June 5, 2020

by John McClaughry

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is creeping forward with the House-passed Global Warming Solutions Act. This is the legislative atrocity that would instruct the Agency of Natural Resources to do anything necessary to achieve carbon dioxide emissions goals that are almost certainly impossible of achievement  – all without any legislator ever voting on them. 

One particularly repugnant section would let any climate warrior organization sue the State government to get a judge to demand that the sweeping emissions rules be implemented further. Here’s what the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had to say about that:

“We oppose the section providing a Cause of Action to any person based upon the failure to adopt or update the plan or rules. In January we testified that our experience with the law suits surrounding the Lake Champlain Total Maximum Daily Load was that a tremendous amount of money was spent on lawyers and lawsuits that could have been spent on implementing projects to address the problem. For seven years while cases were adjudicated, the regulated community waited to be told what exactly they would be required to do. No one wanted to spend vast sums of money to address stormwater management when there was no assurance that what they did would be acceptable or adequate.”

This bill is designed to feed climate change lawyers, and send the bill to taxpayers. It’s high time to scrap the whole sorry thing.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020, BENNING AMENDMENT

FAILED
in the State Senate on June 3, 2020 by a vote of 
5-24

Purpose: The underlying bill, S.348, would remove the Governor from the decision making process of how to conduct elections during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearing the way to allow for a process in which “live” absentee ballots would be mailed to all registered voters on the statewide checklist, regardless of a request (roughly 500,000 ballots). The purpose of the Benning Amendment is to, under these circumstances, discourage the practice of “ballot harvesting,” a controversial practice in which campaign operatives and/or activists collect ballots from voters, often resulting in undo influence over voters, fraudulent filling out of ballots, and destruction of ballots. The key language in the amendment reads, “An early voter absentee ballot may be returned only by the voter; the justices of the peace who delivered the ballot, if applicable; or an authorized family member or caregiver acting in the voter’s behalf,” as well as defining criminal penalties if violated and mandates a civil investigation if there is reason to suspect this kind of fraud is occurring.

Analysis:  Mailing live ballots to 500,000 addresses for an election in which roughly 300,000 Vermonters are expected to vote will create a situation where 200,000 unclaimed/unwanted ballots are in circulation for anyone to collect, fraudulently fill out, and submit.

Those voting YES on the bill believe that with the unprecedented action in Vermont of mailing ballots to voters who did not request them, knowing that tens of thousands of names and addresses on the statewide voter checklist are invalid, people having died or moved away, and examples of “ballot harvesting” fraud occurring in other states, specific safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this from happening in Vermont.

Those voting NO argue “ballot harvesting” should not be prohibited in Vermont, and the practice will not lead to fraud.  

Senate Journal, Tuesday, June 3, 2020. “…Thereupon, the third recommendation of amendment was disagreed to on a roll call, Yeas 5, Nays 24. (Read the Journal, p. 682-684)”

Related: Roll Call! Senate Removes Governor from “All-Mail Election” Decision, 21-7 (2020)


How They Voted

(Click on Your Senator’s Name to Send an Email)

Timothy Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) – NO
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – NO
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – NO
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – YES
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – NO
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – YES
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – NO
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – NO
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – YES
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – NO
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – NO
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – NO
Debbie Ingram (D-Chittendent) – NO  
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – NO
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – NO
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – NO
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – NO
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – NO
James McNeil (R-Rutland) – YES
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – NO
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – YES
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – NO
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – NO
Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington) – NO
John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans) – ABSENT
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – NO
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – NO
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – NO
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – NO

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S.348 – AN ACT RELATING TO TEMPORARY ELECTION PROCEDURES IN THE YEAR 2020

PASSED
in the State Senate on June 2, 2020 by a vote of 
21-7 


Purpose: S.348 would remove the Governor’s right to approve emergency elections changes in consultation with the Secretary of State for the 2020 election made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Analysis:  The proposal in question would involve mailing as many as 500,000 “live” absentee ballots to every registered, currently uncontested voter in the state of Vermont regardless of the voter requesting a ballot. Governor Phil Scott (R) has reservations about the plan while Secretary of State Jim Condos (D) insists that it is both necessary and needs to be implemented immediately.

