November 8, 2019

by Rob Roper

In a recent “fact check” piece by Vermont Digger, the online news site nailed Governor Scott’s comment that Energizer Battery’s decision to shut down its Bennington facility was related to Vermont’s inhospitable business climate as bury-the-needle “FALSE.” Scott’s actual statement in question is:

“This decision is an unfortunate example of why those of us in Montpelier need to work together to make Vermont a more affordable place to do business and make sure our policies help businesses thrive rather than creating unique burdens and barriers to growth that make us less competitive with other states.”

Someone needs to fact check Digger, so here goes…

First, Scott did not actually say that Energizer left because of the bad business climate. He said the loss of the company was a warning that lawmakers need to do a better job of keeping and attracting businesses. It’s a juxtaposition, not a “direct connection” as Digger claims.  It’s like when somebody dies prematurely and the eulogist says, “This is a reminder that life is fragile, and we all need to take better care of ourselves.” Just because everybody in the audience doesn’t suffer from the same condition as the deceased doesn’t mean the related observation isn’t accurate. The very premise of Digger’s “false” claim is false.

Digger says Scott’s claim, which he didn’t make, is false because there is no evidence that the company left because of Vermont’s bad business climate. Energizer has not outright stated that’s why they left and, “The company did not respond to questions from VTDigger about whether the state’s business climate contributed to its decision to leave the state.”

So, Digger has zero evidence that Vermont’s bad business climate wasn’t the reason Energizer left. It may very well be the reason the company left; Digger doesn’t know. This is exactly the same basis for Digger’s labeling Scott’s (non)statement as absolutely false – he had no evidence. Holding Digger to their own standard, their condemnation of falsity is equally false. A fair evaluation by the fact checker would be at best “inconclusive.”

But since Energizer announced its departure, Vermonters have learned that Global Foundries is laying off workers, as is Dealer.com, MyWebGrocer, and Social Sentinel (Seven Days, 11/6/19).  Like Energizer, the are consolidating their businesses elsewhere. Why is it we never hear of businesses closing factories or offices in other states and moving jobs to Vermont?

The Tax Foundation recently rated Vermont’s business climate as 44th in the nation, and CNBC rated us 40th. These ratings are not unique. Clearly, we have a problem. Scott was absolutely correct to point it out. Digger’s bending over backwards to discredit this reality is, our rating: Decidedly Odd.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 7, 2019

by John McClaughry

Last week Sen.  Elizabeth Warren released the details of her Medicare-for-All plan. The Wall Street Journal studied her explanation and concluded that  “she is counting on ideas for cost-savings and new revenue that are a fiscal and health-care fantasy.”

Custer had a plan, too.

She is sticking to her plan for a government takeover of American health care, including the elimination of private insurance that 170 million Americans now have. She continues to claim that this will cost “not one penny in middle-class tax increases.” Even Bernie Sanders called her out on that assertion.

She concedes that her plan will cost only “slightly” less than the $52 trillion that the U.S. is expected to spend on health care in the next 10 years. She deducts from that what the feds now spend on Medicare and Medicaid, plus $6 trillion that the states contribute to Medicaid, the state-federal children’s health program and government employee benefits.

That leaves $30 trillion to finance, but Senator Warren waves her wand and says the bill will really be $20.5 trillion. She makes the rest vanish by positing magical savings, including  “comprehensive payment reform.”

If U.S. health-care spending exceeds GDP growth, she says, “I will use available policy tools, which include global budgets, population-based budgets, and automatic rate reductions, to bring it back into line.” In a word, rationing.

The details of how she’d pay for the other $20 trillion are even more fantastical. As the Journal put it, “Sen. Warren is trying to sell an illusion and make it sound like political courage.”

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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November 5, 2019

by Rob Roper

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NEAP), aka the Nation’s Report Card, scores are out, and, sadly, it seems I write this same blog post every two years: scores dropped again for Vermont students in all categories. From the Agency of Education’s Fact Sheet:

  • VT students scored above the national average in reading at the fourth and eighth grade levels, and in mathematics at the eighth grade level in 2019.
  • VT students scored below the national average in Grade Four Mathematics in 2019.
  • VT students scored (significantly) lower across grades, subject and subgroups in 2019 compared to 2017. Mathematics scores for National School Lunch Program (NSLP) students in grades Four and Eight and those of White students in Grade Eight remained unchanged compared to 2017.

The report also highlights the continuing and growing trend in which high performing students are doing better and lower performing students are doing worse – an education inequality gap, if you will.

