By John Klar
There are basically three types of people in Vermont: those who don’t work, those who work and those who work for the state. Of course, some who don’t work want to; some who work for the state are paid little, and are devoted. But broadly, this striation into three groups has created problems.
The group that doesn’t work gets free health insurance, the fourth highest welfare benefits in the nation, free oil, free food, and rent subsidies. Most of those who work for the government get cheap health insurance, paid leave and job security. Those in the middle — private workers and businesses — face high health insurance premiums and are guaranteed only steadily increasing taxes. It is this disconnect that is destroying Vermont.
I work as a Vermont recovery coach, trying to help people in addiction overcome their difficulties and rejoin society. I don’t judge them, and we coaches try to help people with fundamental supports like family, jobs and housing. Recent efforts for both substance abusers and ex-convicts emphasize help in housing and employment, and the Vermont government continues to expand efforts at “affordable housing,” while expunging criminal records and otherwise removing stigma to help such people get back on their feet. But such programs cost money, which comes from taxpayers — that middle group for whom there is no help, just increasing weight.
Examining this economically, we see that the government has this all “bass ackwards.” The government keeps bloating in regulations, salaries and taxation. This pressures those who work for a living (especially young and underskilled workers) into despair, poverty and insecurity, which in turn increases suicide, domestic violence, criminal behavior, neglect of children and drug use.
Gov. Scott’s Opioid Coordination Council determined that the two chief areas to focus efforts to reverse the opioid crisis are prevention and recovery. But both of these, as we see here, have economic aspects. Prevention entails not just education but security in health, housing and employment — people do well when they have purpose and loving support. These happen to be the focus also of recovery, to turn things around.
The current Vermont policy is to assist people on street opioids with Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) — mostly Suboxone or methadone. These drugs are provided at taxpayer expense and cost much more than street heroin. There is no stated effort to wean people off these drugs, and very few resources to do so.
Thus, the Vermont government’s plan is to increase spending on housing, food and employment for those in substance abuse treatment. But the costs for those recovery benefits are indirectly imposed on the workers and businesses who are already greatly burdened — Vermont has some of the highest taxes in the country, the highest costs of living, and one of the worst business climates. This vicious cycle ends badly, as a child could see.
The way to reverse this downward spiral is to reduce, not expand, the size of Vermont’s government. Fewer regulations and related expenses for businesses will improve incomes, decrease housing expenses, encourage investment, and instill hope. This will reduce suicides, domestic violence, and illicit drug use. This is not “trickle-down economics” because it does not call for cuts in taxes for the wealthy — it calls for cuts in spending by the bloated dome. More than 500 state employees are paid over $100,000 annually, and state salaries increase regularly despite stagnant growth for non-state workers and businesses — this disconnect is real, and accelerating.
Presently, the Vermont Legislature is pushing to increase regulations (especially to “save” the planet), impose new taxes and hire state employees to impose both. The progressives literally believe and openly state that this “grows” the economy and “increases prosperity.” Being cloistered in the elitist world of those with cheap insurance, guaranteed high incomes, and growing power over regular Vermonters, they are disconnected from economic reality, however well-intentioned.
The antidote to Vermont’s fiscal and cultural decay is less government, not more. Let us all spread this message and restrain the runaway government bureaucracy that is destroying our state in a misguided effort to save us, like a dragon eating its tail.
Farms close, bureaucracy grows. Schools close, bureaucracy grows. Health care shrinks, while administrative expenses and bureaucratic hurdles rise. Real estate taxes spike, workers flee, businesses close. But the business of “governing” flourishes. New gun laws are imposed. And the band plays on.
That dragon is coming to its head and has little remaining to devour.
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.