By John McClaughry

In January 2019 the commission to review and update Act 250 presented a well written report. Its recommendations are now the subject of 94-page bill (H.926) to dramatically reshape the state’s land use and development act.

On the plus side, in light of its 50 years in force, Act 250 was certainly due, or overdue, for thorough reconsideration. This is especially true since the bill that became Act 250 was thrown together over one desperate weekend, to “put the brakes on land development”.  I know, because I was an active participant in that process in the House and voted for it.

On the minus side, a brief trip through the report and bill show that the six legislators on the commission were pretty clearly chosen to bestow every imaginable policy victory upon the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the organization that has battled for stronger regulation over Vermonters’ use of land ever since the Act passed.

Back then, to its acute dismay, VNRC lost its battle to enshrine “social property” in place of “freehold property”, and it gnashed its organizational teeth as the third and feeblest State Land Use Plan finally perished in the Senate in 1976.  But now, with a liberal legislature eager to reward its every desire, VNRC’s fortunes have revived.

Much of the “reform” bill involves complicated legal and procedural questions, some with good arguments on both sides. Here are just eight of its key features.

First, this is now a bill to protect us from the Menace of Climate Change.  It recites the previously enacted (2013) climate change mantra – and of course declares CO2 emissions to be not plant food, but climate-wrecking “air pollution”.  An applicant must show that his or her development would not release an “undue” amount of it, which in the view of certain regulators could often mean “none”. The report even offers the specter of desperate “climate refugees” driven to Vermont “as Northeast coastal populations are increasingly impacted by rising sea levels.”

Second, the regulatory power will now be lodged in a three-member “Natural Resources Board”, appointed like Superior Judges to serve like PUC members. The Super Board members must have expertise in “environmental science, natural resources law and policy, land use planning, community planning, environmental justice, or racial equity” and must also reflect “the racial, ethnic, gender, and geographical diversity of the State.” The nine District Environmental Commissions will survive, barely, but will act only on minor applications and supervise compliance with permits.

Third, the VNRC gets its yearned-for regulation to protect “forest blocks” from “fragmentation”. This means no more development in rural areas where wandering wildlife might be deterred from crossing from one forest block to another. One may be forgiven for suspecting that this is motivated more by the urge to keep people’s homes from despoiling the arcadian landscape than solicitude for the wildlife.

Fourth, and similarly, the costly burden of struggling through the permit process will be eased in designated downtown centers where future residents are expected to cluster.

Fifth, the range of regulatory interest now extends to the development’s surrounding the “ecosystem”. Since everything in an ecosystem is linked to everything else, the applicant’s burden of proving no undue adverse impact will become ever more demanding.

Sixth, Act 250 now gives regulatory scrutiny to development that might adversely impact nearby public investment, like highways, airports, and sewage plants. That’s fair enough, but now public “investment” will include private rural property on which the Housing and Conservation Board has a no-development easement.

Seventh, after a last minute shakedown the sponsors of the bill agreed to require permit applicants to guarantee “environmental justice”. That is defined to mean “the right to equal environmental protection under the law and the right to live, work and play in communities that are safe, healthy and free of life threatening conditions.” The bill does not deal with whether the groups who believe they might be denied this newly-declared right to “environmental justice” can sue to block a development that doesn’t give them enough of it.

Finally, the bill fails to put an end to regulation by planning commission. At least three times the Supreme Court has curbed local enthusiasm for regulating developments by vague goals of a town plan. Zoning, adopted by a vote of the town, is regulatory law. Town plans are not regulatory, but aspirational. The bill gives the Super Board the power to control local and regional plans and, unconscionably, keep on using them to regulate.

In sum, the “New Act 250” is a concerted effort to make Vermont into the Perfect Little Climate-Conscious State, erecting ever greater barriers to development, and ruled from Montpelier, from whence the Super Board can best perceive the Greater Good.


February 24, 2020

By John McClaughry

A push is on in Montpelier to create the thermal utility so long sought by VPIRG. Unlike the version of 13 years ago, this version doesn’t set up a new, special utility to absorb government money and spend it on improvements in some peoples’ transportation and housing. This time it’s expanding the mandate of Efficiency Vermont, financed by your electricity payment, that since 2000 has subsidized home energy efficiency.

Four years ago I said this about that idea: “[Republican] “Gov. Douglas vetoed a “thermal utility” in 2007 but Gov. Shumlin re-launched the idea in 2012. Small pieces of that bill were enacted, but not the big taxing and spending parts of it.”

“Under this year’s version, electric ratepayers will be taxed indefinitely to support not only electrical efficiency, but also thermal and transportation efficiency. Its backers say “Vermonters will benefit”, by which they mean the Vermonters who pocket the program benefits, not the Vermonters who pay for them through their electric bills. This is just one more surreptitious way to transfer money from the pockets of ordinary Vermonters into the much smaller class of efficiency program winners, most of whom ought to be paying for their own energy savings out of their own savings.”

Look, I’m all for improving energy efficiency in housing, electricity usage, and transportation. You’ll save money. So use your savings to pay for the efficiency, not my power bill.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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February 21, 2020

by Rob Roper

PR.9 is a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would essentially and in effect ban the private ownership of real estate in Vermont. It’s short. You can read it all (except for Section 3, the effective date, which I cut for some brevity) here:

PROPOSAL 9. Sec. 1. PURPOSE This proposal would amend the Constitution of the State of Vermont in order to provide that the citizens of the State have a right to a clean environment. Sec. 2. Article 23 of Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution is added to read: Article 23. [Right to a clean environment] That the people have a right to clean air and water and the preservation of the natural, scenic, and cultural values of the environment. The State of Vermont’s natural resources are the common property of all the people. The State shall conserve and maintain the natural resources of Vermont for the benefit of all people. (Bold/Underline added).

The first part is scary vague. What is a “right to a clean environment”? Does that mean I am entitled to taxpayer funded trash pick up? A court will decide, I guess, cuz I’ll bring that suit myself! That I can sue my neighbor for grilling out on his back yard barbeque? Or my neighbor can sue me for driving a low MPG truck? Who knows? But you can bet there will be a whole lot of suing going on if this were to pass.

The last part is even more frightening. “Vermont’s natural resources are the common property of all the people.” That means the trees on my yard, the water in my rain barrel, the soil my grass grows on as well as the grass, my pond (if I had one), if I strike gold, or want to quarry granite or slate — all of a sudden none of this is mine anymore, but the property of “all the people,” and what do with it is not my prerogative anymore, as these things “shall be” conserved and maintained by the state, not for my benefit, but for the benefit of all people. Farmers… you might want to pay attention to this!

It could end all new housing development because the state’s constitutional obligation would be to preserve the “natural and scenic” resources of the state. So, somebody wants to build a not-natural house in the empty lot next door that would mess up my (Cough, cough. I mean “the people’s) scenic view, 1-800-LAWSUIT!

PR.9 is straight out communist. The only thing missing is a section mandating that we all call each other comrade. And perhaps the most alarming part of this whole thing is that fifteen senators – enough to pass it through that body with the Lieutenant Governor breaking the tie (and you know he would) – actually SPONSORED this insanity! Didn’t see a problem with it at all.

I had an exchange with the lead sponsor of PR.9, Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison) on Facebook over this.

Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison)

ME: Chris, the amendment you are pushing appears to ban private property. Are you out of your freakin’ mind?

Christopher Bray:  Rob — I’m a little surprised at your response, given how well you know me. The provision in no way bans private property. Let’s talk in person about how similar constitutional provisions work (and have worked for decades) in other states. And consider as well — we have a federal clean air act and clean water act; did they ban private property? The simple truth is that air, water, and wildlife are not private because they are held in trust by all of us — because they are a shared natural resource base upon which all life depends. I look forward to a longer conversation — and perhaps you can help us improve the proposal.

ME:  The trees on my property are a natural resource, as is my well, as is my lawn. This amendment would declare all this the common property of all the people, under the control of the state. If it says or implies something different than that, explain how.

That was two days ago. Still no response on line or in person.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 


February 21, 2020

By David Flemming

Advocates for a higher minimum wage like to point out stories of workers who “deserve a higher wage” for any number of reasons. These stories tend to seemingly outweigh the number of stories of people owning businesses who endure hardships because of a higher minimum wage. Whereas employees may seem quite willing to voice their displeasure, businesses are inherently less so. After all, in a state where social justice is at its zenith, who is to say that a boycott or protest could not turn a mere hardship into a business foreclosure in Vermont?

