By John Klar
Vermont aspires to be the first in the nation to try new things, even if it means turning common sense upside-down. Recent Vermont proposals to impose a carbon tax and legalize gambling, like legalizing cannabis, are unapologetically driven by thirst for more tax revenue, even as the state’s economy flounders under the crushing burden of too many taxes. Similarly, Vermont’s “progressive” legislature is moving to relax laws governing criminals and prisoners while increasing regulations on businesses. If America wants to observe what happens when laws are turned upside down, Vermont is the place to watch.
Vermont now routinely “expunges” the criminal records of most criminals, and has eliminated fees and expanded qualifying crimes to make that easier. The rationale offered is that such erasures prevent “discrimination” by employers and “remove barriers to employment for ex-convicts.” The measure, signed last year by Gov. Phil Scott, was hailed by proponents as an “important economic and workforce-development reform.”
The only state to suffer a credit downgrade last year, Vermont has embarked on some desperate if dubious efforts to “grow the economy.” A recent prison report found that “…felony convictions have grown, primarily due to increases in convictions for assault, domestic violence, and sexual assault.” Suicide rates are increasing, residents are fleeing for other states, illegal immigrants are openly encouraged to seek shelter (and driving licenses) in Vermont, and the mostly-white rural “culture” has been attacked as racist. Yet, Vermont’s government keeps doubling down on bad policy.
The dearth of creative economic initiatives is a serious problem for Vermont’s citizens, despite a plethora of new regulations and tax proposals that reflect a complete disconnect from voters — some 1,260 new bills were introduced in January. The governor has attracted national derision for paying out-of-staters $10,000 to relocate to Vermont, and recently announced an income tax exemption for those under age 26 — only to pull the plug a few days later, announcing the measure would cost too much money. (Odd the governor hadn’t calculated that problem during months of preparatory research).
The latest boondoggle is an effort to essentially eliminate prison for most criminals, to save money — but proposals are to “fund” housing, social and mental health programs, and other expensive programs to “decarcerate.” The recent (liberal) prison report assumes that racial disparities in inmate populations stem from systemic racism caused by “biases that are so embedded in our common ways of being that many people… are absolutely unaware of the exercise of these selfsame biases.” Citizens are not told what those biases are, or even what “common ways of being” means — but apparently the idea that blacks and whites might commit crimes at disparate rates is an unacceptable possibility to consider (itself a “self-same bias,” presumably).
Called “Justice Reinvestment II,” Vermont’s progressive push to push criminals back out to “work” (the streets) proposes to increase time “earned” off sentences for good behavior, and count probationary periods as time served. One proposal is to give those on probation “credit” for good behavior while on probation and thereby shorten the probation period. The rationale for these reforms?:
…incarceration, while necessary for public safety in some cases, does not achieve behavior change and can undermine or disrupt a person’s ability to obtain and maintain treatment, housing, and employment.
(Translation: “research has shown imprisoning violent criminals protects the public but disrupts violent criminals’ lives.”)
Vermont spends huge sums getting addicts on suboxone while in prison, so it is hard to assert that incarceration impedes treatment. Vermont is by some measures the #1 drug-using state in the nation, and policies which label police as racists for arresting drug dealers will ensure the street supply is robust when inmates are churned through the revolving door to reoffend. Criminal record erasures deceive employers and citizens. Vermont fathers whose licenses are suspended for nonpayment of child support will be unable to drive to work: illegal immigrants are not stymied by such obstacles. (Perhaps legalizing prostitution in Vermont will enhance revenues.)
Now Vermont’s governor proposes to legalize keno and other gaming as a revenue source to subsidize childcare (“for the children!”). But science demonstrates that gambling addiction changes the brain in ways that may well be more addictive than opioids. Gambling also preys on the poorest of citizens, and is thus patently regressive. Some Democrats have supported this plan, Democrat Senator Michael Sirotkin remarking “”If they’re going to be doing it…. we might as well get some revenue and put it to some useful sources.”
Vermont Republican Senator Joe Benning also dismissed concerns about the regressiveness of this tax scheme:
Benning said he’s heard of “lines out the door” at businesses with keno machines. And despite criticisms that gambling hurts the poor and feeds addiction, he said, games of chance and “sin taxes” are a fact of life. “That happens to be one of the ways that we collect dollars,” Benning said.
The push to tax and spend has indeed infected both sides of the political aisle in Vermont, as the Republican Party has been reduced to a handful of hold-outs after sweeping progressive gains in the 2016 election. There is little resistance to the progressives, who also wish to impose rent controls (which will drive up rents); and minimum wage increases, European-style “good cause” termination requirements, and family leave policies (recently vetoed by Scott) that will discourage businesses, reduce hiring, and spark inflation. The progressives point to “climate-crisis credit downgrades” as justification to launch ambitious new taxes, while ignoring the economic effects of overspending and overregulation.
Vermont is weighing laws to create a “Bill of Rights” for homeless people to prevent discrimination against people without homes, even as its legislature enacts policies which will undermine private-sector employment, spike taxes and thus discourage property ownership. It is favoring criminals over victims, blacks over whites, women over men, illegal immigrants over native-born taxpayers, urbanites over ruralites, regulators over farmers, teachers over students, health administrators over patients, and legislators over voters. The state has launched all of these insane initiatives in the clarion call of social justice and “creating equity,” but the result is visibly the reverse.
Meanwhile, Vermont’s progressives have introduced a number of new gun laws, in one of the safest states in America. With a social engineering indoctrination that ensures increased rates of taxation, poverty, suicide, domestic violence, drug use, and fiscal implosion, it is only logical for the liberal elites who are gentrifying the Green Mountain State to seize the guns of law-abiding taxpayers, lest they revolt.
Many Vermont voters perceive that Vermont’s most dangerous criminals are in its Legislature. For sensible citizens, their revolt is their vote in 2020.
John Klar is an attorney and farmer residing in Brookfield, and former pastor of the First Congregational Church of Westfield. He is running for governor in 2020.