by John McClaughry 

The March 20 Weekly Standard had a notable article  from Andrew Ferguson. It’s about the clash of politically correct University of California-Berkeley with the equally politically correct disability rights movement.

Since 2012 Cal has offered, for free, some forty thousand hours of quality video and audio college instruction recordings.

A deaf art teacher in Washington DC named Stacy Nowak went online to enjoy a Cal course called “Journalism for Social Change”. But she wasn’t pleased with the closed captioning on the course’s video. So she ran to the National Association of the Deaf, which took her complaint to the Obama Justice Department, which was absolutely delighted to go to bat for her under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

The Chief of Justice’s Disability Rights section issued a letter to Berkeley informing it that its inadequate captioning was an act of discrimination against the deaf, the school would have to pay compensatory damages to aggrieved individuals for injuries caused by the school’s failure to comply with the ADA, and if the school’s corrective actions were not satisfactory to the Department of Justice, the Attorney General may institute a lawsuit.

The school had its video department estimate the cost of changing the closed captioning on all of its offerings, and it came to around a million bucks. So now all of those high quality free college courses are gone – for good. No more discrimination!

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

 

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by Rob Roper

Art Woolf has an excellent column in the Burlington Free Press on Vermont’s high electric rates. One of the many good points he makes is about Efficiency Vermont and its impact on what we pay.

Advocates for Vermont’s energy policy – moving toward costly renewable sources – love to point out that Vermont has some of the lowest electricity rates in New England. This is, of course, like saying we are the among the shortest NBA teams. New England has the highest electric rates in the nation, and, when you include all 50 states Vermont is in the top ten. Where in the top ten? This goes to Woolf’s point, and the “Efficiency Vermont Deception.”

Efficiency Vermont, a non-profit quazi government agency that seeks to answer the question ‘how many bureaucrats does it take to change a light bulb,’ is funded through a 7% tax (they like to call it a surcharge; another deception) on our electric bills. It has an annual budget of around $50,000,000, so those pennies add up quick. Without counting that tax as part of Vermonters’ electric rate Vermont has the 8th highest cents per kilowatt rate in the country at 17.84 and the lowest in the region except for Maine. But when you do add the Efficiency Vermont tax to the cost – which we should because we pay it as part of the cost for electricity – we shoot up to 4th highest in the nation, and second highest in New England (thank God for Connecticut) at 19.24¢ per kilowatt hour.

Just FYI, the lowest prices are in Louisiana at 9.16¢ per kilowatt hour, less than half the cost of Vermont.

Woolf points out that other states have similar programs for helping customers reduce their electric usage, but they are funded by the utilities and not via a tax subsidized quasi-government entity. Efficiency Vermont isn’t. The program should be defunded and the money returned to the ratepayers.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by John McClaughry 

Last Monday Vermont Digger published a really fine article by Jasper Craven about the problems faced by Vermont dairy farmers. The occasion was a statewide meeting in Middlebury attended by Vermont Ag Secretary Anson Tebbetts, Senator Leahy, Congressman Welch, and the new Trump Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The meeting discussed , as always, the low prices for bulk milk and the problem of reducing the phosphorus runoff flowing into the north end of Lake Champlain, an estimated forty percent of which originates with fertilizer applied to dairy farm croplands.

But perhaps the most time was spent on the problem of finding workers for dairy farms. Several farmers noted that Mexican immigrant laborers are essential to producing milk nowadays, since white and black Americans simply don’t want to milk cows and move manure.

These immigrants, some of them illegal, are under the gun in Washington. But there’s an obvious solution, called the H2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers. The problem is the “temporary” part, which is designed for, say, Jamaicans coming to Vermont for a couple of months to pick apples, then returning home.

The solution is to allow Mexican dairy workers to come for longer than temporary stays, and work full time on dairy farms. Senator Leahy, who has favored this for four or five years, needs to push a bill through to at the least make Vermont a pilot program for H2A extension.

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

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by Rob Roper

Charles Murray’s aborted presentation at Middlebury College where he was violently chased from the stage has garnered much national attention. It has become the poster event for liberal intolerance on college campuses and opened up a wide dialogue on how educational institutions, indeed all of us, should deal with controversial points of view.

But two Cornell professors took an interesting approach to the issue in a study, which they discuss in an New York Times article, Charles Murray’s ‘Provocative’ Talk. In their study, Wendy Williams and Stephen Ceci sent transcripts of the speech Murray gave to a diverse but mostly liberal group of 70 college professors – without identifying Murray as the author – and asked them to rank how partisan and controversial the content was on a scale of 1-9, liberal to conservative. 57 responded and gave Murray’s work an average score of 5.05, or “middle of the road.”

Some professors said that they judged the speech to be liberal or left-leaning because it addressed issues like poverty and incarceration, or because it discussed social change in terms of economic forces rather than morality.

The professors did similar surveys with different populations, and even when Murray was identified as the author the speech received similar results. They concluded:

Our data-gathering exercise suggests that Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative. It is not obvious, to put it mildly, that Middlebury students and faculty had a moral obligation to prevent Mr. Murray from airing these views in public.