Advocates for a higher minimum wage like to point out stories of workers who “deserve a higher wage” for any number of reasons. These stories tend to seemingly outweigh the number of stories of people owning businesses who endure hardships because of a higher minimum wage. Whereas employees may seem quite willing to voice their displeasure, businesses are inherently less so. After all, in a state where social justice is at its zenith, who is to say that a boycott or protest could not turn a hardship into a business foreclosure in Vermont?

The business economy across America is strong and thriving, which leads many Vermonters to gain the false impression that Vermont businesses are also strong and thriving. Not true. In 2017, 494 Vermont businesses started up resulting in 1,484 new jobs, whereas 1,481 jobs were lost when 525 businesses shut down. A net gain of 3 jobs before the minimum wage increased is hardly the kind of growth Vermont needs.

The average person walking by businesses sees buildings larger and seemingly worth more than the average Vermont home. It is easy to make the intuitive leap that they can afford to pay a little extra to their low-income employees.

They sense that profits will always be somehow suspended above costs. As such, a higher minimum wage may bite into profits, but the pay discrepancy between business owner and employee will forever remain. This can hardly be more exaggerated.

Employees earning a steady paycheck from a business are likely unaware that the very opening of a business to employ them has likely set the business owner into a great deal of debt. Thus, while they receive a greater portion of the revenue than the employee, most of this is often needed to pay down the interest, and if the business survives, the principle on the loan. It can be decades before the owner can actually make a “positive return on investment.” In the meantime, they often scrape by, and perhaps get a second job.

And indeed that debt is often too much to handle. 99% of Vermont businesses are small businesses. Many cannot afford increased expenses.

Vermont has one of the highest minimum wages in the country, but even states with lower minimum wages which have more slowly increased have forced otherwise-viable employers out of business.

After a minimum wage increase, these 184 American businesses chose 1 or more of the following between 2015-19:

1) Laid off employees

2) Gave employees fewer hours

3) Increased prices

4) Closed down

(to see stories click here)

