July 15, 2019

By David Flemming

What public policy has the best chance of convincing 20-somethings to stay in Vermont?

A) Adopting a $15 Minimum Wage

B) Passing Paid Family Leave/ Payroll Tax

C) Exempting those age 25 or younger who make $22,000 (or less) annually from Vermont’s income tax

If you answered A or B, you might be right, if you could create never-ending, well-paying jobs out of thin air. If you answered C, you might be on to something! This is in fact, exactly what Bernie Sanders’ fatherland of Poland has decided to do. They trashed their “personal income tax for young employees (25 or younger, earning less than $22,000 a year), as part of a drive to reverse a brain drain and demographic decline.”

Wait a minute, isn’t fewer young workers the thorniest problem Vermont is currently facing? Vermont has nearly 5 years on the average American’s age. How would such a proposal work for Vermont?

While most young Vermonters making less than $22,000 are already eligible for the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC), there is one important difference. Everyone pays taxes on their income throughout the year. However, you can only get these taxes back if you file your income tax with the IRS and VT Dept. of Taxes. And since part-time, low-income students making less than $10,000 annually are not obligated to file, they often choose not to, gifting Vermont’s government the income they could receive with an income tax refund.

Even low-income young Vermonters who get a large refund after filing would likely prefer to have a steadier income throughout the year. Income volatility is one of the chief predictors of financial hardship. Scraping by in 11 months of the year in hopes of receiving an unknown large tax refund annually fits that scenario all too well.

Regardless of our income levels, it is human nature to spend through cash windfalls quicker than income we receive on a regular basis. And since we build our financial habits when we are young, relying on tax refunds as opposed to slightly higher incomes with every paycheck can have financial reverberations well into many a young Vermonter’s future, even after their first raise that pushes them into the middle class.

Low-income earners should not have to deal with the complexities of the US income tax system until they reach a certain standard of living. This is why all Vermonters 25 or younger making less $22,000 should be exempt from Vermont’s income tax. While such Vermonters would still have to pay 6.2% of their paycheck for the previous generations’ Social Security and 1.5% for Medicare, they would no longer be forced to pay Vermont’s 3.3% income tax.

A recent UVM grad washing dishes for$22,000 would receive $660 extra over the course of the year, without the added stress of filing a state tax return. That’s a small chunk of revenue our government can afford to forgo, with potentially large long-term dividends. Especially if those 20-somethings see that tax exemption as a peace offering from our government, and decide to make Vermont their long term home. This is a chance for Vermont to get younger for pennies on the dollar.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

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August 14, 2019

by Rob Roper

Many news stories and opinion pieces in the Vermont media are opining about a rise in racism around our state and perhaps the country. In fact, you can’t turn on the news these days without hearing the term “white nationalism” ten times in five minutes.

Our Attorney General, TJ Donovan, just took part in a Hate-Free Vermont forum in Rutland, one of a five part series being held around the state. Governor Scott just appointed Vermont’s first “executive director of racial equity” who will “work with state government agencies and departments to identify and address systemic racial disparities….” Schools from elementary to college are routinely protesting or making us “woke” to the ubiquity racial injustice.

So, what’s the result of all of this? Studies in behavioral economics can give us some insights, and, if there really is an uptick in racism it’s probably because of, not in spite of, all the activity outlined above.

Professor Robert Cialdini did an interesting study in Arizona’s Petrified Forest National Park. At the time, visitors were stealing pieces of petrified wood as souvenirs, and officials needed this practice to stop or it would do irreparable harm to the park. So, Cialdini’s team tried different advertising messages on visitors to see what could reduce the behavior.

The first campaign warned, “Your heritage is being vandalized every day by theft losses of petrified wood of 14 tons a year, mostly a small piece at a time.” It had quite an impact. The percentage of park visitors stealing wood jumped from 5 percent to almost 8 percent – a nearly 60 percent increase.

Why? Because informing the public that lots of people who visit the park steal petrified wood had the effect of normalized the behavior. Even though the behavior was clearly considered bad, if “everybody’s doing it,” then, psychologically speaking, it becomes socially acceptable.

The campaign that succeeded in reducing the removal of petrified wood portrayed the thieves as lone actors and social outcasts.

So, if we apply this lesson to solving the problem of racism, creating the impression that racism is everywhere and everyone’s a racist and racism is on the rise is probably about the worst possible thing one could do. This is the proverbial throwing of gasoline onto the fire.