What this demonstrates is that people on the Left and on the Right really share many if not most common goals and interests, and that this sort of blind opposition is fueled not by intellectual disagreement, but blind hatred. Hatred that is totally unwarranted, unnecessary, and unproductive.

Murray’s book, Coming Apart, is really a plea and a plan for how we can come back together in the face of social and economic challenges. It’s a shame the folks at Middlebury refused to listen. They may have learned something not only about the issues of cultural and economic fragmentation, but also about the character and humanity of the people with whom they disagree. Good lessons both.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by Rob Roper

The chatter in the State House seems to think that the plastic bag tax (H.105) actually has some shot at getting a real hearing this year. In the past the concept has come in with a bang – a press conference by the usual suspects – and quickly fizzled. But, who knows, maybe this year will be the year! EAI has posted on the technical side of the plastic bag tax and ban proposals in the past HERE and HERE), so now I will offer a personal experience that I hope will prove cautionary.

Our get-away destination of choice is Cape Cod, and we spend a decent amount of time there. Recently the town of Chatham banned flimsy plastic grocery bags. Judging by what I’ve observed, the language of the law must be very similar H.105:

This bill proposes to prohibit a retail establishment from providing a single-use carryout bag to a consumer at the point of sale. The bill would also establish standards for reusable bags and compostable bags provided by retail establishments at the point of sale.

Now here the injustice of this: “single-use carryout bag.” Who doesn’t re-use those things all the time? I save and use them to line garbage cans throughout the house. I tuck a few in my suitcase when travelling for dirty clothes and shoes. When I take my dogs for a walk, I bring along a couple of these bags to pick up their poop. There are plenty of ways to re-use them.

However, last time I bought groceries in the Cape they did not give me one of these awesome little bags, they gave me a much more durable heavy plastic bag that met the criteria for the new law. It had separate handles, not just holes cut in the plastic. It had a defined shape, like a shopping bag rather than the amorphous grocery bag. And, it was made of a much heavier plastic, I guess to make it “re-usable.”

But the real world ramifications of this are that the new bags don’t fit in the trashcans around the house, and they’re too bulky to stuff in a pocket to take on a walk. Because of their sturdy handles you can’t tie them shut, so they don’t work as well in a suitcase for dirty clothes. Or, in other words, you can’t re-use the reusable bags the way you can the non-reusable ones. Thanks, government!

Moreover, it’s pretty clear that the non-reusable reusable bags take more energy and resources to manufacture than their banned counterparts. This policy is wasteful and contrary to the intent of the law. Let’s hope Vermont does not go down this foolish path.

And, just for fun, here’s an old picture of Vermont environmental activist Bill McKibben with his grocery cart full of plastic bags. If they’re good enough for him, they’re good enough for the rest of us.

mckibben_plastic-225x300

 

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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by Rob Roper

One of the arguments Carbon Tax proponents make to justify placing such a heavy burden on our citizens is that there is a need to add the cost of “negative externalities” to the price of using gasoline, home heating fuel, etc.

A “negative externality” is a cost that is created through the use of a product but is not born by the user or the producer. In the case of gasoline, home heating fuel, etc. this is defined as the cost society has to pay in response to rising CO2 levels. The argument goes that government should add that cost back into the product through a tax, forcing the user and/or producer to pay the “real” cost of the transaction.

Sounds fair at first glance, but, there are a number of reasons to think twice about the “negative externalities” argument.

First, the true cost of a negative externality is a very difficult number to calculate. The market determines the price for gasoline, for example, based on what a customer is willing to pay for a gallon versus what a producer is willing to sell it for. The compromise between those two forces determines the price. What’s the fair price of a negative externality? Especially for something like CO2 and its impact on climate change? The government essentially makes up a number. This is a capricious process that is genuinely ripe for abuse.

Second, many if not all economic activities have “negative externalities.” Building a house impacts the environment by cutting down trees digging up rabbit holes, etc. Planting an apple orchard or a field of corn. Putting up a wind turbine kills birds, bats. This list could go on forever…. But most of the time we don’t have a “negative externalities” tax for these things (though sometimes there are impact fees), and some cases we subsidize them. It’s totally arbitrary, which also makes this ripe for abuse. And do we want to set this as a moral premise for taxation?

And, finally, what about positive externalities? If it is public policy to tax negative externalities, isn’t it only fair to compensate companies for positive externalities – public benefits a product creates for which the company is not compensated. For example, oil helped save the whales, allowed for the reforestation of the continent, and contributed near doubling of the average human life span over the past century and a half. How do you put a price on that? We don’t. Should we?

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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By Rob Roper

This week saw a flurry of Carbon Tax Bills – four of them – hit the legislature in anticipation of potential passage during either a special legislative session this fall or in 2018. The shotgun approach to Carbon Tax policy seems to be a “throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks” strategy. If we cut property taxes will you support a Carbon Tax? No? How ‘bout if we cut the income tax? Still no? Sales tax? Please? Pretty please? No.