5 Thread Factory LOS ANGELES, CA
Abbot’s Cellar SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Apparel Manufacturer OAKLAND, CA
Ashley Furniture COLTON, CA
Associated Supermarkets NEW YORK, NY
Bacci Chocolate Design Inc. SWAMPSCOTT, MA
Between the Buns POTSDAM, NY
Black Oak Books BERKELEY, CA
Blue Moon Mexican Café WOODCLIFF LAKE, NJ
B-Man’s Teriyaki and Burgers PASADENA, CA
Bob and Ron’s Fish Fry ALBANY, NY
Bocanova OAKLAND, CA
Bookworm Tri-Cities KENNEWICK, WA
Boot and Shoe Service OAKLAND, CA
Buster’s Restaurant and Bar FLAGSTAFF, AZ
By-Th’-Bucket Bar and Grill SANTA CLARA, CA
Cafe Chloe SAN DIEGO, CA
Caffe Delucchi SAN FRANCISCO, CA
California Composites PARAMOUNT, CA
California Health Institute LOS ANGELES, CA
Cantina 1910 CHICAGO, IL
Cascade Designs SEATTLE, WA
Chef Zorba’s Authentic Greek Cuisine DENVER, CO
China Dine-ah SOUTH CHINA, ME
China Fun Eatery NEW YORK CITY, NY
Cici’s Pizza WATERTOWN, NY
Citizen’s Band and Pinkie’s Bakery SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Clarion Hotel SEATAC, WA
Coffee Shop NEW YORK, NY
Coffee XChange TUCSON, AZ
Community Options Inc. MONTROSE, CO
Competitive Edge Research & Communications SAN DIEGO, CA
Country Host West FLAGSTAFF, AZ
Country Kids Child Development Center YAKIMA, WA
County Box & Pallet PRESQUE ISLE, ME
Coup des Tartes PHOENIX, AZ
Creative Kidstuff MINNETONKA, MN
Cultured Cafe FLAGSTAFF, AZ
Cybelle’s on Piedmont OAKLAND, CA
Dee’s Route 202 Diner LEBANON, ME
Del’Rio Diner BROOKLYN, NY
Digger’s Deli VACAVILLE, CA
Dimple Records SACRAMENTO, CA
Doughnut Dolly OAKLAND, CA
Eagle Rock Lumber Company LOS ANGELES, CA
Ebbett’s Good to Go OAKLAND, CA
El Palacio Mexican Restaurant and Cantina CHANDLER, AZ
Encuentro OAKLAND, CA
Farley’s on 65th EMERYVILLE, CA
Flagstaff Nut House FLAGSTAFF, AZ
Four Paws Flying Pet Resort EL CAJON, CA
Gabriela’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar NEW YORK, NY
Govnr’s Park Tavern DENVER, CO
Guild Seattle SEATTLE, WA
Hog’s Apothecary OAKLAND, CA
Holiday Inn Los Angeles Gateway TORRANCE, CA
Home of Chicken and Waffles WALNUT CREEK, CA
Hullar’s Coffee Shop FAYETTEVILLE, NY
Icon Grill SEATTLE, WA
International Delights LAS CRUCES, NM
Interstate Kitchen & Bar DENVER, CO
Ivar’s Salmon House SEATTLE, WA
Jorgi’s Supermarket, Edmore Location EDMORE, MI
Kentucky Fried Chicken PINETOP-LAKESIDE, AZ
Kid’s World Childcare PASCO, WA
Lagmitz Paper & Plastics BROOKLYN, NY
Lake Chad Cafe SEATTLE, WA
Lala’s Wine Bar + Pizzeria DENVER, CO
Lanesplitter Pizza OAKLAND, CA
Las Margaritas TUCSON, AZ
Lasher’s Kitchen LONG BEACH, CA
Ledgeview Living Center WEST PARIS, ME
Longway’s Diner WATERTOWN, NY
Los Olivos PHOENIX, AZ
Louisa’s Cafe SEATTLE, WA
Lovin Oven Cakery LIBERTYVILLE, IL
Luna’s Bistro BELLINGHAM, WA
Maier’s Market ANDOVER, NY
Marie’s Cafe & Catering CHICAGO, IL
Marlowe’s DENVER, CO
MasterPark SEATAC, WA
Match Analysis EMERYVILLE, CA
McGirk’s Irish Pub BINGHAMTON, NY
MDL Holiday Cinemas FREDERICK, MD
Medici House EAST AURORA, NY
Memphis Minnie’s SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Merit Medi-Trans CHICO, CA
Mesilla Valley Bakery LAS CRUCES
Montebello Dairy MONTEBELLO, CA
Mountain Heights Care Facility PATTEN, ME
Native Restaurant SANTA MONICA, CA
North Town Coffeehouse YAKIMA, WA
Nostalgia House Bakery PORT ORCHARD, WA
O’Doherty’s Pub SPOKANE, WA
O’Gara’s Bar and Grill FALCON HEIGHTS, MN
Oberweis Ice Cream OAK PARK, IL
Original Joe’s SAN JOSE, CA
Paramount Cafe DENVER, CO
Peeve’s Public House FRESNO, CA
Peppermill Restaurant ROCHESTER, NY
Pizzaiolo OAKLAND, CA
Pizzetteria Brunetti NEW YORK, NY
Prospect Dairy Bar Restaurant PROSPECT, CT
Reaching Beyond Care OAKLAND, CA
rePlanet ONTARIO, CA
Retrofit Home SEATTLE, WA
Rocco’s Little Chicago Pizzeria TUCSON,, AZ
Rock-N-Rogers SALEM, OR
Roosevelt Tamale Parlor SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Sackets Harbor Country Mart SACKETS HARBOR, NY
Semifreddi’s Café BERKELEY, CA
Shlomo & Vito’s New York Delicatessen TUCSON, AZ
Shubert’s Ice Cream and Candy CHICO, CA
Sonogee Rehabilitation and Living Center BAR HARBOR
Spiro’s Pizza & Pasta PORT ORCHARD, WA
Sterling’s Family Childcare OAKLAND, CA
Talbot’s Toyland SAN MATEO, CA
Tamarind Tree SEATTLE, WA
Tattered Page Bookstore MT. VERNON, WA
The Advocate BERKELEY, CA
The Almost Perfect Bookstore ROSEVILLE, CA
The Arc of Spokane SPOKANE, WA
The Berkshire DENVER, CO
The Corner Store SAN FRANCISCO, CA
The Rolling Pin BAY SHORE, NY
The Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery WATERTOWN, NY
The Walrus and the Carpenter SEATTLE, WA
Tropical Smoothie Café LONG ISLAND, NY
Troy Greek Cuisine BERKELEY, CA
Victory Burger OAKLAND, CA
Village Stationers MENLO PARK, CA
Walker’s Healthy Pet MOUNT VERNON, WA
Water Wizz of Westerly WESTERLY, RI
Weaving Works SEATTLE, WA
Whiskey Junction MINNEAPOLIS, MN
Whole In The Wall Foods BINGHAMTON, NY
Wingate Lottery NORTH BAY, ON
Yakima Bindery YAKIMA, WA
Yusho Hyde Park CHICAGO, IL