If you really want to reduce racism, the way to approach the issue is to portray racists as few, far between, socially isolated, and laughable. And this shouldn’t be hard to do. The actual number of KKK members, neo-Nazis, etc. is, thankfully, incredibly small. Recall that the Unite the Right rally on the one year anniversary of Charlottesville attracted twenty or thirty kooks from around the country whereas thousands came out to protest against them.

To solve the problem, that’s the story (and those like it) to emphasize.

Only if your objective is to stoke racial tensions and exploit fear while appearing to oppose racism for political purposes, or to sell newspapers or air time, or to fundraise, should you keep pushing the narrative that the twenty nuts who showed up in Charlottesville have become a national army of bigots poised to take over the world.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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By John McClaughry

In the wake of horrendous mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, leading political figures are once again demanding sweeping measures of gun control.

Former VP Joe Biden, the front runner in the Democratic Presidential pack of twenty, said on CNN that he favored a ban on “military style rifles” He acknowledged that there’s no legal way of confiscating such rifles from private owners, but “we can, in fact, make a major effort to take them off the street and out of the possession of people,” suggesting a voluntary buyback program.

Beto O’Rourke called for mandatory buyback and national gun licensing. Sen. Corey Booker proposed to “crack down on firearms manufacturers and gun dealers.”  Other candidates called for the usual examples of “bold steps to stop gun violence”, such as universal background checks, lengthy purchase waiting periods, and magazine bans.

President Trump recognizes that guns don’t pull their own triggers, manufacturers and dealers can’t be held responsible for making legal sales to qualified buyers, and universal background checks do not stop a determined lawbreaker from acquiring a gun in a country whose citizens have a constitutional right to possess three hundred million of them.  (The El Paso and Dayton shooters passed their background checks.)

Instead, The President and Republicans are focusing on identifying, dissuading and disarming disturbed and hate-filled individuals before they can commit their murders. That approach has its difficulties. Who exactly are those individuals? How far along do they have to be in their plotting? What evidence is necessary to allow a prospective infringement of a constitutional right?

Last year the Vermont Supreme Court held that planning for a mass murder, acquiring the means to do it, and casing the target,  absent  some concrete step to initiate the act, does not add up to a criminal offense. This was the Jack Sawyer case in Fair Haven.

The 2018 legislature responded by passing – unanimously in both chambers – Act 97. This “extreme risk protection order” or “red flag” law allows law enforcement to dispossess a person of firearms or explosives for up to six months, if a judge finds that the person poses an imminent and extreme risk of causing harm to himself or others.

To the legislature’s credit, it paid careful attention to the due process rights of the person involved. A “red flag” order can issue only after notice to the respondent and a hearing.  The petitioner has the burden of proof. The evidence must be clear and convincing. The accused can appeal, and whoever makes false statements to harass the weapon owner is subject to fine and imprisonment. These provisions won at least the tacit acceptance of the firearms defenders who furiously opposed the actual gun control measures contained in the companion bill that became Act 94.

The President and his allies plan to give grants to 33 states to in effect bribe them to enact a “red flag” law. Bribing and threatening states is definitely not good Federal practice. Trump is resorting to it only because the Federal government lacks the constitutional authority to enact a law taking firearms away from persons who have committed no crime.

The big challenge here is to locate and get inside the head of a prospective mass murderer, to influence him to decide against committing the act. That’s a task for psychiatrists, but it’s well known that mass shooters often crave publicity, whether they live or die in the act.

Here’s a suggestion that I offered four years ago after the Charleston church murders. Suppose the prospective shooter knew that after he died at the scene of the crime, or after his capture, trial, conviction, and death by hanging, his lifeless body would be subjected to the Berkeley Rule.

This is attributed to Sir William Berkeley, Governor of Jamestown Colony during Bacon’s Rebellion of 1676. According to historian James D. Rice, one rebel “was suspended in chains on the gallows, left to die of thirst, starvation and exposure, then to decay in public view, his rotting corpse and bleaching bones a monument to the fruits of treason.”

In this age, the prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment rightly prevents mistreating a live person, no matter how wicked. Thus only the corpse of the shooter would be suspended at some crossroads, for a year of decay in an iron cage. After that, the rotting remains would be thrown down an old mine shaft, where a catwalk across the opening would afford citizens the opportunity to relieve themselves upon his memory.

That will strike some people as disgustingly medieval. But as I conceded then, some notoriety-seeking mass shooters might not care what became of their corpses, but at least some would think twice about having their remains suffer the Berkeley Rule.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).

