McClaughry: The difficult legislative agenda of 2018

By John McClaughry

The biennial session of the Legislature that convenes this week will face more than its share of hot button issues. Here’s a quick survey of the 2018 agenda.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

State finances: The Legislature faces a FY2019 General Fund budget deficit projected to surpass $40 million. The bright side of this coin is that covering a deficit puts a strong damper on everpresent demands for new spending that would require tax increases.

Retirement Plans: The two state-managed retirement plans – for state employees and teachers – are now an astounding $3.8 billion out of actuarial balance. Treasurers Spaulding and Pearce have tried to make headway in bringing this number down, without much success. Vermont still has a AAA bond rating, but the rating services have pointedly noted that

“pension liabilities are growing and funding is not keeping pace.”

Property Taxes: Last June’s budget agreement made it certain that school property taxes would resume their upward march in 2018-19. In December the administration announced that school property tax rates would increase by 9.4 cents per $100 FMV, or 7 percent.

Last April Gov. Scott proposed a plan whereby he would negotiate health insurance coverage with the Vermont-NEA on behalf of all school districts. The union, and thus its legislative allies, vocally objected.

There is a solution for this. As with teachers’ retirement in 1946, put teacher health benefits into state law, and drop the idea of Governor-union negotiations. The union pushed to get agency fee out of local negotiations and into statute in 2014, and needs to see the wisdom of doing the same thing now for health benefits.

All Payer Health Care: When single payer health care failed in 2014, thanks to its enormous tax costs, All Payer sprang to life. It’s based on creating one big Accountable Care Organization called One Care, essentially a subsidiary of the UVM Medical Center empire. The Green Mountain Care Board will instruct Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurers how much to pay into One Care on behalf of their respective insured populations. OneCare will then parcel out the funds to favored providers to achieve significant savings. Or so they say.

The Board just approved a $621 million OneCare budget, which has not yet become the complete monopoly its leaders urgently desire. When it does, Vermont will have universal managed care operated by a bonus-motivated rationing organization only feebly accountable to the public.

Health Care Mandate: Last week, after Congress’ repeal of the individual tax mandate to purchase ObamaCare policies, health care officials started musing about getting the Legislature to impose a mandate on every Vermonter to buy state-approved health insurance. Or else what? Fines? Wage garnishment? Loss of driver’s and hunting licenses? Incarceration?

Minimum Wage: The state’s progressive element is eager to jack up the state’s minimum wage mandate from $10.50 (in 2018) to $15. (New Hampshire: $7.25).They are in serious denial about what their pet proposal would do to low-skilled workers (disproportionally young and non-white) in this age of automation and robotics, plus the impact on businesses dependent on those workers.

Carbon Tax: The Climate Action Network will press hard for their new version of the carbon tax, The Essex Plan. The previous version would tax gasoline, diesel, heating oil, natural gas and propane to the tune of $500 million a year by 2027. The new carbon tax would “only” tax those fuels $240 million a year by 2025. The proceeds would be used to lower electric rates and compensate lower income families and “rural residents” harmed by the higher costs of heating their homes and getting to work, school, shopping, and church. Gov. Scott is, happily, adamantly opposed to a carbon tax.

Lake Champlain Cleanup: EPA has calculated that cleaning up phosphorus-fed pollution in Lake Champlain will require $2 billion over twenty years. Legislators don’t want to tax the phosphorus users (40 percent of them farms), and few of them are eager to impose a “per parcel fee” on every landowner in the state.

Opiates: The opiate abuse and trafficking crisis is still waxing strong – a nearly 160 percent increase in overdose deaths from 2010 to 2016. Modest steps have been taken to cut back on the overprescribing of pain medications, but heroin is cheap, and there is no clear path out of the problem.

These are major challenges for our legislators. Stay tuned for five months of struggle in Montpelier.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Bruce Parker/TNR and John McClaughry

3 thoughts on “McClaughry: The difficult legislative agenda of 2018

  1. John:
    You did not mention legalization of marijuana for recreational use. If passed it will provide a foot in the door for Big Marijuana. When bad things come from this there will be a clamor for supposed tax and regulate. No regulation will occur just like Colorado and tax will be insufficient. Colorado now faces a 500 M dollar deficit and the reduction of key health and education programs. This will bring additional normalization of an addicting drug and will lead to increased use and that includes and especially includes youth. If you look at Pueblo, CO and other places there, it will paint a picture of what Vermont will be in a couple of years if we pass this. If you need some proof of all of this, I am more than glad to provide it. Curious that you, as many others do not see this as a big deal. It is a very big deal and we are about to lose a generation of young people to the high potency THC products. This is not the marijuana that people used at Woodstock and following. This is the “crack” of marijuana and I hope you speak out to defeat it before it is too late.

    • You’re looking at the problem. They are looking at the money from becoming drug dealers. And the money is why it’s a top priority and why the solutions will be about drug dealing and not common sense solutions. And if you follow the money, you’ll find lobbyists. f’n insider deals being done on epic proportions, they are working behind the scenes now as they got tarred and feathered when people openly found out what was going on.
      In the best of “Vermont traditions” this will be an insider deal of epic proportions enriching those connected and protected by those who take ad money and donations to pay all their bills such that they can publish prose, poetry and wax eternal about the wisdom and merits our new legislation.
      Vermonters……..If your son was flunking his college class in government ethics, spent all his allowance for the school year (two months in) and came home saying he wanted to go out partying with his friends this weekend…..what would be your response? What if he said he wanted to be a drug dealer? As citizens what would be an appropriate response to those in office?

  2. The paradigm in Montpelier needs to shift from what can we spend to what can we cut. Need to dump a lot of progressives for that to happen, but eventually people are going to leave, as a lot of us have already. or we will at last vote out the progressive, profligate, members in Montpelier.

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