Source: Faces of 15, Employment Policies Institute


February 14, 2020

by Rob Roper

The Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) bill passed out of the House Energy & Technology Committee on a 7-2 vote and moved to the House Appropriations Committee. Here’s how the bill is shaping up as it moves through the system. In some respects, the bill has been watered down significantly (good!), but it still retains many undesirable and impractical provisions.

The greenhouse gas emission goals that would be put into statute as mandates for the state to achieve would be by:

2025 – reduce by 26% relative to 2005 (Based on the Paris Climate Agreement)

2030 – 40% reduction relative to 1990 (Based on the Comprehensive Energy Plan)

        2050 – 80% below 1990 (Based on the Comprehensive Energy Plan)

The GWSA would establish a twenty-two member board that would establish the strategy by which the state will meet these mandates and make recommendations to the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), which would be responsible for making and implementing the rules by which the state will reach these mandates. However, if the board fails to agree upon a plan or doesn’t come up with one at all, ANR is still responsible for meeting the mandates. This last dynamic seems pretty odd. How is ANR supposed to meet the mandates without a plan to do so?

New Taxes? The legislature would have to be involved if the board or ANR recommends new taxes to meet the mandates. Any new taxes, such as a carbon tax, would have to pass through the normal legislative process. (So, good luck with that!) Additionally, if ANR or any other agency requires expanded rule-making authority to meet the mandates, the legislature would have to officially grant that authority. There was some disagreement between the committee and legislative council about how broad the authority ANR currently has to achieve these mandates. The committee asserted that ANR already had broad authority to implement rules; legislative counsel believed the current scope of authority was much more limited.

Cause of Action. The right of citizens to sue if the mandates are not met, and the ramifications of such actions, is arguably the most controversial part of this bill. A big change from last year’s GWSA proposal and this one is that lawsuits can now only be directed at the state. Unlike the first proposal, a citizen (or more likely a special interest group such as VPIRG or CLF) could not sue a fuel dealer or any other private business under this law. This version of the bill also prohibits the court from awarding the plaintiff any damages, financial or punitive, if they prevail. However, the bill still does provide the possibility for the winner of any lawsuit to recover legal costs from the losing party. No inquiry was made as to how much this could potentially cost the taxpayers. Lawyers ain’t cheap!

Another crucial point: judges would be prohibited from proscribing policy as the result of a lawsuit. If a plaintiff brings a case and wins, all the judge would be able to do is affirm that the state has not met its mandate, and issue a stern statement to “work harder.” This is a good provision that ensures elected legislators remain responsible for making policy, not judges. (Also good!)

However, one has to wonder from the advocates’ perspective, if through this would-be-new legal process there will be no punishment for failing to meet the mandates leading up tp the lawsuit and no means to enforce the mandates following the lawsuit, what’s the point of this bill at all? It’s essentially where we are now, except for the fact that the taxpayers would be on the hook for paying the salaries of VPIRG’s, CLF’s, etc. legal teams. (Is this the real point of the GWSA? A way for politicians to funnel taxpayer dollars to preferred special interest groups. Umm… Yeah.)

Costs: The Appropriations request over the next two years, the planning phase, is just under $1 million. The money would go to hire three new full time employees at ANR – staff director, data analyst, legal role for $336,000 per year, $50,000 for per diem expenses per year, and $200,000 one time money for outreach and consultants. Because that’s what Vermont needs is more taxpayer funded bureaucrats making over $100K per year and a slush fund to feather the nests of special interest “consultants.” But, the real question is what it would cost and what the rules might be for achieving these proposed mandates. On that score we hear only crickets.

Conclusions: While at this point the GWSA could aptly be re-named the Greatly Watered Senseless Act, it is still a highly flawed concept. Legislators are being asked to put the state in the position of having to meet specific greenhouse reduction goals, based on an unknown set of rules to be determined by ANR, without any idea of what those rules might be or how much implementing them will cost, or what their impact might be on the broader economy. And, putting the state/taxpayers in some legal jeopardy if the goals are not met. Under any circumstances, this is an insanely irresponsible way to govern.

At its core, the GWSA is stupid idea and should be swiftly scrapped. But, if there are political considerations that need to be taken into account, perhaps a prudent measure would be to replace the existing bill with a study examining what the rules and the costs of meeting these GHG goals would look like first, before the legislature commits to make meeting them mandatory. Vermonters deserve this level of transparency from their elected officials regarding a policy that its proponents admit will turn our economy and our way of life on its head.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.


February 13, 2020

by Rob Roper

The House Education Committee is busy formulating the next steps in what is and has been a long-term, hostile takeover of a cottage childcare industry by a state-sanctioned, taxpayer funded monopoly. The ultimate goal of state childcare/early education policy is the full absorption of 0-5 year-olds into the public school system. This is why the committee now describes as the “backbone” of its current pre-k bill the requirement that in the near future, all early education providers must be licensed teachers. 

However, the entire premise of this concept is flawed – is, indeed counter-productive to the public interest — and is being forced by the committee’s leadership for the sole purpose of benefiting the NEA (teachers’ union).

The argument put forth by committee chair Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) is that the presence of licensed teachers results in better student outcomes. She and vice-chair Rep. Peter Conlon (D-Cornwall) repeat this talking point early and often. But, it’s not true. The VT Agency of Education’s own Pre-K study concluded:

… this body of research does not offer a consistent pattern of findings that would lend strong support to the assertion of a positive association between teacher qualifications and outcomes for PreK children…. [And,] the research has not documented a reliable association between teachers’ attainment of a bachelor’s degree and gains for children enrolled in such classrooms. (Page 52)

To repeat: Neither requiring a teacher’s license nor a bachelor’s degree for early ed providers shows any detectible impact on child outcomes. Yet, forcing this policy on providers would both increase the cost of child are and decrease accessibility – the very problems the system needs fixed!

The higher cost necessary to train licensed teachers would be reflected in the cost of childcare services, and since not all current providers would take the time and expense to get that license, there would be fewer qualified providers (which would again lead to even higher costs as decrease in supply increases scarcity, which increases cost….) All this — and this is the critical point — FOR NO REASON. There is no benefit to the child. Just the Union.

If the House Education Committee was working on behalf of kids, parents and their communities, their efforts would be aimed at removing barriers of entry into the marketplace for would-be childcare providers in order to increase accessibility, and removing unnecessary requirements and regulations that drive up costs. They are not doing this. They are, in fact, doing the opposite.

As the last major legislation spearheaded by the House Education Committee, the 2015 school consolidation law Act 46, proves over time to be an unmitigated disaster, the former House Education Committee chair, Dave Sharpe (D-Bristol), admitted in a recent op-ed that he and his fellow legislators were “hoodwinked” by false promises and premises presented by the public education lobby. His successor has not learned that lesson, and she and her committee are being hoodwinked yet again. And, again, Vermonters will pay a steep price for their incompetence.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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February 10, 2020

by Rob Roper

In a recent interview with VPR, Rep. Tim Briglin (D-Norwich), who chairs the House Energy & Technology Committee, admitted that the state has no strategy for reducing carbon emissions. “Right now, we are kind of throwing spaghetti against the wall: A little energy efficiency measure here, some electric vehicle incentives here.” But, those “little” bits of non-strategic pasta add up to as much as $200 million in taxpayer spending. Every year.

For a little state with about 320,000 taxpayers, that is a TON of money. 

This is twice as much as we spend annually repairing our roads (about $100 million). It’s four times as much we spend protecting and cleaning our waterways (about $50 million). It’s eight times as much as we spend to support our state colleges (about $25 million). It’s roughly equal to our annual public pension liability, which is considered to be in crisis.

It’s more money than we generate through the entire rooms & meals tax ($175 million), and about half of all we generate through the sales & use tax (around $400 million).

In an update to his constituents, Senator Corey Parent (R-Franklin) broke down the numbers follows: “We spend about $79 million in efficiency investments, most of which are directed to electrical efficiency from Efficiency Vermont and other Efficiency Utilities. We spend about $74 million in what I would categories as energy transformation and $4 million on electric vehicle and electric vehicle infrastructure incentives.” Parent cites another $80 million for “public transit and commuter-friendly infrastructure in the Agency of Transportation.”

And for this $200 million spent annually on trying to prevent climate change, we haven’t achieved much in terms of results. Our statewide CO2 output is about the same as it was in 2007, and our impact on global climate trends is and always will be nil.