 

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August 12, 2019

by Rob Roper

For the past year or two, Vermont public schools have become increasingly, overtly political in the indoctrination of students to a political agenda. We have seen several examples of students walking out of class to protest climate change, gun control, and “social justice” issues, often if not always with the encouragement of the faculty and administrations.

Back in May, True North Reports put out a story, Vermont Youth Lobby using taxpayer assets to carry out student activism, chronicling how Harwood Union assets were improperly used in connection with a climate march on Montpelier.

On May 3, the group’s Join Us page read had a sign-up form that read at the bottom, “This form was created inside of Wwsu.org.” The Wwsu.org domain name is the website of the Harwood Unified Union School District….

Since WWSU is a school district, and therefore a taxpayer asset, the use of the wwsu.org internet system makes it appear that the state is supporting the activism of the Youth Lobby….

Also appearing on the Youth Lobby’s Join Us page is the group’s contact phone number. On a different page for the group’s “third planning meeting” in spring of 2016, that same number is listed as the number for Matt Henchen, an “adult mentor” to the group whose email address is listed as a wwsu.org address — another taxpayer asset

On August 1, the Brattleboro Reformer reported:

Kurt Daims of Brattleboro has been pushing for the issue of climate change to be discussed during every Windham Southeast School District meeting.

“That’s the way that recognizes the feeling of emergency I think many people in the public have,” he told the school board last week, “so that they can be assured that like national security during a wartime, which the climate crisis approaches, it’s always on the agenda for them to address.”

A nonbinding resolution to include agenda items on climate change at every meeting had been proposed by Daims and approved at the annual school district last month. His motion was amended to also direct the board to make decisions with an eye toward economic, social and racial justice.

Last Wednesday, the Windham Southeast School District Board of Directors approved a motion to establish a policy that would create a climate change council to advise on sustainability issues….

This isn’t an educational mission; it is political indoctrination.

If schools want to have a political mission, that’s potentially fine. But only if the parents of children are okay with it, and, if they are not, have the option of sending their kids somewhere else. Somewhere that reflects their own values as opposed to those of these left-wing ideologues. Or maybe even a school that focuses on reading, writing, arithmetic, and teaching kids how to think, not what to think.

Rebecca Holcombe, former Education Secretary and, so far, the only Democrat to enter the 2020 gubernatorial race, launched her campaign accusing Governor Scott of pushing a statewide school choice program. He hasn’t, but in light of what’s going on in our public schools, maybe he should.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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August 8, 2019

by Rob Roper

So, Google hosted a three day summit on climate change in Sicily. Attendees, including the likes of Barak Obama, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Katy Perry, utilized no less than 114 private jets to get there. Makes you wonder if they really think spewing carbon into the atmosphere is all that catastrophic an activity.

More likely, what they believe is, yes, releasing carbon may be a huge problem, but my need (in this case to virtue signal at a swanky Mediterranean boondoggle) is justified because I’m, well, me and what I’m doing is important. It’s all you other common folk abusing fossil fuel for unjustified, unimportant purposes (like driving to work or getting your kids to school or staying warm in winter) who need a serious beat down.

A similar argument popped up Tuesday on the Dave Gram show as the host interviewed State Senator Anthony Pollina on, among other things, the topic of a $15 minimum wage. Gram noted that even our own Senator Sanders, supposed champion of the working stiff, is having trouble paying his campaign staff at that level. (Thanks, Dave, for the plug of my most recent column on the subject!)

Pollina shot back that if you want to work a 40 hour a week job and earn more than $15 an hour, then joining a political campaign “is not signing up for the right kind of job.”

And he speculated that most of Bernie’s staff are happy to be putting in the long hours for low pay “because it’s the right thing to do.” I guess the “Bernie Rule” is if the job is emotionally fulfilling (and, I guess, advances a progressive agenda) then the wage earned and the time put in shouldn’t be an issue.

Well, Pollina is right. Working on a presidential campaign, particularly if you want it to be successful, mostly means accepting long hours at low pay. What you get in return is a chance to do something you feel is important, and a tremendous experience to help build your network and your resume, and, if your candidate wins, there’s the potential payoff of a much more lucrative job in the future. It’s up to you to decide if risk/reward is worth it or not.

And here’s where Pollina’s myopic arrogance kicks in. Why doesn’t his Bernie Rule apply to a convenience store clerk, or a childcare worker? If you want to earn more money and work fewer hours you’re simply “not signing up for the right kind of job.” Do something else. Don’t blame or expect more from the employer.

Similarly, who is Pollina to decide what is “the right thing” for you, me or anyone other than himself? Maybe the opportunity to work with kids is what’s important to you, or maybe the chance to be in on the ground floor of a new business is what’s meaningful, or what’s emotionally fulfilling is to earn something rather than nothing.

Why is that this socialist politician believes only those who choose to work for a socialist political campaign should be allowed to decide it’s okay to work long hours for less money for the experience and/or the potential springboard to a better job down the road? It is a tremendously elitist not to mention hypocritical point of view.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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July 7, 2019

By David Flemming

Wallethub completed an extremely compelling survey which looks at the “best states for Millennials.” Vermont didn’t do too shabby, coming in at #13 out of 51 states and DC for those age 24-37! We ranked among the top 20 states for Education & Health, Quality of Life, Civic Engagement and Economic Health.

I am betting Vermont would be lower on Economic Health if Wallethub took into account our pension liabilities and recent credit downgrade, which are already beginning to eat away at our economic growth in the coming years. Regardless, the Affordability component paints a sobering, poignant picture of a Vermont that is out of reach to most Millennials.

We ranked #49 in Affordability for Millennials, coming in just ahead of the last 2 states, Rhode Island and Hawaii. The Affordability score is actually a composite score of several measures, including “monthly earnings,” “cost of living,” and “cost of housing.” The study did not elaborate on Vermont’s “monthly earnings” score, but I was able to find a Business Insider report on millennial income that uses Census 2017 data. Vermont’s Millennials made $38,000 on average in 2017, tied with Maine for the lowest Millennial median income in New England.

Even if you buy into Vermont’s high ranking for Education & Health, Quality of Life and Civic Engagement, I doubt that the half of the Vermont Millennials making $38,000 or less a year care all that much about such long-term considerations as education and civic engagement. If you can’t afford to live in Vermont, high voting rates and phenomenal education opportunities for your children don’t count for much.

Millennials living here can’t fully appreciate an education system and a more knowledgeable citizenry unless Vermont’s affordability improves. Millennials from other states are even more sensitive to such considerations. Vermont Millennials trying to find a more affordable house are put off by the moving costs and inconvenience may dissuade native from leaving. But out-of-state Millennials willing to consider a move to Vermont are even more sensitive to such concerns, eliminating Vermont from the running.

Vermont needs to fix its affordability problem.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

 

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August 5, 2019

by John McClaughry

Three senior environmental scientists have sent a letter to Dartmouth College opposing the planned wood-burning heating plant for campus hot water heating. The signers, all Dartmouth alumni, are

George Woodwell, founder of the Woods Hole Research Center

William Schlesinger, emeritus dean of Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment

John Sterman, professor at MIT and director of its Sustainability Initiative.

According to the Valley News, the three pointed out that “Burning wood chips could ‘substantially’ increase the college’s carbon emissions and worsen the effects of climate change. Forests are a major pool of carbon dioxide and globally store as much carbon as the Earth’s atmosphere. Carbon is released both when wood is burned and after a tree is cut through soil material and decaying plant material.”

“Whereas forests are renewable, it could take 100 years after cutting before they’re able to again absorb the same levels of carbon. We don’t want to cut forests and burn them up, dumping carbon into the atmosphere because it makes a problem, that is now desperately serious, much worse.”

What’s amusing about this is that the climate change warriors have always excluded wood from their carbon tax schemes,  because according to them wood burning is carbon neutral – new wood  growth eventually sucks back the carbon dioxide released from combustion. Now we learn that that takes a hundred years, and according to them, the planet will be ruined in twelve.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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August 2, 2019

By David Flemming

Vermonters are falling behind the rest of New England in terms of tax competitiveness and income growth. Thankfully, we haven’t used our legislators’ poor behavior as an excuse to live beyond our means.

Vermonters had a lower median household income than all other New England states, aside from Maine in 2017. Mass., New Hamp., Conn. and R. Island all had median household incomes that exceeded Vermont by at least $3000. You might think that such a huge gap in incomes might spell more bankruptcies in Vermont than elsewhere.

In fact, Vermonters are actually the least likely New Englanders to file for bankruptcy. Bankruptcies were 64% more common among New Hampshirites than Vermonters in 2017.

This could be for any number of reasons: differences in costs of basic living expenses, differences in costs of “must have” luxuries that encourage living beyond one’s means, or strong family and community structures that encourage mutual support.

Despite mounting taxes and stagnant incomes, Vermonters are resilient. If I had to guess, we resist the urge to purchase shiny new baubles that others say will make our lives better. Accordingly, we pay less interest on debt than our neighbors. Our legislators like to pat themselves on the back for being virtuous public servants. But if our pension crisis created by our legislators is any clue, perhaps it is we, the working class Vermonters who exhibit greater fiscal virtue.

There is a world of difference between Vermont legislators and Vermonters in general. Despite an antagonistic business landscape which discourages income growth, despite higher taxes, despite our legislators willingness to spend our tax dollars on unnecessary baubles, despite all of that…. we refuse to use such irresponsible behavior from “our brightest” as an excuse to buy debt-financed items that we don’t need.

As households, we are more financially responsible than other New Englanders, and more financially responsible than our own legislators who hold the public purse. It is time that our legislators learn that we, the taxpayers, know how to handle our money better than they ever could. They must regain our respect before they start asking for more tax dollars.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

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by Rob RoperRob Roper

Bernie Sanders’ rhetoric on the $15 minimum wage – rhetoric echoed by many politicians here in Vermont – just suffered a violent collision with economic reality.

For those who may have missed the story, Sanders pays his field staff minimum salaries of $36,000 a year, which would amount to slightly over $15 an hour for a forty hour work week. However, political campaigns are 24/7 operations, and staff members are putting in sixty hours a week or more, thus reducing their hourly wage to far less than $15 an hour with no overtime. The staff is crying foul.

Sanders is, of course, a leading advocate for a national $15 minimum wage and has made considerable political hay badmouthing employers like Walmart, McDonald’s, and Amazon with soundbites like, “The greed of companies like Walmart at the expense of working people will end.” Well, now Bernie is the one being accused by his own employees of being the greedy skin flint, forcing them to live on “starvation wages,” unable to make ends meet. According to The Hill, at least one individual has filed an unfair labor practices complaint against Sanders’ campaign.

So, what is the Sanders campaign to do?

Campaign manager Faiz Shakir pointed out that, the budget already being set, to raise the salaries for field workers would necessitate firing some of them. Sanders himself said the solution would be to cut back workers’ hours and cap them at forty-two per week.

This is an example of what the Congressional Budget Office warned would happen if a national $15 minimum wage went into effect: as many as 3.7 million low-wage jobs would disappear. Similarly, Vermont’s Joint Fiscal Office concluded that if the policy were adopted statewide, it would result in a net annual long term “disemployment” rate of 2250 jobs from 2028-2050.

The reality Sanders faces is that a business (and a campaign is in many ways like a business) can’t spend money it doesn’t have, nor it can’t make money appear out of thin air. If you pay some workers more, you have to pay some workers less – or nothing. You can increase the hourly wage by reducing total hours worked, but that’s not a financial benefit to the worker (though they would have more leisure time), and it would be detrimental to the main mission of the campaign, which is to win an election. The campaign could spend less on advertising, events, direct mail, etc., but that also would be detrimental to the primary mission of the campaign.

Victory is what donors, the campaign’s customers, are investing in. If you’re not running a high-quality, competitive operation – or, in other words, you are not putting out as good a product as the other candidates in the race — donors will go elsewhere and you’ll have even less money to spend on salaries and benefits. Of course, if the campaign fails then everybody will be out of a job.

Sanders probably feels misused by these ungrateful employees, and it’s hard not to sympathize with him on this score. After all, he is genuinely trying to do his best. $36,000 a year for a political field worker isn’t chicken feed. Plus, he’s giving them full health benefits. He encouraged them to unionize. (In fact, the salary and benefits package now under formal complaint was collectively bargained by the United Food & Commercial Workers Local 400. Now the workers forced to live under the union agreement think they got screwed.) And, he is providing them with a valuable work experience/resume builder on an exciting, national presidential campaign. In return, these campaign workers publicly humiliated the very entity that is the genesis of all their incomes. Shrewd.

Many of the excuses Sanders floats are the same as those he scoffed at when it was him leveling the charges of unfair labor practices. His campaign says, “We know our campaign offers wages and benefits competitive with other campaigns, as is shown by the latest fundraising reports.” True. Of course, McDonald’s offers wages and benefits competitive with other fast food restaurants. That didn’t keep Sanders from attacking.

