Sen. Joe Benning: Responsible stewardship

Editor’s note: This commentary is by state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, the Senate minority leader.

My mother’s family comes from the hills of western Pennsylvania. As a young boy our family summer vacation inevitably meant my being stuffed into the back of our station wagon for a trip to Johnstown. Other than seeing my cousins, there were two things I loved about that town.  We would ride the Incline Plane, a rail car hoisted up Yoder Hill along a roughly nine-hundred-foot rail track at a thrilling angle of thirty-five degrees, to experience sweeping views of the city. We’d also visit Galliker’s store where, for a mere 15 cents, we could buy balsa wood toy airplanes. With rubber band powered propellers, they’d keep us kids occupied for hours until they broke or ended up on somebody’s roof where we couldn’t get them down.

state of Vermont

Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia

One day I reached the age where my father trusted me to hold the 15 cents until we got to Galliker’s. I felt honored passing that milestone. But we decided to ride the Incline Plane before visiting Galliker’s, a decision that led to a life lesson. It was extremely hot as my cousins and I came off the rail car and we were thirsty. We passed a soda machine, something I’d never used before. Sodas were a nickel. I had three of them. Plugging one of them in to successfully master the operation, I quenched my thirst. I once again felt like I had passed some important milestone.

But as my cousins paid for their toy planes at Galliker’s, I was now a nickel short. My father was not impressed. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized he was not going to produce another nickel so I could buy a plane. His hard lesson made clear I had nobody to blame but myself for succumbing to a short term desire and forgetting my responsibility to hold that 15 cents for its original purpose.

I was thinking about that lesson recently after hearing comments in reaction to Vermont’s bond rating being downgraded. Citing Vermont’s declining work force, aging population and growing unfunded liabilities, two rating agencies decided that Vermont’s ability to pay back money it borrows is shrinking. This downgrade directly impacts our spending capacity. Take for example the State’s Capitol bill, which pays for things like deferred maintenance at the state colleges, the building of state offices, and the construction of mental health facilities and prisons. The amount of money we had available for spending in the Capitol bill dropped from $147 million in 2017 to $124 million in 2019.

In response to the downgrade, concerning comments came from two influential leaders in the party that holds supermajority status in our Legislature. They downplayed the issue by saying the rating agencies just aren’t being fair in their view of Vermont. They contended that the rating agency standards should be changed to reflect efforts Vermont is making in trying to attract more and younger working people. Their suggestion to the rating agencies that they should move the goal posts will certainly fall on deaf ears.

But what signal have they sent to legislators seeking license to create new programs, or to those who want the spending spigot wide open and unfortunately leave Vermont’s taxpayers feeling like a bottomless ATM machine? Doesn’t it suggest we can continue to spend time on efforts to make Vermont “first” with issues that bring political fame while downplaying the need of attending to unsexy fundamentals like prisons, mental health facilities, school deferred maintenance, road conditions and water quality?

Now is not the time to ignore what the financial world is telling us about our spending habits. The message is clear: we need a different policy direction. We need to refocus all our legislative energy towards fixing foundational problems. We must have the courage to avoid the constant push for more programs and new government employees and get back to focusing on fundamentals. Our desire for instant gratification cannot override our responsibility to future generations.

Somewhere in a western Pennsylvania rain gutter are the decaying remains of a balsa wood toy airplane, bought much later by a young boy with three nickels who carefully avoided soda machines on his way to Galliker’s store. The plane’s usefulness expired within hours, but that lesson about responsible stewardship has lasted almost six decades. Vermont must learn that lesson too.

Images courtesy of Flickr/ and state of Vermont

6 thoughts on “Sen. Joe Benning: Responsible stewardship

  1. Delayed gratification is one of the most powerful tools we can teach our children and as a society we could possess. Kudo’s to Senator Benning for bringing this up.

    We are several generations into, immediate gratification. We are several generations into a society that has little or no understanding of budgets, which are totally fun, but you won’t hear people talk about that! Yes FUN. It’s the road map to peace and prosperity or turmoil and bankruptcy.

    We can learn much from books which formed the foundation of Western Civilization. I can understand how people can loath the church, but often you’ll find the church is far off base from the timeless teachings, as mankind we have the power to screw up most anything, it’s one of our gifts. Learning and knowing this is half the battle.