So, here is a question for Vermonters: do we want to continue throwing this vast amount of public resources (and potentially a lot more if things like the Transportation Climate Initiative, the Global Warming Solutions Act, the Green New Deal for Vermont, and Act 250 reforms currently under discussion become law) on an entirely symbolic gesture of virtue signaling that achieves zero measurable results? Or would those dollars better be used somewhere where they could actually make a difference in improving our citizens’ lives?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 


February 7, 2020

By David Flemming

While Vermont has less of a problem with racism at school than many states, it is still a problem. Recently, some Vermont “experts” have begun trying to discover ways to minimize racially based conflict at school. That sounds good, but to embrace a comprehensive perspective, we cannot afford to only invest in top-down solutions. We should put parents and children in the driver’s seat of their education, and allow them to find the schools which they judge to be most amenable to each specific child’s education. School choice can be used to fight racism in Vermont schools.

Governor Scott signed a bill in 2019 with the stated goal of more “ethnic and social equity in schools.” A few months later, a 20-member Ethnic and Social Equity Standards Advisory Working Group was formed “to develop educational standards and changes in state law aimed at creating a bias-free environment in schools, and instructional materials aimed at educating students about issues related to bias and inequality.”

I was in the Vermont education system from 2006-12 from 6th to 12th grade. It seemed to me that my teachers did a good job of facilitating discussions around racial differences in a way that challenged white students to consider ways they could challenge their preconceived notions of race. But then, I was not a minority student.

Last December, a mother in her thirties (who shall remain nameless to protect the identity of her child) had a first-grade boy who was attending Cabot School. She wrote this troubling Facebook post. “It started with a sledding incident, i.e. normal playground politics, where a classmate was continually cutting in line. The responsible adult who should have been there to mediate lost control of the situation and my son pushed the other child down. He then had in-house suspension, cutting his recess short. Then he missed his computer lab time (which he adores). They left him in a room, with a blank piece of paper.”

She continues, “my son at this point is very sad/upset at this consequence. While sitting there he drew, as he usually does, a graphic scene with a chain saw and Zombies. He’s a 6-year old boy. The principal called us and deemed the drawing a “violent depiction” and treated it as a threat to the entire school. She suspended our little boy for the maximum amount they can, without calling a meeting first.”

The mother said she “believes if he was white, a 10-day suspension would not even been remotely considered.”

When I was 6 years old boy, I didn’t draw zombies. I drew Vikings, gun-toting villains and satanic images. I even threatened to spray Windex in a kid’s eyes when I was 7 years old. Perhaps if I had been a 6-year old minority at Cabot School, I would have been labeled a violent delinquent who made a threat with a “gun.” Instead, I had to spend 30 minutes in a time out for the Windex Incident.

How did I turn out? That initial burst of exuberant childhood creative freedom was directed into more socially acceptable means of expression later on.

Boys of all races have always done things like this. And unfortunately, it appears that minorities are more likely to be punished. As a society, we are teaching everyone “if you see something, say something.” This applies to unaccompanied luggage that has already been scanned at the airport, any unsolicited phrase that could be construed as sexual, or even violent zombie drawings. Unfair as it is, minorities will still tend to get called out for such trivial offenses.

If we assume that minorities will be punished when, “sees something they sees as threatening, and says something” in a state that is 90% white, what is more reassuring: to hear that some really smart people are going to spend years studying an issue? Or to hear that minority parents’ will be able to determine for themselves whether they ought to put their child in a new school, so as to receive less racially biased treatment?

I am talking about school choice. If Vermont’s leaders are serious about fixing racial biases, they ought to preserve the means by which minority (or any) parents can choose for themselves. Act 46 will make that increasingly difficult, but there are still ways it can be done if we realize how important protecting choice is.

Perhaps we could study the data behind the number of students leaving certain school for others in Vermont. If there appears to be a large number of minority students leaving one school through school choice, that may be an indication of some underlying racial concerns.

No government can completely control the millions of interactions that go on across Vermont public schools throughout the day. The best learning and social interactions take place spontaneously. If we try to restrict those spontaneous interactions for fear that they will lead to something uncomfortable 0.1% of the time, we will severely stunt our children’s growth.