One wonders if Bernie will have more empathy in the future toward businesses who, like he, are doing the best they can for their employees with the resources they have, even if that doesn’t live up to “progressive” ideological standards. More importantly, will Bernie’s followers in the Vermont legislature learn from this debacle and drop thoughts of passing a $15 minimum wage in 2020?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by John McClaughry

Under a directive from the Federal EPA, Vermont has spent $66 million over the past three years to cope with serious phosphorus pollution in parts of Lake Champlain.  State Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer has just released a Report on how that money is being spent, and the results obtained.

Before getting to Hoffer’s findings – which are very significant – it’s worth asking why the Champlain Basin has a serious phosphorus problem. Lakes surrounded by wilderness rarely exhibit such a problem.  Naturally occurring phosphorus in the soil leaches into waterways and lakes, and arrives at an equilibrium without creating the blue green algae blooms that have seriously reduced Lake Champlain’s water quality.

The problem arises when we humans add phosphate (usually from mines) to a watershed at a rate that nature can’t accommodate without unhappy effects. Why are we bringing in phosphorus?  Because it stimulates plant growth and improves nutrition of animals that eat the plants. According to the Auditor’s Report, 54% of the phosphorus entering Lake Champlain originates with agriculture.

Farmers spread phosphorus fertilizer onto crop fields. The crops, along with purchased phosphorus-containing feed, are fed to dairy cows to maximize milk yield. Dairy farms return manure to the fields, including the phosphorus that doesn’t leave with the milk.

As is often the case, we can thank the government for accelerating this process. Former Agriculture Secretary Roger Allbee reminds us that the Comprehensive Study of the Future of Vermont that was done after the 1927 flood stated that every farmer should apply at least 200 pounds of phosphorus per acre per year. In the 1950s the local agencies of the Federal Agriculture Department constantly promoted phosphorus addition to improve milk yields. Apparently nobody in that Department thought to ask where that phosphorus would end up.

Agriculture is, as noted, by far the biggest contributor to the problem. But homeowners and gardeners also make use of NPK fertilizer that finds its way into the Lake. So do dog owners. Phosphorus is a component of dog food (but curiously, not cat food). It would be prohibitively expensive and impractical to regulate or prohibit phosphorus usage by a hundred thousand homeowners, compared with hundreds of dairy farms and wastewater plants in the Basin.

The Auditor’s Report notes that the in the first three years since enactment of the Clean Water Initiative in 2015, the State spent “nearly $100 million, more than two thirds of it in the Lake Champlain Basin.” The legislature wisely required that spending to “achieve the greatest water quality gain for the investment.”

Alas, it didn’t. “Wastewater projects received the largest share of State clean water funding in the Basin even though the share of phosphorus pollution from this source is lowest by far. Wastewater projects account for 4% of phosphorus pollution, but wastewater projects accounted for 35% of expenditures.” The Report explains that two thirds of that spending was on low or no-interest loans from a revolving fund, and the remaining one third came from another fund “provided to help municipalities to pay back … the loans.” That is, the State gives you the money to help pay back the loan you got from the State.

One hundred thousand dollars spent on reducing agricultural phosphorus migration into the Lake captures 18 pounds annually (Report p. 17. Not a misprint). This most cost-effective result is the removal of one medium-sized Thanksgiving turkey of phosphorus! The data is complicated for wastewater treatment, but it’s a reasonable estimate that its capture rate is far below that agricultural level. The Report continues: “95% of all state clean water expenditures did not yield any measurable reduction in phosphorus.” Ouch!

So why are we spending any money at all on such amazingly ineffective projects? A major reason is that municipal governments that operate sewage plants are always aggressively seeking funding for operation, maintenance, upgrades and extensions. They knew where to go for the money, and got there first with their hands out. Never mind the legislative mandate about cost effectiveness.

In a commentary that appeared in February 2015 I predicted this would happen: “The State response now races far beyond the original problem – reducing phosphorus runoff into Lake Champlain. Now it includes the entire enviro wish list of ecosystem restoration, stormwater management, wastewater treatment, nutrient management, erosion stabilization, buffer zones, highway maintenance, and much more. A program for “reducing phosphorus pollution in the Lake” has become an all- inclusive environmental improvement program, with a new taxpayer funding source.”

Is there a better way to reduce the phosphorus loading of Lake Champlain by 34% in 20 years, as EPA and the state have agreed to do? Probably, but Montpelier officialdom has made its choices, and cost effectiveness has not been a leading criterion.

— John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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