At some point, perhaps politicians will realize (or if they already realize it, start to care) that this is the inevitable result of a one-size-fits-all system. The “one-size” is inevitably tailored to fit the kids with the most vocal, involved, politically connected, well educated, affluent parents. The rest are either lucky or stuck in a school that doesn’t meet their needs.

The other continuing red flag from these scores is Vermont’s growing expenditures and regulations surrounding in universal, “high quality” preschool. Lawmakers passed universal Pre-K in 2007, and since then more and more kids are matriculating through that system to the 4th grade, where the scores have steadily declined. The trend in declining scores pre-dates 2007, and there’s not enough data to say if the continued decline is caused by or coincident to pre-k, but it’s certainly worth more study.

What we can say for sure though is promises that “high quality” universal pre-k would increase scores and close the achievement gap have not born out.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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November 4, 2019

by John McClaughry

Last week Senate Democrats proposed a resolution to put a stop to the Trump Administration’s State Innovation Waivers under the Affordable Care Act. This is known as section 1332 of Obamacare. The Trump Department of Health and Human Services has given waivers to seven states to use Obamacare funds for innovative programs to better serve patients, notably patients with pre-existing conditions, and ease the burden of premiums.

This is amusing because it was left wing Senators, notably Bernie Sanders, who demanded the inclusion of Sec. 1332 in the 2010 Obamacare act. Why? So that a state could create a program to transfer all of the Obamacare premium credits from reducing the expense of Vermonters’ insurance premiums, as Obamacare was designed to do, to the state, to finance a single payer health care plan.

And Bernie’s Vermont was first in line to try to do just that. Gov. Peter Shumlin, intent on winning national renown from peddling single payer here, counted on, getting $400 million in cash from Washington to make single payer work.

An early analysis by Rutland Treasurer Wendy Wilton showed that this lump sum payment under sec. 1332 wouldn’t come close to filling the enormous funding gap contained in Shumlin’s Green Mountain Care. And Wendy ‘s analysis was right on the mark. Shumlin scrapped his single payer pipedream in December 2014. Now the Democrats who created Sec. 1332 want to scrap that option altogether.

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by Rob RoperRob Roper

When the gavel fell on the 2019 legislative session with the house and senate deadlocked over the $15 minimum wage and a Paid Family Leave program, most of us thought those two issues would be front and center this January when the legislature reconvenes. But it doesn’t appear that Vermont’s highly vocal climate change activists will allow that to be the case. They want a carbon tax, and they want it now!

This all began with the Climate Strike and Week of Action at the end of September, a kind of primal scream of civil disruption preceding the all-out banzai charge to pass an economy-killing package of climate legislation that will achieve approximately nothing in terms of impacting future climate trends.

At the Renewable Energy Conference on October 11, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger (D), flanked by VPIRG, called for a massive, statewide carbon tax on Vermonters, which would ultimately lead to a roughly $1.70 per gallon tax on home heating and vehicle fuels. The proposal is similar to the carbon tax proposed by VPIRG back in 2014 only larger in scope and cost.

This latest proposal would start with a $30 per ton tax on CO2 emissions and rise at a rate of inflation plus 10 percent each year until 2034, after which point it would rise at inflation plus 5 percent indefinitely. This translates into roughly a 30 cent per gallon tax on home heating and vehicle fuels rising to $1.70 per gallon by 2034, and then on ad infinitum. If Vermonters didn’t like the first carbon tax proposal (and they didn’t), they will like this one even less.

A week after Weinberger’s announcement, a group from the Extinction Rebellion camped out for a few days on the State House lawn in hopes that their spectacle would intimidate lawmakers into taking “bold action” on climate. One rebel was quoted, “As we all know, last legislative season was a disaster for climate change. There just was total inaction. And so at this point, we’re saying we don’t trust the government to protect us. And we’re here not asking anymore. We’re demanding.” (VT Digger, 10/18/19)

But what they are demanding – net zero CO2 emissions by 2025 — is insanely unrealistic. The cost in dollars and individual freedom to achieve that, if it’s even possible, would be beyond comprehension.

In 2007, Vermont passed CO2 reductions goals that said we should be 25 percent below our 1990 CO2 output by 2012, 50% below by 2028 and 75% below by 2050. As of now, we are 16 percent above 1990 levels – way off target. This, despite Vermont’s longstanding commitments to renewable energy, subsidies for weatherization and electric vehicles, and generally “green” values.

If we’re nowhere near getting CO2 output to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2028 given all the money we’ve wasted on these programs, how, pray tell, do they expect to get to net-zero by 2025? It would require a totalitarian Green police state seizing control of the economy, forcing every individual to give up their fossil fuel vehicles and heating systems, and squeezing the taxpayers to subsidize replacing all that infrastructure with EVs and electric heat pumps – over just five years! Block all the traffic you want; this is not going to happen.

Regardless of the math and science, some legislators are buying into the agenda. Members of the Climate Caucus, a group of Democrats and Progressives, have been making presentations around the state pushing for adoption of the “Global Warming Solutions Act,” which would take Vermont’s aspirational goals regarding CO2 reduction and make meeting them mandatory under law. Their thinking is that if they can con their peers and the voters into supporting a law mandating the ends, which may sound nice on the surface, the means – any means — will be justified, no matter how wacky or unpopular those means might be. Like, for example, the carbon tax!

Vermont lawmakers have a number of serious issues they needs to resolve in 2020, including a public pension crisis with $4.5 billion in unfunded liabilities, a labor force crisis as young workers leave the state due to the high cost of living, water quality issues threaten our lakes and streams, and, again, the need to finish one way or the other the $15 Minimum wage and Paid Family Leave legislation. The big question is, will house and senate leadership allow these issues to be derailed by a hoard of wailing, disruptive protesters demanding the impossible, or will they politely tell them to go pound sand?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

 

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October 25, 2019

by John McClaughry

The Trump administration and Congressional Republicans are putting together a replacement bill for Obamacare, if it is struck down in a pending court case. One of its provisions will be an idea that was pioneered in Maine, that’s called the invisible high risk pool. Twelve states have already gotten Obamacare waivers to allow them to create these reinsurance programs. Simply put, the state puts the sickest highest cost insured patients into a high risk pool and heavily subsidizes their health care costs.

That reminded me of a proposal made by the Ethan Allen Institute, but of course not acted upon by our legislature, besotted with the dream of single payer health care and extinguishing health insurance forever.

Here was our proposal, one of ten in all to turn health care policy around:.

Sixth: create a state high risk pool to pay the exceptional costs of the one percent of people who are uninsurable because of chronic diseases or disabilities. The cost can be funded by a combination of premiums (typically at 150 percent of normal cost), assessments on insurers (including large firms which self-insure), and dedicated revenues (such as a hospital tax.)

Nine of our ten recommendations went unheeded. The tenth was to abolish Gov. Dean’s Health Care Authority. The legislature did that two years later. Our proposal was published in full in the April 3, 1994 issue of the Rutland Sunday Herald – only 25 years ago.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

 

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October 23, 2017

by Rob Roper

According to analysis of the latest FBI statistics, Vermont reported the 3rd lowest murder rate in the nation (1.8 per 100,000 residents). This was 3.1 points below the national average of 4.9 homicides per 100,000 residents (source: VBM, 10/23/19). Interestingly, the two states that beat us, New Hampshire (1.2) and Maine (1.7), recently joined Vermont by adopting “constitutional carry” laws for firearms in 2017 and 2015 respectively. Are you paying attention, Chicago?

Nationally, the overall homicide rate dropped from 5.3 per 100,000 in 2017, which itself was down from 5.4 in 2016. Thirty-eight states experienced a decrease. In New England, again where Maine and New Hampshire recognized carrying a firearm as an unrestricted right, the homicide rate dropped by a whopping 17.7 percent.

Of course, this is not the picture painted by the media or the activists. And, our own Attorney General, T.J. Donovan, would have us move in the other direction on gun control, recently calling for required background checks to purchase ammunition, and formally urging the State Supreme Court to uphold Vermont’s constitutionally questionable ban on certain magazines.

One murder is too many, but it’s pretty clear that the way to reduce homicides is not to take away or restrict citizens’ Constitutional right to bear arms. In fact, the evidence points to just the opposite.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by John McClaughry

Of all the fifty states California has been blessed with every advantage. A mild climate. Fertile land. Tall timber. Mining riches. Strategic location for shipping, trade and finance. Great universities. Glorious scenery. And of course, Silicon Valley, the world-leading center for high technology.

This year’s state budget picture is a governor’s dream.  Gov. Gavin Newsom’s first budget (for FY 2020) projects a $21.5 billion surplus. That’s 10% of the projected budget. (It will of course be spent.)

California’s economic boom has been  driven by the Federal government: a combination of tax rate cutting, trillion dollar a year Federal deficit spending, and a near zero interest policy, all created by Congress, the President and the Federal Reserve to keep the good times rolling… until they end. Whether California’s spending levels and expectations can be maintained during the next recession is a question that its legislators aren’t keen on addressing.

Meanwhile California faces some intractable problems. The most apparent is homelessness, in which California leads the nation. The Governor says the homelessness epidemic is “a stain on the state of California”.

Edward Ring of the California Policy Center writes “Many of the homeless on the street, to indulge in rank heresy, are there by choice. When it is impermissible to arrest and hold vagrants for petty theft or possession of hard drugs; when it is impermissible to require vagrants to move out of public spaces unless you can provide them with free and ‘permanent supportive housing’; when it is virtually impossible to commit demonstrably insane people to asylum care; when public shelters offer food and urgent care without any preconditions whatsoever (sobriety, drug counseling, drug testing); when the weather on the coast of California rarely dips below freezing – you will have an aggressive, problematic homeless population. Forever.”

One of the main reasons for homelessness is the lack of affordable housing even for working families. Ring looks at the seaside town of Venice (the size of Burlington). There, “progressive” public officials are considering a 140-unit apartment  “homeless housing project” that will cost an estimated $205 million – nearly $1.5 million per homeless person. “You don’t spend over a half-million dollars per unit to provide “permanent supportive housing” to homeless people, taking years to build them, all the while leaving the vast majority of the homeless on the street.”

Both housing and businesses are constrained by AB32, California’s “Global Climate Solutions Act.” The state’s attorney general used AB32 to stop affordable single family homes in San Bernardino because they would cause more emissions than apartment blocks. He also stopped a job-producing bottled water plant in remote and depressed northern California because the plastic bottles came from natural gas, the bottling plant used electricity, and the trucks burned diesel fuel travelling back and forth to markets.

Alone among the 50 states, California legislators made the state’s electric utilities strictly liable for the consequences of wildfires. When a tree falls on a line and sparks ignite a wildfire, the utility is liable to all injured parties – no showing of negligence is required. But the utilities can’t fireproof their entire hundred thousand miles of lines without lots of money. That task would require already-bankrupt PG&E to increase power rates by 400%, which of course the PUC won’t allow.

Californians already pay electricity bills well above the national average and nearly double what customers pay in neighboring Oregon. That’s largely because the state mandates that the utilities purchase lots of renewable power at far above market prices. Result: even the high prices paid by ratepayers don’t produce enough revenue to protect the lines against natural disasters, and their ratepayers endure Third World rolling blackouts..

Looming over all the rest is the parlous state of the state and municipal employee and teachers retirement funds.  Ring explains that CALPERS, the public employee fund,  overestimated the rate of return of its funds, overpaid benefit payments to retirees, and underestimated the payments required to support the liabilities of the funds.

San Marino (the size of Bennington) is paying 31.9% of payroll to CALPERS now, and in a mere six years will be forced to pay 46.0%. The total unfunded liability of the two funds is now a quarter of a trillion dollars.

Vermont has these same problems, in miniature (fortunately not including strict utility liability). The lesson: We should not emulate California’s practices for dealing with homelessness and suppressing new housing, stop forcing our utilities to buy renewable energy at twice the market price, steer clear of sweeping, costly programs to promote “global climate solutions”, and get really serious about reducing the $4.5 billion unfunded liabilities of our own state employee and teachers retirement funds.

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

 

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October 21, 2019

by Rob Roper

After the epic failure of Peter Shumlin’s single payer healthcare scheme in 2014, the next big “reform” that took its place was OneCare, launch date 2016. Many saw this as a backdoor approach to single payer, replacing the single payer with a single provider working within a “global budget,” a set dollar amount per patient not to be exceeded. The promises accompanying OneCare, as with pretty much every promise by government, were that it would lower costs, increase efficiency, and lead to healthier outcomes for participants.

The main idea behind the program is to pay providers a fixed amount per patient, eliminating the “fee for service” model of payment, therefore incentivizing providers to keep patients healthy in the first place, replacing more expensive treatments with less expensive preventative care. The results are coming in, and – shock! – the program has not lived up to expectations.

Cost-wise, the original budget for OneCare was $620.8 million to cover 122,000 guinea pi—er, Vermonters. Today, just two years later, OneCare – the cost saving program — is asking for $1.36 billion, and the right to expand their services to 250,000.