That’s why the best backstop for uncomfortable situations is school choice. We don’t have to put all our eggs in one basket with some “new and improved” curriculum. We can diversify into various school choice initiatives aimed at empowering children, and give them the tools they need to build themselves, and our communities, a better future.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute


February 6, 2020

By David Flemming

Under the GWSA, Vermont looks to continue its crusade to end climate change. But such weapons are far more likely to be turned on Vermonters than to actually impact the climate.

On Wednesday, January 29, House Judiciary Committee asked for advice about the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) from Robert McDougall and Laura Murphy, who work under VT Attorney General TJ Donovan.

One of the most insightful observations about the GWSA came from Rep. Matthew Trieber (D-Rockingham) “This is one of the most broad pieces of legislation I’ve ever seen. And I say that as someone who signed to the bill. I’m having a hard time seeing how someone wouldn’t be injured.” Kudos to Triber for being willing to critique a bill that has his name on it.

Let’s go down that rabbit hole for a moment. The GWSA is “broad” in the sense of transferring law-making authority from the Legislature to the executive bureaucracy and the judiciary. The only limit to this ‘transferred’ authority must be found under a GWSA “legally enforceable system by which Vermont will reduce its statewide greenhouse gas emissions.”

And this ‘limit,’ is really no limit at all.

After all, can we identify any Vermonters who aren’t being “injured” by climate change? As Rep. Trieber admits, the state would “have a hard time” showing there is no “injury” to a Vermonter grappling with the many environmental and economic downturns we can blame climate change for.

Such being the case, anyone who sues the state will have every reason to suspect they will be successful. That is, in recovering their attorney’s fees in order to get the state to achieve Vermont’s stated goal of 80-95% reduction from 1990 greenhouse gas levels by 2050.

We are being led to believe that reducing Vermont’s carbon emissions must be accomplished at all costs. This is the supposedly sensible limit to the ambition of the climate lobby and their legislators. For sake of argument, let’s say we get that 80-95%. To be generous, let’s grant that Vermont achieves net 0 carbon emissions by 2050.

And yet, will Vermonters be shielded from the consequences of the supposed “injury” once we reach net zero? For two reasons, the answer is a definitive NO.

First, if we accept the linkage between carbon emissions and climate change, collective action still remains a problem. All 200+ countries in the world produce some level of carbon emissions. Even if a majority of countries to reduce their emissions, Vermonters would still suffer the consequences of climate change regardless of what Vermont’s Legislature does with our 0.1% share of emissions. Who gets elected President won’t change that. And yet, if these countries do not act, Vermont’s government and by extension, the taxpayers, will be liable for whatever attorneys fees a judge thinks are appropriate under the GWSA.

Second, net zero in 2050 will not be enough. Vermont has put thousands of pounds of carbon emissions into the atmosphere during the past couple centuries. It would become our mission to “draw down” those emissions using mandates for planting vegetation and engineering soil that will suck our ‘debt of past emissions’ from the atmosphere. Such measures have been discussed at the Legislature in recent years.

The Global Warming Solutions Act is a draconian anti-democratic piece of legislation. And yet, even such a drastic measure will not begin to remove the “injury” which can be used to justify suing the state under the GWSA. Is Vermont ready to mortgage our economic future on a climate crusade, when the goal we aim to achieve is something almost completely beyond Vermont’s control? Especially when such bills subvert the representative democratic process?

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute.


February 5, 2019

by John McClaughry

According to the school newspaper, students at prestigious Oxford University in the UK have been occupying St. John’s College since Wednesday in protest of the school’s investments in fossil fuels. Dozens of students have reportedly set up camp in the front quad with signs and banners, vowing to remain until their demands are met.

Two of the students sent a stern letter to the manager of the school’s financial affairs, Professor Andrew Parker, demanding that the college declare a climate emergency and immediately divest from fossil fuels companies

Professor Parker responded, “I am not able to arrange any divestment at short notice,” he wrote. “But I can arrange for the gas central heating in college to be switched off with immediate effect.”

According to the Times of London, one of the students wrote back criticized Parker for not taking the matter seriously. Parker responded, “You are right that I am being provocative but I am provoking some clear thinking, I hope. It is all too easy to request others to do things that carry no personal cost to yourself. The question is whether you and others are prepared to make personal sacrifices to achieve the goals of environmental improvement.”

The student leader replied that, “It’s January and it would be borderline dangerous to switch off the central heating.”

Yeah, right, more climate hypocrisy:. Let somebody else suffer to save the planet.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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