    Tracking down waste, corruption and crony capitalism is pretty easy in this state. The trail left and the sign posts are of epic proportions.

    Grant Money.
    Follow the Lobbyist.
    Federal Money
    Permit Battles (Costco Gas Pumps)
    “Affordable Housing” projects promoted by state.

    A quick trip down any of these avenues will quickly reveal waste and fraud of epic proportions. This waste and fraud keeps people from real needs receiving services. At on of the fairs held at the capital, they were crying for increases in wages and benefits to assist the poor, one of their examples of budget problems was the budget for the blind hadn’t been increased in 10 years!

    But wait a minute our budget spending has gone up every year????? What gives. If anybody might need a helping hand is somebody whos’ become blind/is blind.

    Yet in our 5 billion dollar budget we have not another crumb to spare. And where prey tell have the Republicans been? Fighting amongst themselves of course, which is currently promoted by Senator Benning and our Governor. We are filled with a spirit of selfishness, envy, power and greed. We are falling for every single trap laid out by the DNC and the POV (People of Vermont) are suffering because of this.

    DNC lemmings care not one whim for the truly down trodden. Apparently the Repubs don’t either. It would take no time at all to bring this ship around and call out the hypocrisy that is rampant within our state.

    We only need a small group of people working in harmony, working together. A group blessed with Love, Joy and Peace…..would be most fun.

  2. Wow, Mr. Benning gives us a good old story to educate us on the perils of immediate gratification analogous to the spending of Vermont. Great, cute, but,
    Mr Benning has been not only only a member of Vermonts’ governing body since 2011, he has been Minority Leader for nearly 5 of those years and now acts as if, because of the downturn of the States credit rating, he just figured out that Vermont is in trouble.
    As a senior member of Vermont’s legislative body he should have been screaming about this for years, but has kept such a low profile as to be nearly invisible.
    Write all you want Mr. Benning. My Republican Party needs new blood as you are part of the problem, not the solution.

  3. Joe Benning, a nice story about growing up, here’s my story. I grew up in Burlington from a
    low to middle-income family, my father worked my mother stayed home to raise me and my
    two older siblings, we didn’t have much and if we wanted something ” you” worked for it even
    as a kid, ” Self Respect ” was taught by my parents something missing today, everyone wants
    something for nothing ( free ) ….. Pretty Shameful, but shame is missing also !!

    You as State Senator can see we have ” NO ” stewardship for Vermont, our gaggle of legislators,
    are only interested in their agenda and not about the State.

    The State I grew up in, well those days are gone, In my entire life I never set foot in Montpelier
    on any legislative bills, I had respect for ” both parties ” that they would come to terms on issues
    that I as a Vermonter could live with there decisions, those days are gone also….I have No Trust
    and I’ve been around a long time.

    I started heading to Montpelier when the rabid anti-gun politicians in Montpelier Stated trying
    to pass no sense gun legislation, feel-good policy for an agenda….. disgusting display on how
    to make a problem when there isn’t one for an agenda.

    Do we have any good stewards in Montpelier ?? , those in charge today surly are not !!!

    • Kudos to you, Mr. Henry. I feel the same way. Mr. Benning’s heart warming story rings hollow. Does he want to listen to all of our heart warming stories about the state that once was and how great it WAS to be born into the freedom of rural life in Vermont? Mr. Benning is also a transplant. I have also been around for a long time and am sickened by what transplanted politicians have done over the last 35 or more years to this state. There are no conservative republicans in Vermont government. They all slap each other and high five while eating shrimp cocktails with their liberal counterparts while being wined and dined by lobbyists. Spare the tissues please, the time for crying and quaint stories is past and the damage has been done.

  4. So my question is do you support the reckless spending of Phil Scott, an alleged fiscal conservative? Not wanting to cut the budget and instead trying to put the brakes on future spending is not responsible governing, not with a bloated budget that we have. Playing musical chairs with agencies moving them around between Barre and Montpelier was a very expensive endeavor.
    And supporting the taxing of internet sales while claiming no increases in taxes is very disingenuous.

    • Sales taxes are regressive, yet the vote to EXPAND the local option tax was passed with flying colors years ago. VT if full of two faced politicians on all three sides of the isle.

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