By Neil Johnson
Vermont is a beautiful state — the privilege of being from Vermont is not lost on me. But Vermont has three pressing issues at hand: affordability, school funding and unaddressed drug problems.
In the affordability category, one of Vermont’s pressing issues is getting industry and jobs that support a living. For years Vermont touted a meager unemployment rate, usually the lowest in the nation. A corollary that goes along with that is many are holding more than one job to make ends meet.
Vermonters are not afraid of hard work and they will fight to the bitter end to honor their financial obligations, often without fuss or complaining. If you talk with bankruptcy attorneys, they will tell you most people do whatever possible to honor these commitments. Rarely do Vermonters hold back, and when they do start over again, they’ve given their all to their creditors.
Montpelier has come up with a new economic plan, and it even had an excellent press rollout, covering our entire nation with the news of our modern plan to prosperity. Vermont will pay $10,000 for the telecommuter to move to Vermont. Just check out the Burlington Free Press and New York times press coverage in two recent headlines:
It’s not clear to a reader what is the depth and breadth of this program, and how significant this will be to the entire state of Vermont. For the most part, our local press gets into no detail.
From other media reports, we find out that the program will be for 2019, 2020 and 2021. Also, there is money already set aside for this program: $125,000 for 2019, $250,000 for 2020, and $125,000 for 2021. This modern plan will bring an economic boom — for sure, huh.
Let’s do some simple math, starting with 2019. Most reporting talks only about the $10,000. So, $10,000 goes into $125,000 12.5 times. So the first year our best expectation is to bring in 12.5 people through this economic program. Let me say this again, and check the math for yourself: 12.5 people for 2019.
The total master plan would be for 50 people to come to Vermont over three years. This plan is deceitful — this is not an economic plan. This chicanery is an ongoing theme in Montpelier. It is why we’ve earned a “D-” in ethics, having one of the lowest grades in the nation, and why those in Montpelier have not embraced a working ethics commission.
When Irene hit, we dropped all permits necessary to get work done and rebuild Vermont. The power unleashed by Vermont private industry and entrepreneurs was wonderful and powerful. Within in a few short months we were functioning, with roads restored and bridges in place. Had we not dropped the strangulation of regulations we’d still be getting permits, let alone having things rebuilt.
Economic prosperity doesn’t cost money — we only need reasonable laws and zoning. That will bring real change. More than 12.5 people will have jobs from these changes. Let’s give some simple examples of unnecessary complications.
Case A: Going to Vermont Supreme court for five bar stools in five star hotel and losing.
Case B: Having to go to Supreme Court for existing curb cut and winning.
Case C: An industrial park located in a gravel pit that only has agriculture as a use by right. (Farmers will quickly see the double irony as plants don’t grow well in gravel.)
Case D: Your condominium burns down. It had been through all state and local permits when built, you get town permit, but state denies the permission. So you must fight and claw, and still three years later it’s not settled. Due to other construction requirements, you can’t even rebuild because the cost requirements are so high it’s not covered by insurance.
Case E: You apply for a gas station permit. That takes 10 years to receive, and upon completion of building you’re told you can’t open because of traffic concerns. If business rebuilds the highway, you can open your gas station after that.
These are not isolated examples — I could go on for days. Our economic problems are easily solved without money. Cronyism and insider deals are not the way to prosperity — this practice needs to end. Economic problems get solved with sound policy, cooperation and an understanding of how business and a free market works. We can do better for less.
This commentary is by Neil Johnson, of Waitsfield, who is state chair of the Green Mountain Party and a 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor.