December 14, 2018
By Guy Page

Guy Page

A draft report released today by the Commission on Act 250 recommends the 2019 Legislature amend Vermont’s 1970 comprehensive development and land use law to:

  • Add ‘climate change’ as a criterion for project review and approval. “The goal would be to minimize emissions of greenhouse gases and ensure that the design and materials used in development enable projects to adapt to climate change,” the Commission said.
  • Prevent woodland development causing ‘forest fragmentation.’ “Protecting forest blocks [and wildlife migration corridors] not only protects the forests and their ecosystems but also relates to climate change because it protects areas that capture and absorb carbon dioxide,” the Commission said.
  • Encourage migration of rural Vermonters into compact urban centers. “The General Assembly should increase the alignment of Act 250 jurisdiction with the goals of supporting Vermont’s settlement pattern of compact centers surrounded by rural countryside and of protecting the State’s ecosystems and natural resources.”
  • Give Act 250 jurisdiction over development at Interstate highway interchanges.
  • Reactivate the executive branch Development Cabinet established by law in 2012 to ensure climate reduction throughout state government.
  • Require municipal and regional plans conformity to the new Act 250.

The Commission will meet Friday, December 14 at 10 at the State House to review this draft report. The final report is due to be presented to the Legislature next month.

Guy Page publishes the Vermont Daily Chronicle, an online news publication. He is an occasional guest on Common Sense Radio on WDEV, and Real Vermont News. This article reprinted with permission. 

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December 13, 2018

by Rob Roper

Florida experienced some very close statewide elections this cycle, including its race for governor in which Republican Ron Desantis edged by Democrat Andrew Gillum. The interesting and deciding factor in that race was that an unusually large number of African American women abandoned the Democratic (and fellow African American) candidate Gillum to vote for Desantis. Why? School choice.

The Wall Street Journal did an analysis of the race titled, “‘School Choice Moms’ Tipped the Governor’s Florida Race.” According to the Journal, Desantis won 18% of the black, female vote, which is considerably more than single digit level most Republicans usually get from African Americans. Not insignificantly, Desantis also won an impressive (for a Republican) 44 percent of the Latino vote, also credited in part to his support for school choice.

In Florida, more than 100,000 low-income students, most of whom are minorities, participate in the Step Up For Students program, which grants tax-credit funded scholarships that allow these kids to attend private schools. Apparently, the moms of these 100,000 were enough voters to tip a race decided by around 40,000.

For many minority communities, school choice is seen as “the civil rights issue of our time,” and in this particular case, a civil rights imperative even more important than electing Florida’s first African American governor.

There have been many news headlines in Vermont over the past several months lamenting the lack of diversity in our state. Yet, here we have the oldest, and I would argue, the most comprehensive and dynamic school choice system in the country. Maybe it’s time to shout that fact from the rooftops and let the country know of our role in “the civil rights issue of our time.” Maybe even expand the system that we have now. If we want more African Americans to see Vermont as a place that is welcoming, let’s lead on an issue they clearly care deeply about.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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December 12, 2018

by David Flemming

Four months ago, Vermont’s Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) demanded that Gifford Health Care present its finances to the GMCB on a more frequent basis. This scrutiny was the direct result of Gifford applying for a Certificate of Need after it had already begun construction on its Strode Independent Living complex in Randolph, VT.

Companies like Gifford must apply for a Certificate of Need (CON) before opening up shop or expanding healthcare offerings. A CON is a government-granted authorization to operate. And Vermont (not surprisingly) requires this onerous regulatory process more often than any other state, in 30 specific healthcare areas.

Are independent living facilities one of these 30 categories? Actually, no. Independent living facilities generally cater to the mobile elderly who prefer not having to travel far for their needs, but are able to take care of themselves on a day-to-day basis. The connection between these facilities and CON is tenuous.

GMCB claims that since Gifford is a healthcare company financially supporting several Vermont healthcare entities, the potential exists for Gifford to misallocate funds at Strode, and this might hurt the operations at other healthcare operations in Vermont. Therefore, so the logic goes, these tangential connections entitle GMCB to monitor Strode. Vermont CON law statute does not explicitly authorize GMCB’s claim, but since Gifford will likely have to work with its regulator in the future, fighting the GMCB probably would probably be counterproductive.

Gifford was far from secretive about its intentions. Dan Bennett, President and CEO of Gifford Healthcare, said that, while Strode did not begin the CON process before construction, Gifford had shared the idea for Strode with the GMCB.

And despite its criticisms, the GMCB found that Strode “addresses an identified need for senior housing.” This begs the question: why does Vermont need the Certificate of Need process at all?

We have already seen how CON laws raise prices for healthcare by increasing the regulatory costs in Vermont.

Gifford Health Care is responding to a need for an independent living facility in a state that grows older with each passing day. The GMCB’s attempt to use the CON process to chasten Gifford for senior housing that addresses, in its own words, “an identified need” too quickly is an example of all that is superfluous about CON.

This is what centralized healthcare looks like. A private entity’s decision to swim against the status quo is inconsequential to those with common sense. But the GMCB must suppress all small acts of rebellion like Gifford’s, lest other entities get the idea that they too can think outside the GMCB Box.

CON is a relic of flawed 20th century thinking. After blackmailing the states to adopt CON laws, the federal government began asking states to scale back their CON laws three decades ago after it realized how counteractive they were to better healthcare outcomes. Some states have listened. Vermont has not. Maybe it’s time we changed that.

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

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December 11, 2018

by John McClaughry

House Democrats in Congress are vowing to push gun violence legislation and funding for research with their new majority.

Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois says, “From listening to and speaking with leader Pelosi … gun violence prevention strategies and bills will be on the list of priorities.”

Kelly’s gun violence coalition, including some prominent doctors,  has called for funding the U.S. surgeon general to submit an annual report to Congress on the effects of gun violence on public health, and for federal legislation on universal background checks, among other ideas.

A recent study from UC Davis found that in the ten years following the implementation of California’s universal background check law, there were no changes in the rate of firearm or nonfirearm homicides — and while there was a decrease in firearm-related suicide rates, the same decrease was seen in nonfirearm-related suicides.

One leading gun violence researcher, Gary Wintermute, said that “A study like this one in California is going to be interpreted [as] background checks are useless, and that’s not what we’re saying,” he said. “What we’re learning is this policy, which makes intuitive sense, is not well implemented.”

So let’s cut through the spin here. The Democrats are keen on more gun controls to prevent gun violence, regardless of anybody’s Second Amendment rights, but the only thing they dare to come up with is more useless background checks, and requiring the surgeon general to make a report. This is all for show.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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December 10, 2018

by Rob Roper

Young people are flocking to New Hampshire. What do they have that we don’t? Or, perhaps the better question is, what does New Hampshire not have that Vermont does?

Governor Scott made Vermont’s demographic crisis a focal point, stating at one point that he would like to see our state population rise to 700,000 (from 620,000) by the end of a decade. Our population woes have been in the spotlight for a long time. The Ethan Allen Institute published Off the Rails, a warning on the topic, in 2006. However, no policy or set of policies since then has done anything to help the situation. We continue to age, we continue to lose working age adults, and, when they leave, they take their school age kids with them, so our K-12 population has dropped by 30,000 over the past two decades.

This is no longer the case next door in New Hampshire. Although our neighbor to the east did suffer a loss of young, working age people during and after the 2008 recession, now the Nashua Telegraph reports, Young adults moving to the Granite State. Analyzing census data, the Telegraph concludes that between 2013 to 2017, roughly 5,900 people moved to New Hampshire from other parts of the country each year, with a noticeable increase in the last three years. Moreover, the article states,

…the transformation was most significant among people in their 20s with an average annual migration gain of 1,200 between 2013 and 2017, compared to an average annual loss of 1,500 from 2008 to 2012. 

Additionally, during the same period, the net annual migration gain nearly doubled among people in their 30s.

So, how come New Hampshire is successful in seducing twenty and thirty-somethings while Vermont is one of only two states to see a net decline in population? Maybe – just maybe — the fact that New Hampshire has no sales tax and no income tax has something to do with this. And the fact that New Hampshire lawmakers have gone out of their way to make the state more business friendly by lowering business taxes and reducing regulations.

Yes, the fact that southern New Hampshire is a long but doable commute to Boston is an advantage Vermont does not have and cannot replicate, but not everybody looking for an alternative to living in a metropolis like Boston or New York wants or needs to commute. Many are just looking for a place with a lower cost of living that still has opportunities to build a career. New Hampshire is working to make sure they offer both. Vermont politicians seem hell bent on offering neither. We can see the results.

— Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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December 7, 2018

by John McClaughry

Ten years ago the Federal government spent nearly $50 billion to bail out General Motors, and especially the United Auto Workers pension fund. After some repayments, Uncle Sam was still out $11 billion. A large part of GM’s financial woes stemmed from overburdensome union contracts, unfunded retirement benefits, and subpar craftsmanship. Ten years later, the bailed-out company, nicknamed Government Motors, is laying off 14,000 workers in North America, including eliminating more than 8,000 white-collar jobs and closing five plants, four in the U.S. and one in Canada.

It’s ironic that one of the GM models due for termination is the electric Chevy Volt. GM got into Volt production not because customers were clamoring for small electric cars, but because the Obama administration decided that small, electric cars were the answer to the menace of climate change. That was not a market-driven decision but a political one, based in large part on the massive taxpayer-subsidized rebates of up to $7,500 per car.

In 2012 President Obama drove a Volt in a brief public appearance and said boldly that “When I’m not president anymore, I’ll buy one and drive it myself”. I can’t find any evidence that this has come about. Obama also signed the hood of a Chevy Cruze, and called it “the car of the future.” That model too went on the GM chopping block, because people wouldn’t buy what GM was pressured to sell.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by John McClaughry

On November 23 the U.S Government ‘s Global Climate Research Program delivered a Congressionally-mandated “National Climate Assessment” report. “Grim” is too weak an adjective for the terrors that the Report describes.

Here’s an attempt to summarize the document: The earth is steadily getting hotter. “Human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed climate changes in the industrial era, especially over the last six decades. Over the last century, there are no credible alternative explanations supported by the full extent of the observational evidence.”

“Without significant [greenhouse gas emission] reductions, annual average global temperatures could increase by 9°F (5°C) or more by the end of this century compared to preindustrial temperatures.” The increasingly dire effects will be sea level rise, fires, floods, droughts, heat waves, ocean acidification, shrinking glaciers, disappearing Arctic sea ice, “growing challenges to human health and safety, quality of life, air quality, and the transmission of disease through insects and pests, food, and water and the rate of economic growth,” and “challenges to livestock health, declines in crop yields and quality, and changes in extreme events in the United States and abroad threaten rural livelihoods, sustainable food security, and price stability.” In short, an unspeakable planetary calamity “could” be coming.

The mainstream news media’s coverage of the Report was predictably contrived to induce panic. The media featured the Report’s recurring statement that the dominant cause (Washington Post: “almost entirely”) of its projected grim consequences is human action. Announced CBS News: “Mass deaths and mayhem: National Climate Assessment’s most shocking warnings – billions of hours in productivity will be lost. Hundreds of billions of dollars will be wiped from the economy. Tens of thousands of people will die each year.”

But what’s new here? The Report, relying on passive constructions such as “is projected to be”, seems to collect all of the contentions made by climate alarmists over the past 30 years, and announce them again with a redoubled sense of urgency.

The “projections” are founded on computer models that, over the same period, have seriously overestimated the observed increase in global temperature. The Report repeatedly tells us that somebody, unnamed, has “very high confidence” in certain of their own projections.

One critic has described the output as “an assembly of prophecies”, made by prophets whose careers in government-funded agencies will assuredly diminish if they don’t contribute to the correct planetary disaster narrative.

Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity is defined as the temperature increase that will result from a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (now 410 ppmv). For thirty years the ”official” ECS has been estimated as 1.5 to 4.5° C, average 3.0, an extraordinarily broad range.

Climatologist Judith Curry (Georgia Tech) writes that “Climate sensitivity and estimates of its uncertainty are key inputs into the economic models that drive cost-benefit analyses and estimates of the social cost of carbon. Continuing to rely on climate-model warming projections based on high, model-derived values of climate sensitivity skews the cost-benefit analyses and estimates of the social cost of carbon.”

At least four recent scientific papers, including hers, have concluded that the ECS is more like 1.6° C. If so, even with continuing greenhouse gas emissions, warming will be gradual, comfortable, and probably net beneficial.

The tangible benefits from a warming planet are not conceded in the Report. Since the present warming – not caused by humans – began around 1850, living on Earth has become a much happier experience. We have longer growing seasons, fewer crop-destroying cold snaps, greater food production, fewer deaths from cold, less need for heating fuels, and less costly winter highway maintenance.

What of the Report’s supposed 4% (+/-2%) reduction in global GDP resulting from a purely conjectural 9°F global average temperature increase by 2090?  New York University physics professor Stephen Koonin, who was an Obama appointment as Undersecretary of Energy for Science, puts that claim in perspective. Assuming a very conservative 2% annual global GDP growth rate, “the U.S. economy in 2090 would be no more than two years behind where it would have been absent man-made climate change.” (WSJ 11/27/18).

Yes, climate is changing, and human activity, notably land use changes and fossil fuel combustion, is in part responsible. Whether human activity is the “dominant” cause remains debatable. Debatable, too, is whether the cost of reducing global fossil fuel combustion to non-threatening (to climate activists) levels demands too great a price in prosperity and human well-being.

Rational people are right to harbor serious doubts about this Report’s dire and highly speculative projections.

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

 

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December 4, 2018

by Rob Roper

David Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables has made a fortune by convincing Vermont politicians to force taxpayers to fund economically unviable schemes that would never survive on their own in the marketplace. His latest adventure in rent seeking is AllEarth Rail, an envisioned commuter rail service between St. Albans and the Global Foundries complex in Essex Junction (and, if the tax dollars flow thick enough, with future expansions to Montpelier, Middlebury and Rutland.

Blittersdorf has already purchased a dozen rail cars for this purpose, and Vermont Business Magazine reported that he recently invited some key legislators onto one for a posh breakfast in order to sell them on the idea of cutting him another fat, taxpayer funded check.

But, here’s how ridiculous this boondoggle is…

It takes about half an hour to drive from St. Albans to Essex Junction, door to door, and costs about six dollars worth of gasoline, round trip. Your car will take you exactly where you want to go and on your schedule.

But, if you opt for the AllEarth Rail option, you have to first drive from your home to the train station (don’t be late!), park, wait for the train, ride the train (which one expert predicts won’t be able travel more than 25 miles an hours), and then, unless you actually work at Global Foundries and that’s where you’re going, figure out how to get to your ultimate destination. It’s about a seven mile walk to either Burlington or Williston. Uber or a Cab? Taxifarefinder.com estimates that cost at about $20. Each way.

Honestly, how many people are going to choose the AllEarth Rail option here? Even if the train were subsidized to the point where the ticket was free (I can see Blittersdorf rubbing his hands together)…. Nobody is going to ride that train. Certainly nowhere near the numbers necessary to make the project economically intelligent. It only makes sense for people who live in St. Albans within walking distance of the train station and commute to Global Foundries. That’s not a lot of passengers, and if Global Foundries needs help getting workers to their campus, they can always charter a bus.

And how much in taxpayer subsidies will be necessary to get this led balloon off the ground? It’s not clear, but Vermont Business Magazine described the number as “a lot” and chronicled some estimated and potential costs, including just under $20 million for track upgrades, negotiated fees for using the rail lines, hundreds of thousands of dollars for new train stations, and the fact that AllEarth Rail would likely have to get a waiver from the federal law requiring “positive train control.” PTC is a rail safety technology mandated after a series of fatal commuter line crashes in 2008, which would apparently be prohibitively expensive for AllEarth Rail to install.

If the folks at AllEarth really believe in this idea, and really see a market for the service, then they should invest their own money and reap whatever profits the venture yields. If it were a good investment, this is exactly what they would do, and I would sincerely wish them every success. But taxpayers should not be forced to waste one cent on this fiscal train wreck.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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November 3, 2018

By David Flemming

Several months ago, Green Mountain Power received permission from the Department of Public Service (DPS) to raise Vermonters’ electric rates by 5.5%, due to GMP’s recent investments in Vermont’s electric grid. Last week, an ex-employee, Brian Winn, supported an anonymous letter to Vermont’s Public Utility Commission (PUC) protesting the lack of effort from the DPS (especially its commissioner) to negotiate the rate increase suggested by Green Mountain Power. The PUC’s response? ‘None of our business.’ Winn’s letter should be taken seriously, especially considering the questionable oversight from the DPS over Green Mountain Power during the past decade.

Among the letter’s most provocative claims were that: GMP “used an accounting gimmick… shorten(ing) the rate year to nine months” which would mean that the rate increase would be “at least 8%,” instead of the 5.45% which had been reported. DPS “Commissioner Tierney on multiple occasions altered Department witness testimony to remove information that would have been embarrassing to Green Mountain Power. This included removing recommendations about clearly uneconomic and risky investments… that would have saved the ratepayers money.”

In recent years, GMP has made some rather troubling investments, lending the letter a great deal of plausibility. Between 2011-16, Green Mountain Power failed to provide the DPS with documents showing that their investments were in Vermonters’ best interest, according to Vermont Public Radio. At one point, GMP was unable to properly document spending $18 million on wind turbines in the Northeast Kingdom, a cost which the DPS allowed GMP to pass along to its customer base, no questions asked.

The letter also insinuates that the DPS’ light touch on GMP involves career considerations. “Liz Miller, who used to be Commissioner (of the DPS) and signed off on the last very generous alternative regulation multi-year plan, is now representing Green Mountain Power in the new case.” The DPS’ Commissioner Tierney negotiating with GMP’s Miller, who sat where Tierney was sitting a few years ago. We’re left wondering if Tierney went easy on GMP so that she can walk into a higher paying job where she can negotiate against the public on behalf of the GMP.

By granting monopoly privileges, Vermont has incentivized monopolies to take advantage of bureaucrats who have every reason to look toward their next career move, rather than looking out for the common good. South Carolina has recently been looking into breaking up its utility monopolies. Perhaps Vermont should also consider such a move.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

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By Rob RoperRob Roper

A recent post-election news story contained this quote from a Middlebury voter that, from what I observed, captures the broad reality of where people’s heads have been: “I’ve been so focused on the federal government, I don’t know what’s going on in Vermont.” (VT Digger, 11/7/18) Well, here’s some of what’s been going on. And, yes, Vermonters better refocus their attention to local issues.

Two weeks before the November election, the credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded Vermont’s bond rating from Aaa to Aa1 due to our aging demographics and high pension fund liabilities. This will make it more difficult and more expensive for the state to borrow money as we now appear to investors less likely to be able to pay it back. This is another way of saying Vermont has no more tax capacity.

Between August and September, the state labor force declined by over 1000, as did the number of Vermonters employed. (vtlmi.info) As UVM economist Art Woolf pointed out, “The latest snapshot from the Vermont Department of Labor showed a decline of 500 jobs in September…. What is concerning is it’s on top of a loss of 700 jobs in August and 1,900 in July.”

And, just last week, a report from the president’s Council of Economic Advisers listed Vermont dead last in the nation for job growth with a 0.9 percent drop in employment, the only state out of all fifty with a negative number. This was not long after Kuerig Dr. Pepper, adding an anecdote to the statistic, announced on October 26th it was laying off 120 Vermont workers, about ten percent of its local work force.

This is in sharp contrast to the nation as a whole, which mostly has been enjoying an economic boom. Over the last year, for example, while Vermont’s median income fell by 2.4 percent, the national median income increased by 2.5 percent.

We are clearly doing something wrong.

The rest of the nation is demonstrating that tax cuts and the removal of costly regulations lead to economic growth and prosperity. Wages are rising organically as demand for labor increases. Good paying manufacturing jobs, once proclaimed gone for good, are coming back.

Vermont, however, is proving that high taxes and onerous regulations lead to economic stagnation, outmigration, and increased poverty. Will our legislators recognize this fact and change course? Sadly, it doesn’t appear so.

The incoming legislature is signaling that its priorities will be increasing the cost of doing businesses (employing workers) with a $15 minimum wage and a new payroll tax to pay for a government-run paid leave insurance program that, were it not mandatory, nobody would buy.

Vermont Conservation Voters (VCV), an environmental group that spent considerably on Vermont elections, is boasting that 20 (out of 30) of the state senators and 93 (out of 150) state representatives that they endorsed won their elections, and that VCV’s efforts gave Democrats and Progressives their new supermajorities. What does VCV want in return? Among other climate change-oriented policies, a Carbon Tax on Vermonters’ vehicle and home heating fuel. This is a household budget killer that will wreak havoc on the overall economy. (Of note, they are currently rioting in France because of a similar tax.)

Over the past two years, Governor Scott either vetoed or threatened to veto these policies because they make Vermont a less affordable place to live and work, and he and the House Republicans were largely successful in holding the line on no new taxes and fees. But now there are no longer enough Republicans in the House (just 43 out of 150) or Senate (6 out of 30) to sustain such vetoes.

I expect the Democrats and Progressives will argue that the failure to pass the Carbon Tax, the $15 minimum wage, paid family leave, etc. is more responsible for the poor economic situation we are facing, and not that merely holding the line on taxes and fees was just too little a step in the right direction. Now that the elections are over, I guess we’ll find out who’s right. Are Vermonters paying attention?

— Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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