Those voting YES believe that in order to move forward with mailing all voters a ballot the check and balance currently required by law between the Governor and the Secretary of State must be removed. They argue that mailing all voters a ballot is the best way to maintain the ability of voters to participate in the election while protecting their health (discouraging congregating in large groups at polling places) as well as the health of election officials given the potential threat of COVID-19.

Those voting NO believe that the check and balance between the Governor and the Secretary of State should be maintained; that the proposal to mail 500,000 ballots is fraught with problems, including voter confusion, logistical problems with the postal service regarding the tracking and return of ballots sent to wrong addresses, logistical problems stemming from mailing thousands ineligible “voters” (people who have died or moved) who are still on the checklist; and the possibility of voter fraud on both large and small scales, such as “ballot harvesting” as the result of having as many as 200,000 unwanted/unclaimed live ballots “floating around” the state.

Senate Journal, Tuesday, June 2, 2020. “…Thereupon, the bill was read the second time by title only pursuant to Rule 43, and third reading of the bill was ordered on a roll call, Yeas 21, Nays 7. (Read the Journal, p. 649-650)”

Related:
Commentary: Vote by Mail Needs to be More Secure


How They Voted

(Click on Your Senator’s Name to Send an Email)

Timothy Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) – YES
Becca Balint (D-Windham) – YES
Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) – YES
Joseph Benning (R-Caledonia) – NO
Christopher Bray (D-Addison) – YES
Randy Brock (R-Franklin) – NO
Brian Campion (D-Bennington) – YES
Alison Clarkson (D-Windsor) – YES
Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) – NO
Ann Cummings (D-Washington) – YES
Ruth Hardy (D-Addison) – YES
Cheryl Hooker (D-Rutland) – YES
Debbie Ingram (D-Chittendent) -YES  
M. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) – YES
Virginia Lyons (D-Chittenden) – YES
Mark MacDonald (D-Orange) – YES
Richard Mazza (D-Chittenden-Grand Isle) – YES
Richard McCormack (D-Windsor) – YES
James McNeil (R-Rutland) – NO
Alice Nitka (D-Windsor District) – YES
Corey Parent (R-Franklin) – NO
Chris Pearson (P-Chittenden) – YES
Andrew Perchlik (D-Washington) – YES
Anthony Pollina (P/D/W-Washington) – YES
John Rodgers (D-Essex-Orleans) – ABSENT
Richard Sears (D-Bennington) – ABSENT
Michael Sirotkin (D-Chittenden) – YES
Robert Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) – NO
Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) – NO
Jeanette White (D-Windham) – YES

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June 3, 2020

by Rob Roper

Vermont is looking at a potential $430 million revenue shortfall for the FY2021 budget year. Dealing with it will require some hard choices that will hopefully lead to a leaner, more efficient, less intrusive state government in the future. Unfortunately, the first debates and public statements by Democrats running for Governor and Lieutenant Governor reflect a general desire to maintain the status quo ante COVID, relying on the old Leftist fall back: Tax the Rich!

Here are just a few of the challenges the next set of elected officials will have to tackle. Massive unemployment and the people who will need assistance, some estimates say as many as 30% of our restaruants will not survive the COVID shut down, the K-12 education system is facing a $160 million shortfall, the childcare industry has been devastated, the state college system is failing and will need an immediate infusion of $25 million just to stay afloat in the next year and likely much more after that, our hospital system has lost over $150 million, and tourism, one of our largest economic drivers, has been essentially turned off.

The notion that taxing “wealthy” Vermonters, those according to the candidates making over $250,000 a year, to cover the cost of addressing these issues is delusional for a number of practical reasons. As David Zuckerman said, “I’m one of the only candidates who’s talked about raising taxes on the wealthiest and we need to look at that for funding many of these initiatives,”

First of all, there just aren’t that many. According to the state income tax statistics for 2018, the last reported year, there are only about 13,000 tax returns reporting income over $200,000. (The state doesn’t break down the statistics at $250,000, so the number these candidates wants to tax is going to be much lower than 13,000. Just 5777 returns were for $300,000 and over). To force such a small segment of the population to shoulder this burden on its own is both unfair and unrealistic.

