpredictable federal bailout, Vermont will face a $330 million 2021 revenue shortfall in its three major accounts (General, Transportation and Education). Should the legislature vote to raise taxes to cover at least a third of that shortfall?
2. Unless outside revenue is put into the Education Fund, residential school property taxes will have to increase by $75 million to cover already voted school budgets. Should the legislature divert money from other sources into the Education Fund to prevent that from happening?
3. Should the legislature require the top 5% of Vermont income taxpayers to pay a $30 million income tax surcharge to finance a “Green New Deal”?
4. Should the legislature broaden the current 6% sales and use tax on goods to include services (such as haircuts, lawn maintenance, plumbing, legal advice, etc.)?
5. Should the legislature make it an annual practice to contribute more than the Annual Required Contribution to the two state retirement funds, in order to reduce their $4.5 Billion unfunded liabilities?
6. Should Vermont join 10 other states in a multi-state agreement called the Transportation Climate Initiative (TCI), by which Vermont agrees to discourage the use of motor fuel by increasing gasoline and diesel taxes by 5-17 cents per gallon, steadily increasing, and use the revenue to subsidize “green” projects such as electric vehicle subsidies, EV charging stations, electric buses, etc.?
7. As part of the pending Global Warming Solutions Act, should the legislature create a 23- person “Climate Council” to instruct state regulators to adopt and enforce rules to achieve up to 75% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which rules would take effect without any vote by elected representatives?
8. Should one-fifth of the members of House or Senate be allowed to force an up or down vote by all legislators on new state rules that have large economic impacts?
9. If the State fails to meet the aggressive greenhouse gas emission reduction targets mandated by the pending Global Warming Solutions Act, should “any person” be allowed to sue the State to require more far reaching emission reduction steps?
10. Should the legislature make “carbon neutrality,” either through the use of building materials and processes or the purchase of “carbon offsets,” a requirement for obtaining an Act 250 permit?
11. Should the legislature require electric vehicles to contribute the equivalent of a motor fuel tax to the Transportation Fund, as do gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, to pay for maintenance of state roads and bridges?
12. Should able-bodied persons who receive state welfare assistance be asked to perform 10 hours a week of volunteer service in their communities?
13. Should the legislature allow all parents to choose the school or educational program that best fits the needs of their children from among a wide array of providers, with their portion of education fund dollars following the child?
14. If public schools do not open due to the pandemic, should the legislature allow money from the Education Fund to be reallocated to parents to help them afford effective educational alternatives for their children?
15. Should the legislature allow groups holding a permit for a peaceful rally on the State House steps to have law enforcement remove persons who are actively disrupting their event?
16. (A pet issue of mine.) Should rust damage be deleted as a requirement for passing motor vehicle inspection, unless the damage poses a genuine safety hazard, such as brakes, frames and floorboards?
There are of course many other questions that could be posed. But pressing candidates to respond to these will give voters a good measure of the views and abilities of people seeking elective office. Voters deserve to know what they’ll get by giving their votes. That’s what makes democracy work.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.