But here’s a big reason Vermonters should be very worried about these or any other Carbon Tax proposals: Asked why now is the time to move forward with a Carbon Tax, lead sponsor Rep. Johanna Donovan (D-Burlington and mother of Attorney General T.J. Donovan) said, among other things, “Because we are aware now that we’re going to have a special session in the fall. These will be revenue bills, and if indeed some of the draconian cuts we hear may be coming our way, these are things we could use to raise revenue.” [Emphasis added] (WPTZ, 4/9/17)

RAISE REVENUE! A.k.a. “collect more money” or “increase taxes.”

Later Donovan said that the proposed Carbon Taxes would be revenue neutral, “a wash”, meaning that other taxes would be cut to offset entirely any tax increase on carbon. But you can’t close a revenue gap created by “draconian cuts” with a revenue neutral policy because, well, math! You can only backfill draconian cuts with draconian tax increases. So is that what we’re really talking about here or not?

Either Donovan is misleading Vermonters about the true intent behind these new Carbon Tax proposals and they are really designed to raise a bunch of cash for Montpelier to spend, or she doesn’t understand what it is she and her colleagues are proposing. Neither alternative is comforting.

The question Vermonters have to ask is if politicians faced with a choice of giving money back to taxpayers or spending it on their cherished programs will ever, in the end, opt for the former over the latter. Rep. Donovan’s Freudian slip here has given us some insight into the answer.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by John McClaughry

Here’s some surprising news. The Democratic mayor of Baltimore, a black woman, vetoed a city council passed increase in the city’s minimum wage to $15 by the year 2022. The surprise is that Mayor Catherine Pugh was all for increasing the minimum wage when she won her election to that office last year.

She explained her veto by noting that raising the rate above the $8.75 an hour minimum that prevails in the rest of Maryland would send jobs and tax revenue out of Baltimore to surrounding counties. The increase would also have raised the city’s payroll costs by $116 million over the next four years when she’s already coping with a deficit of $130 million in the education budget.

Baltimore’s progressive element isn’t taking the veto lightly. One local lefty denounced her veto “an act of treason against the poor, the working poor, the underemployed, returning citizens, and single parents.” That’s true only if you’d rather have no job that pays an imaginary $15 an hour, or a real job that pays what an employer can afford and still stay in business.

Maryland’s minimum wage is set to rise to $9.25 in July and $10.10 a year later. That will cost some low-skilled workers their jobs, but not as many as a $15 mandate would. Mayor Pugh’s veto has dodged a speeding bullet for the city’s economy. Let’s hope there are more in other cities.

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

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by Rob Roper

The Joint Fiscal Office released its report on the Paid Family Leave bill, and the costs to implement the program far exceed the $79 million (0.93%) payroll tax on employees. We must also consider things like the costs to temporarily replace workers on leave and the administrative costs or complying with the program.

The estimated administrative costs amount will cost employers an estimated $5.5 million, or 7.5% of benefits. What they don’t mention is the expected cost resulting from fines for businesses that don’t, can’t, or improperly comply with the record keeping necessary to track workers’ time off.

JFO did not provide an estimate of what it would cost to temporarily replace all workers state-wide who take leave, but did estimate that the cost for state employees alone could be as much as $12.6 million in 2020 – if the average leave time does not increase with the new benefit, which is a pretty big “if.”

The state will also need to invest $2.5 million in a new IT system to administer the program. We all know how well state IT systems work and how often they are implemented at or under cost.

JFO also warns the long term cost of the program is not realistic and likely to increase substantially beyond what the 1% payroll tax cap set in the bill will cover. The proposed Vermont benefit is more generous than the other handful of state plans that already exist (100% wage replacement up to $52,000 while other states range from 55% to 90%, and 12 weeks for family care as opposed to 4-8, for example).

There’s more. Here’s the full Fiscal Note.

- Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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by Rob Roper

Representative Bob Frenier (R-Chelsea) is seeing and learning a lot in his new role in the State House — and he wants to share this news with the people of Vermont. He is creating a series of short videos titled “Real Vermont News” featured on Youtube and shared on social media.

EAI president Rob Roper is featured in two of these videos, the first discussion education and school choice legislation, and the second on the ramifications of Vermont passing a $15 minimum wage.

Take a look and share your feedback!

 

 

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Latest News

Cal-Berkeley’s Free Online Courses Go Offline

by John McClaughry  The March 20 Weekly Standard had a notable article  from Andrew Ferguson. It’s about the clash of politically correct University of California-Berkeley with the equally...

Efficiency Vermont’s Inefficient Effect on Electric Rates

by Rob Roper Art Woolf has an excellent column in the Burlington Free Press on Vermont’s high electric rates. One of the many good points he makes is...

Solving the Immigrant Farm Labor Problem

by John McClaughry  Last Monday Vermont Digger published a really fine article by Jasper Craven about the problems faced by Vermont dairy farmers. The occasion was a statewide...

Charles Murray’s Moderate to Liberal Middlebury Speech

by Rob Roper Charles Murray’s aborted presentation at Middlebury College where he was violently chased from the stage has garnered much national attention. It has become the poster...

Plastic Bag Taxs: A Real Life Story

by Rob Roper The chatter in the State House seems to think that the plastic bag tax (H.105) actually has some shot at getting a real hearing this...

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