Second, Vermont already has one of the most progressive income tax systems in the nation at 8.95%. In other words, we already “tax the rich.” These folks ($200,000 income and up) already pay nearly half of all the income taxes paid in Vermont, $342 million, arguably already more than their “fair share.” Were these folks to cover the $430 million shortfall, it would require more than doubling their tax rates. Who’s going to sit still for this?

Third, many of the people who report this kind of high income don’t earn it every year. It is the result of a one-time event such as selling a property or selling a business. Often times, such a sale is to fund retirement. Are these candidates really going to tell someone who spent a lifetime building a small business, building its value, and are selling it to fund a well-deserved retirement that the state is going to confiscate a large chunk of that transaction? Why would anybody start and build a business in Vermont knowing that this was going to happen to them? Why would anyone invest in a home?

One certainly understands the political motivation behind this approach – tell most voters their lives will be unchanged, and the other guy will take the pain – but the policy would be devastating to Vermont. In the wake of COVID we need to attract more investment to our state, and, even before this economic downturn, need to attract more people to move here and put down roots. This would discourage both.

Vermont’s grotesque tax burden was a big reason why our state never really recovered from the Great Recession. This doubling down on a failed policy prescription will ensure an even greater failure to recover from this recession.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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By Rob Roper

Rob Roper

Due to the COVID-19 shutdown, Vermont has gone from one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country to one of the highest. According to the Vermont Commissioner on Labor, 90,000 Vermonters have applied for unemployment insurance. That’s out of a total workforce of about 340,000. As we come out the other side of this, putting policies into place that encourage rapid employment, capital investment in new and old businesses, and entrepreneurial creativity must be our number one priority. Policies that present obstacles to this must be set aside or removed. 

Even before COVID when the nation’s economy was booming, Vermont was struggling under the burden of high taxes and complicated regulation. So much so that in January the British financial magazine The Economist noted in an article titled, As wages grow across America, one state is left behind, that, “In the past decade Vermont’s gdp has grown at two-thirds the rate of America’s. Critics point to a mountain of red tape and regulation.” Because of that red tape and regulation, Vermont never really recovered from the last recession. This was bad enough then; it is unacceptable now.

Current estimates show Vermont facing as much as a $430 million budget shortfall for the 2021 budget year. We are looking at a potential 25 percent property tax increase to cover the prek-12 education budget. Potential tax increases discussed to fill the hole include increasing the 6 percent sales tax by a penny or two, expanding the sales tax to services, adding or increasing “sin” taxes to candy, sugary drinks, and tobacco products, taxing clothing over $150, and taxing “cloud” based services.

Respectfully speaking, this is not the way to go. Thinking of my barber, who has had to close her shop and forgo income for two months, is the legislature really going to tell her that as she tries to open back up she’s going to have to shoulder a massive property tax increase on her small Main Street shop and start collecting, tracking and remitting a new sales tax for which she will have to increase prices on her also financially strapped customers? This is not how to re-open an economy.

Additionally, the Vermont legislature has been hostile to people working as or employing independent contractors, even when both sides are desirous of the arrangement. This has to stop. The sad reality is that many businesses will not be able to reopen even when allowed. We are going to need new businesses cropping up in their place. People are going to have to be creative in finding employment for themselves and others, and the state is going to have to take steps to make it easier, not harder, for them to do so.

And, lastly, we need to reform our tax structure in such a way as to attract large amounts of private investment capital, which means allowing for competitive returns on investment. High up-front regulatory costs coupled with confiscatory tax rates – our current policy — is the opposite of how to do this. Vermont legislators have preferred an economic growth model of picking winners and losers, subsidizing with tax money the endeavors of the favored, and crushing with taxes and red tape the unwanted (at least according to them). This approach was failing before the economic crisis, and it is an impossible formula now.

It is, therefore, disheartening to see the Vermont Senate taking up bills like the Global Warming Solutions Act, as this bill’s purpose is to quash economic activity that results in greenhouse gas emissions – which is nearly all economic activity. If ever there was a wrong place and time for a piece of legislation, this is it.

Vermont has a reputation for being unfriendly to job creation. All the rankings put out by financial publications, tax watchdog groups, etc. place our state at or near the bottom. We must  move quickly to reverse both the reality and the perception of this or we’re going to be in real trouble for a long time.

Moving forward, helping people get back to work and rebuilding their financial security has to be the number one objective of every state policy, whether it is returning to an old job that’s coming back on-line, moving into a new job that didn’t exist before, or creating a job for one’s self where no other job is available. Every policy should be examined through that lens. 

If we continue down the policy path that choked off Vermont’s ability to recover from the last recession, we will never, ever recover from this one.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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By John McClaughry

A year from now Vermont state government will almost certainly look quite a bit different than it does now. We will hopefully have worked through much of the economic destruction of the COVID- 19 pandemic. State government will have pocketed and allocated $1.25 billion in Federal funds to cushion the pandemic’s impact, but that pot of gold will not be continually replenished.

Vermont, facing a $250 million shortfall in General Fund revenues for the fiscal year that starts a month from now, will have to rethink what it is and what it does. To undertake that task intelligently we must bravely launch a thorough-going Performance Review.

A Performance Review is not merely a process for squeezing out waste from the current operations of our $6 billion state government. Every administration proposes to take aggressive action to improve operational efficiency and squeeze out waste. 

The present administration, for example, is carrying on a Program Improvement for Vermont Outcomes Together (PIVOT).  It has generated a Program Modernization and Efficiency Plan “to identify and eliminate confusion, waste and duplicability (sic) in operational processes”. Under the direction of a very capable Chief Performance Officer, the administration is striving for “results based accountability” based on the answers to three questions: “How much are we doing? How well are we doing it? Is anyone better off”? 

Note that this jargon-rich process, like several feeble predecessors (such as the costly failure called “Challenge for Change” and an ephemeral  creation named GRORC), assumed that our state government  has properly become the Great Caretaker of Us All, charged with maintaining a prosperous economy, healthiness, cleanliness, sustainability, safety, nurture, education, family, caring for children and the disabled, and so on. These felicitous “population-level outcomes” were actually spelled out in the statute books in 2014 (3 VSA 2311). 

A Performance Review, by contrast, is not based on a foundation of expansive and expensive government serving as Great Caretaker of Us All. Performance Review is a careful and deliberate study by knowledgeable and disinterested people – not people who labored for decades to constantly create and expand government – of what state government is doing, how it does it, and how what the people want done can be done better and more efficiently. The goal is to balance over the long term the cost of state government’s programs and the revenue from taxpayers, without imposing regulations and taxation that would shut down economic growth, affordability, and revenue production.

In a more pointed formulation, a Performance Review asks “what are the core functions of government? How well is state government performing those functions? Are there better ways to achieve the same results, at less cost? What functions can be entrusted to a free people without invoking the governmental powers of regulation, confiscation, coercion, and prohibition? What should our state government just stop doing?” With my pro-liberty bias, I would add, “Are the activities of state government protecting or endangering our constitutional rights and liberties?”

The modern Performance Review idea has strong bipartisan roots. In the 1990s Texas Controllers John Sharp (D) and Carole Keeton (R) fed hundreds of cost-saving recommendations to Governors Ann Richards (D) and George W. Bush (R), saving Texas taxpayers billions. Michigan Gov. John Engler (R) was soundly reelected in 1996 due to the success of his review called PERM, for Privatize, Eliminate, Retain or Modify. 

In fact, the Vermont Democratic platform of 2004 pledged that party to conduct a “top-to-bottom ‘performance review’ of the functions of state government… to find creative, smart new ways to make government run more efficiently on the resources we have.” Unfortunately the Democratic legislature elected that year seems to have forgotten this promising proposal, but it’s not too late for them to catch up.

It won’t be easy to conduct such a review under the fierce and immediate pressure of a pandemic, huge looming deficits, and the ever –present resistance of special interest groups. But unless it’s done, the state government will from stumble haphazardly on through the recurring cycle of politically-driven program expansion, increased spending, revenue shortfalls, tax increases, and then expanding all over again until the next recession.

If the Democratic majority in Montpelier needs inspiration, they need look no further than their leader, Barack Obama. In naming his director of the Office of Management and Budget on November 25, 2008, the President-elect said: “We cannot sustain a system that bleeds billions of taxpayer dollars on programs that have outlived their usefulness, or exist solely because of the power of politicians, lobbyists, or interest groups. We simply cannot afford it. This isn’t about big government or small government. It’s about building a smarter government that focuses on what works.”

 – John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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May 29, 2020

By Aimee Stephenson, Ph.D.

As Vermont begins to re-open, I am hopeful to see more of my friends beginning to relax. Fear is a funny thing. Similar to our perceptions of risk and safety, fear is deeply personal. Getting over fear and moving toward a feeling of safety again is something each individual must reconcile within them self. But what will help us along the path to getting over our fears? For me, there are three things I find helpful. The first is learning more and gathering additional information to rationally and logically assess a situation. The second is knowing I am not alone in the conclusions I draw. The third is doing something with these ideas, which usually entails communicating with others. That is what I am attempting here.

Although it was only a few months ago, it seems like a different world when our political leaders justified their executive orders with phrases like “flatten the curve” and “abundance of caution?” Armed with only erroneous models and absolutely no real data, they declared a state of emergency to grant themselves enormous power with incredible latitude to exercise it. They claimed a “data-based approach” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Even now, with their models disproven, there is little attention given to the data we actually have from the pandemic. If our political leaders are earnestly taking a “data-based approach,” then why is it okay to ignore this data, and in doing so, subject us to irrational and absurd precautionary measures that continue to strangle the economy and demoralize society?

So what is the real data from the pandemic telling us? As tragic as the situations were in New York and Italy, we now know that 70%–80% of COVID-19 deaths occur among those over 70. This same data also confirms that the risk of death for the population under 50 years of age is close to zero. Yes, I am very aware there are some heart wrenching stories about younger individuals succumbing to COVID-19, but these cases are extremely rare.

The stark reality is that across the board, regardless of age, 93% of all COVID-19 deaths have been in individuals with an average of 2.5 pre-existing medical conditions. This is an incredibly telling statistic! Even with the older population, deaths are predominantly among those who are quite sick already, or at the very least, those who cannot be deemed healthy. If you are under 50 without health issues, you do not need to worry about the coronavirus any more than you worry about getting in in your car every day.

Yet the media and our political leaders would have you believe the opposite – not only is infection both imminent and probable, but if infected, death is almost a certainty. We have the data now to know this is an extremely unlikely scenario for the 71% of Vermonters who are 50 or under. While it is not clear how many Vermonters have pre-existing medical conditions, it is probably safe to assume many are healthy and would be unlikely to die from COVID-19.

There is a whole other side of data from the pandemic that relates, not to COVID-19, but to the economy and society. The unemployment rate has skyrocketed higher than it has been in nearly 100 years, millions of Americans are struggling financially, businesses of all kinds are at risk of closing, and our personal freedoms have been taken away and are severely threatened moving forward. We are at the mercy of a very small number of people hoarding enormous power, and as a result of their policies, suicide and child molestation rates are on the rise. And unlike COVID-19, the economic and societal fallout from the pandemic is both universal and pervasive. No one, not even the very rich, have been able to escape these impacts.

What’s even more horrifying is how little some around me seem to care about what we have lost and the real damages we have suffered as a result of the incredibly disproportionate and inappropriate reaction to the pandemic. I’m astounded by the complacency, and even more so, the willing submission in the hopes that the government will protect us from the coronavirus. Our government can no more protect us from an airborne illness than they could protect us from Hurricane Irene. Vermonters need to realize it is not the virus we need protection from but our own government. The evidence and despair are all around us on a daily basis, and no mask or 6-foot rule will save us from these policies.

Perhaps my situation is incredibly rare, but I don’t know a single individual who has had COVID, much less died from it. But I can say that 100% of my friends, co-workers and acquaintances have been impacted, some staggeringly so, by the economic fallout of the government edicts we are living under. Pointing to the incredible inequality in this country made starkly worse by the pandemic, Margaret Atwood recently warned that a “French Revolution” scenario is inevitable if the American political system does not change. Well I, for one, feel the proverbial heads should roll. Are there other rational and logical Vermonters who feel the same? We need to stand together and make our voices heard by the very few who are currently micromanaging our lives with what seems like an endless stream of dictatorial executive orders and addendums.

Your voice is urgently needed now so we don’t go any further down the “abundance of caution” rabbit hole. The re-opening restrictions are so severe, it’ll be a wonder if businesses of all kinds survive this unnecessary prolonging of the crisis. I am also appalled by the changes being discussed for schools in the fall, all in the name of “accommodating COVID-19 safety precautions.” School in shifts or entirely online, insisting kids wear masks, keeping desks 6 feet apart? These are completely absurd, irrational, and pointless guidelines. And lest us not forget, before it is too late, that these are currently “guidelines,” not outright laws. I fear legislation is right around the corner. Now is the time to speak up.

