posted by Rob Roper
Peter Shumlin’s election kick off speech centered on the idea that he is bold, his policies are bold, and Vermonters deserve boldness. Boldness is defined by Shumlin, as creating jobs, investing in education, promoting renewable energy, and moving toward a first-in-the-nation single payer healthcare system.
(Some might appreciate a boldness big enough to tell people how that single payer system will be paid for before this November’s election, but I guess there’s “bold” and then there’s “hey, let’s not get crazy now.”)
Bold can be good and bold can be bad. Robert E. Lee’s decision to launch Pickett’s Charge was bold. It was also tactically stupid, horrifically costly, and strategically disastrous. Dwight Eisenhower’s plan for the D-Day invasion, and making the final decision to launch amidst a tiny window of good weather in an otherwise stormy forecast, was extremely bold. It, however, worked.
What’s really more important than “bold” policies are successful policies. So, let’s look at Governor Shumlin’s track record of success. Is he an Eisenhower at Normandy or a Lee at Gettysburg?
1. Creating Jobs. Under Shumlin’s rein of boldness the Vermont labor force has shrunk by 8700. Since just the last election there have been a number high profile defections from our job market. IBM in Essex has cut roughly 1000 jobs, and 4000 more are in limbo as the company weighs selling the plant. After enduring a political beating at the hands of a hostile governor and legislature, Vermont Yankee will begin phasing out 600 of the best paying jobs in the state after 2014. Energizer in Franklin County is gone along with 165 jobs. Plasan Composites in Bennington is gone – 145 jobs. Kennametal in Lyndonville is gone — 80 jobs. Huber + Suhner in Essex gone – 65 jobs. And GE cut about 10% of their Burlington workforce – 50 jobs.
In contrast to these high-caliber jobs leaving the state, July 2014 projections show Vermont’s new job growth occurring in low-skill/low wage sectors. The top five are, Cashiers, Personal Care Aides, Retail Salespersons, Combined Food Prep/Serving Workers including fast food, and Waiters & Waitresses.
2. Investing in Education. It’s easy to “invest” in anything. Success is judged by the return you get on that investment. Since Peter Shumlin has been governor, Vermont has increased spending on K-12 by over $150 million annually, bringing the total 2014 budget up to $1.47 billion. In just the last biennium, education property taxes went up by over $100 million.
Despite all of this, student enrollment continues to decline at a rate of about 1% per year, test scores have been largely flat, and, according to the then Secretary of Education, Armando Vilaseca, in an official posting of the latest NAEP scores, “I am particularly concerned that we still have not made major progress in closing the achievement gap for students living in poverty…. Vermont students demonstrated significant achievement gaps based on family income… The smallest gap was 14 percentage points in fourth grade mathematics, and the largest was 23 percentage points in fourth grade reading.”
3. Promoting renewable energy. For the past four years Vermont has done much to make life easy for renewable energy producers, providing them with tax credits, guaranteeing them “reasonable” profits, mandating that energy suppliers buy their products at well above market rates, removing zoning hurdles, not to mention driving their lower cost, more efficient competition, Vermont Yankee, out of the state. Major Shumlin donors and supporters in the renewable energy business are doing very well as a result of these policies.
However, the impact on the average Vermonter is quite different. Vermont’s residential energy costs have gone from what were quite recently the lowest in New England to the highest (tied with Connecticut), and the 4th highest in the nation. It was just in 2008 that the Vermont Energy Partnership published Vermont’s Electricity Prices: Envy of the Region. Since then, that notion has been wiped away as electricity rates rose by more than 17% — almost three and a half times the national rate of increase. http://www.electricchoice.com/electricity-prices-by-state.php
But aren’t we saving the planet?
Not really. In 2013, Connecticut passed a law prohibiting the purchase of Vermont Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) because they considered Vermont’s policy of allowing wind and solar power producers to sell RECs while simultaneously applying them to Vermont’s own renewable energy reduction requirements as — what it is — fraudulent.
And, as the Burlington Free Press reported, “When the contracts for Vermont Yankee power expired in 2012, our utilities replaced its carbon-free generation with about a million megawatt-hours of “grid power” — contracts and direct purchases of electricity from the New England transmission grid. More than half of this power comes from burning fossil fuels. This has substantially increased Vermont’s power-related carbon emissions…” making the Green Mountain State browner.
4. Moving to Single Payer. What did I say earlier about Pickett’s Charge? Tactically stupid, horrifically costly, and strategically disastrous…. Yeah, that.
Peter Shumlin’s attempt to have Vermont, population 620,000, become a the first and only state in the Union with a government-run single payer healthcare system has so far proven to be an inefficient, expensive, incompetently run train wreck.
Although the governor distances himself from the Exchange (Vermont Health Connect) as a federal idea, part of the Affordable Care Act, and separate from Green Mountain Care (single payer), it really — and legally – is not. Act 48 states explicitly, “The intent of the general assembly is to establish the Vermont health benefit exchange in a manner such that it may become the foundation for Green Mountain Care.” (Emphasis Added)
So how is the “foundation for Green Mountain Care” coming? After having spent nearly $100 million on the VHC website, it still does not function as promised. An estimated 14,000 Vermonters are tied up in “change of circumstance” glitches with Vermont Health Connect (VT Watchdog, 8/4/14), and “ [I]t was revealed that an estimated 22,000 Medicaid beneficiaries have lost their coverage in the past three months because they were unable to, or have not tried to, complete their annual reviews on the Vermont Health Connect website (VT Digger, 7/23/14)
A report by Optum, the company hired to come in and clean up the VHC mess, blamed poor leadership, lack of relevant experience, and insufficient oversight in the Shumlin Administration for the rotten state of affairs. These are not good harbingers of things to come with Green Mountain Care – which we still don’t know to pay for nearly two years after the legally proscribed deadline for a completed plan has passed.
Bold accompanied by brilliant insight and diligent leadership can lead to great things. But bold abetted by poor judgment and carelessness is a recipe for disaster. We’ve definitely got bold.
- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute