Let’s Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat

An Editorial by Bruce Lisman

lismanOur governor has declared the legislative session a victory for Vermonters. I disagree — it represents further evidence of a government not listening to its citizens. There are many ways a government can fail its people but usually only one result — the people will pay.

The administration offers a narrative that presumes Vermonters might believe nearly $60 million in new taxes, increased general fund spending of nearly 6 percent in an economy that is growing at less than 3 percent is a victory.

Education costs are another critical budget item where voters’ pleas for spending restraint went largely unanswered. Instead of credible, concrete measures to address education spending, politicians created a constitutionally dubious scheme which introduces further complexity and further distorts an already opaque system.

To top it all off, they postponed $25 million in tax hikes by using one-time funds, lost $200 million for Vermont Health Connect investments (this would have received a pass if not for the auditor’s examination), built in a $10 million shortfall due to increased Medicaid caseload and do not plan for $50+ million in revenue losses from expired tobacco settlement funds and well-advertised federal Medicaid funding cutbacks. The inevitable result of persistent budget mismanagement is more unpredictability and reduced capacity to invest in strategic initiatives.

The governor has the political awareness to understand what voters are concerned about. The Legislature has the ability to respond with legislation. But this administration’s incompetence has turned good intentions into destructive policy. A public groundswell for spending restraint and more transparency has bizarrely been met with increased taxes and complicated new mandates.

Feel-good slogans and poorly executed programs must be replaced by a clear mission and measurable outcomes.

Voters know what politicians don’t — there’s a better way. They know economic growth is the best tool to grow the middle class and they know education and good jobs offer the best hope for the poor.

Genuine, sustainable prosperity can’t be bought with government spending. And more equitable outcomes across the state won’t materialize from legislative fiat. Instead, economic growth and shared prosperity will naturally follow from a more diverse and vibrant economy which creates jobs and opportunities for all to raise their standard of living.

Vermonters deserve a competent, accountable government that makes economic growth our top priority, and spends our tax money wisely. Feel-good slogans and poorly executed programs must be replaced by a clear mission and measurable outcomes.

Here are some examples of initiatives I’ve recommended to underpin durable growth in Vermont:

    • A strategic plan with a strategic budget, including long-term capital spending, will minimize budget surprises and unpredictable tax decisions.
    • Knowing our large employers – an effective calling program will enable us to understand their needs and build a long-term partnership.
    • Prioritizing our small businesses – meeting with them and learning what they need in order to grow and thrive.
    • Enhancing our workforce development efforts – a universal budget, with clear performance standards, and streamlined program management are needed.
    • Our institutions of higher education are home to 42,000 students – an active approach that provides more internship, apprenticeships, and recruitment will guide them to a future here.
    • Intellectual capital resides in Vermont – converting ideas to patents and then to commercial products creates entrepreneurs and jobs. UVM’s highly regarded efforts can help unlock this potential.
    • Laser focus on comprehensive economic development activities. The Agency for Commerce and Community Development needs a new name and a more focused approach to developing an economy here. We must replace bureaucratic overlap and duplicative efforts with an efficient and responsive agency.

Vermont has much to be proud of and much to build on — it’s not too late to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Let’s leave the politicians behind and forge ahead.