While I am hopeful my friends are relaxing, I am even more hopeful to see many of them shift toward anger and indignation over the current situation. More and more they are realizing there is little to fear about COVID-19, but there is a lot to be angry about. Our political leaders have perversely taken advantage of the power provided through “state of emergency” statutes. If anything productive comes out of this crisis, let’s hope it is a reform of these laws. Governors in other states are being sued over their stay-at-home orders, and many are losing. Look at Wisconsin. Whether our political leaders honestly believe they are protecting Vermonters or their egos are too big to admit their mistakes, they have painted themselves into a corner and this whole situation is an atrocity. The media and the political class are the ones we truly need to fear and the ones we need to protect ourselves from.

— Aimee Stephenson has a doctorate in Microbiology and Molecular Genetics from the University of Vermont (2001)

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May 28, 2020

by Rob Roper

The three biggest advocates of an all-mail-in ballot election are Democrat Secretary of State Jim Condos, Democratic legislators, and Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). The “election by mail” proposal they are pushing calls for mailing all active voters on the statewide checklist a “live” absentee ballot for the November 2020 election, regardless of the voter’s request.

Here’s the math. There are roughly 480,000 registered voters in Vermont, and in the 2016 presidential election year, which had a high turnout, just 67% of registered voters cast ballots (and many of those still on the checklist are invalid voters having died or moved away). This means that the Condos/VPIRG vote-by-mail proposal, if allowed to move forward, will lead to something like 160,000 unclaimed or unwanted ballots just floating around – for any unscrupulous actor(s) to collect, fill out, and mail in.

There are no meaningful safeguards or mechanisms in place to detect or track down, and therefore prosecute, anyone who illegally fills out an absentee ballot, or multiple ballots, in someone else’s name. As the St. Johnsbury Town Clerk Stacy Jewell admitted in a recent interview when asked if she had seen any cases of vote-by-mail during the previous election, “Not that we would know. Like I said, you’re not gonna know.”

So, who would take advantage of 160,000 “floater” ballots plus hundreds of thousands more confused Vermont voters suddenly receiving absentee ballots they didn’t request?

In January, VPIRG announced that they were forming a Political Action Committee, VPIRG Votes, described as the “political campaign arm” of the left-wing organization. According to VPIRG Executive Director Paul Burns, “The PAC would go door to door in the fall to canvass for [“pro-climate”] candidates and encourage people to vote, said Burns (VTDigger 1/21/20). And maybe help those confused folks to fill out their ballots and collect the unclaimed ones in the process.

A partisan PAC, organized for going door to door “encouraging” people to vote for just “pro-climate” candidates, after that same group advocated heavily for an all-mail election, looks an awful lot like a planned, systematic “ballot harvesting” operation.

Ballot harvesting is the process by which campaign operatives go door to door collecting absentee ballots and remitting them to polling places. In some states this is illegal, such as North Carolina where a 2018 election in that state’s 9th congressional district was invalidated due to the practice. In other states, like California, the practice allowed. In all cases it is unethical.

During testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee on May 26th, Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) asked regarding ballot harvesting in Vermont, “Is there anything to prevent an individual, could be a candidate or not, or a group or association, for offering to pick up completed ballots and bring them into their town clerk’s office or a polling place or to mail them?”

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters answered, after a long, awkward pause, “The current law does, I believe, allow for that.” So, ballot harvesters, start your engines!

If third parties were simply going around providing a service of collecting and handing in legitimate absentee ballots like some kind of volunteer postal service, that might be okay. However, in North Carolina collectors pressured citizens into voting for their preferred candidates, stole ballots and filled them out themselves, and destroyed the ballots of those voting against their preferred candidates. This is a practice easily abused.

More so when the chief election official of the state is in league with the probable perpetrator of the activities, blithely assuring the public that “there is no fraud in Vermont,” nothing to see here.

We have a situation here in which the special interest group, VPIRG, with a $2 million a year plus budget, is lobbying the legislature to pass a bill that will allow them to aggressively ballot harvest – legally and potentially illegally — on behalf of the majority party in that legislature, which is all too eagerly clearing the path for them to do so, with the Chief Election Officer of the state, also of the majority party, putting his stamp of approval on the scheme. On a party line vote, the Senate Government Operations Committee just moved a bill that would strip Governor Scott of his ability to block vote by mail.

Vermont already has a very easy absentee ballot program – by voter request — in place and allows for 45 days of early voting. 30 to 40% of Vermont voters already take advantage of this system. There is no need to mail every active registered voter a live ballot, flooding the state with unclaimed, unwanted ballots. If we are going to see a heavier reliance on vote-by-mail, either under the present system or the Condos/VPIRG scheme, Republicans and honest citizens should at least demand that “ballot harvesting” be made clearly, unambiguously illegal before November.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 26, 2020

by John McClaughry

Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time denouncing what I call the worst democracy-shredding bill in Vermont history. It’s titled the Global Warming Solutions Act (H.688), and it’s now before the Senate.

Here’s one particularly deplorable feature of the House-passed bill. If the Secretary of Natural Resources does an inadequate job of issuing sweeping and invasive rules to make Vermonters stop emitting carbon dioxide, the bill allows the Conservation Law Foundation to go to court, like it did in Massachusetts, and get a court order to demand that the Secretary issue even more sweeping and invasive rules.

And if the group bringing the suit substantially prevails in the court, the court is supposed to pay its legal expenses and send the bill to the taxpayers – even if nothing actually comes of this political fund raising exercise. 

What if the Secretary of Natural Resources, who works for the Governor, replies to the Court “we’re not going to impose more stringent rules because we think we’ve gone far enough in wrecking Vermont’s economy.”

Is the court going to sock the Secretary of Natural Resources, and the Governor, with a contempt of court citation, and fine them maybe $100 a day until they do something the court finds satisfactory? Like decree a climate change surcharge on motor fuel sales? Or shut down Thunder Road?

At this point no one really knows, and I assure you it is not worth finding out.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 22, 2020

by Rob Roper

As Vermonters struggle to figure out how to re-open our economy in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdown, the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy is taking up the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA) – a scheme that essentially would keep many aspects of our economy, those relying on fossil fuels, shut down in perpetuity. If ever there was a wrong time and wrong place for a piece of legislation, this is it.

Basically, what the GWSA would do is empower the Agency of Natural Resources to come up with and enforce “rules” designed to shrink the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to specific levels by 2025, 2030, and 2050, regardless of any collateral impacts and consequences. It would work by severely restricting or stopping entirely economic activity that produces GHGs, which is, of course, practically everything.

The Big Question(s) Vermonters deserve to have answered before this thing becomes law are: What would rules strict enough to meet the GHG reduction goals actually look like (spoiler alert, they will be draconian), how much would they cost, and what impact would they have on an economy desperately trying to recover from the COVID-19 shutdown? As of now, no formal economic impact analysis or cost assessment has been done.

Here are just a few examples of what kind of rules could ANR be empowered to implement to attain the GHG reduction goals outlined in the bill.

  • Ban ATVs, snow machines, pleasure boats, small planes and/or other fossil fuel base recreational vehicles.
  • Ban the use of wood stoves, fireplaces (and/or make it illegal to install these in new homes).
  • Ban backyard barbeques.
  • Ban fossil fuel powered lawn maintenance equipment such as gas powered leaf blowers (they tried this in Illinois).
  • Ban the sale of vehicles that don’t meet certain MPG requirements.
  • Ban the burning of yard waste.
  • Ban the purchase of fossil fuel based heating systems for new or renovated homes.
  • Require businesses and/or homeowners to purchase and install certain equipment to obtain licenses or permits.
  • Ban fossil fuel intensive entertainment events, such as racing at Thunder Road.

Use your imagination and you can probably come up with more.

When the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy debated this bill back in February, members asked some young witnesses how much economic “chaos” – their word — they would be willing to tolerate in order to bring about the goals of the GWSA. Needless to say, more economic chaos is the last thing Vermont and Vermonters need right now and in the foreseeable future – a point that seems lost on our elected officials.

VIDEO:

Bill Walk Through Part 1

Bill Walk Through Part 2

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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.
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