An excellent article in VTDigger outlines just how far off the mark the reality is from the original promises:

  • OneCare is losing money. The model is not profitable (and therefore not sustainable).
  • The number of Medicaid patients utilizing primary care services has dropped. Use of primary preventative care was supposed to increase. That was the whole point!
  • To quote: “The company has also not yet produced any evidence that the initiative has made people healthier. In fact, OneCare performed worse in 7 out of 10 Medicaid quality scores in 2018.
  • OneCare is not realizing savings either through efficiencies or healthier patients.
  • Bureaucratic/Administrative costs are increasing.

The article also quotes various people associated with the program both on the corporate side and the government side as saying one way or another, “It’s too early to tell” if the programs is going to be successful.

Well, flashback to 2017:  “Todd Moore, chief executive officer of OneCare, said everyone involved should have a feel for how well the new approach is working by 2019. If all goes according to plan, he said the new system will cut the annual growth in health care expenditures in half, saving hundreds of millions of dollars over five years and reducing insurance premiums for Vermonters.” (Burlington Free Press, 12/21/17, emphasis added)

2019 is here! In fact it’s almost over. Did OneCare deliver on any of those goals outlined by its CEO? Yes, we now have a feel for how this massive government intrusion into the healthcare market is working. It isn’t. It’s time to pull the plug on this program now, before it gets to be “too big to fail.” There is no way it should be allowed to expand to cover more Vermonters until it has a proven track record of success within its original experimental population. If it can’t deliver there, and it hasn’t, scrap it.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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October 18, 2019

by Rob Roper

Edmunds Elementary School in Burlington, so reports WPTZ, has decided to cancel its annual Halloween parade. Sadly, I doubt anybody is surprised by this. The letter sent home to parents alerting them to the cancelation read, “After serious consideration the faculty of EES has decided that in recognition of BSD’s [Burlington School District] standard, that ‘All Are Welcome’, we will be having a Harvest Celebration at the end of the month…”

So, “all are welcome”… except those who want to celebrate Halloween. Screw those jerks! How did the faculty conclude that a Harvest Festival with all that kale wasn’t offensive to anyone? But I digress…

For those who want to get into the Halloween spirit informally, the school district provided an extensive list of guidelines, and here are some highlights:

One of the most important mandates is that costumes shall not be demeaning to any person or group based on age, disability, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, nationality, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, or to any individual staff or student at the school. Costumes should be respectful and culturally sensitive, (e.g., students should not wear religious articles such as a hijab, turban, yarmulke, kimono, that could be viewed as culturally insensitive or as contributing to cultural appropriation).

I mean, good grief. This idiotic concept of “cultural appropriation” has got to go away. The entire purpose of putting on a costume is to “appropriate” another identity and, by doing so, learn something about that identity as well as yourself. Yes, don’t engage in mean-spirited stereotyping, but to condemn as racist or somehow culturally insensitive a little boy who happens to be white and wants to be a ninja or LeBron James for a night is absolutely asinine. The person offended by this kind of costume is the one with the problem, not the kid.

No weapons of any type may be part of a costume.

Hmm… I wonder if superpowers are considered weapons under this guideline? Just spitballin’, Aquaman.

Costumes should not include blood or imply any type of violence.

Oh, come on now! Scary is THE overarching theme of Halloween. Axes buried heads…. Eyeballs dangling from empty sockets…. Rotting flesh…. But, no scary costumes says the school that probably  has no problem teaching these same children that they’re all going to die in eleven years in a fiery, famine filled, mass extinction if David Blittersdorf doesn’t get a taxpayer funded subsidy for his seven mile train project between Barre and Montpelier.

And in conclusion…

…but in reality, no school should be holding an event in which all students cannot participate because of religious or cultural beliefs.

Really! Like LGBTQ themed classes and events that conflict with the religious beliefs of Christian or Muslim students? What about anti-Second Amendment events offensive to Vermont’s long standing hunting culture?

Once again, this is just another case in point for giving comprehensive school choice to all children in Vermont. If you don’t want your kid exposed to someone dressed up as a zombie with human brains dripping from its teeth, fine. Pick a school that doesn’t celebrate the holiday. If you’re cool with Halloween, but don’t think celebrating it should intrude on classroom time, I can respect that. There should be a choice for you too. And, if you think that Halloween is a joyous time that makes for some of the most precious childhood memories and you want your school to have a role in fostering those experiences, there should be a choice for you too.

We may not all be able to agree on the best way for a school to handle Halloween, but we can agree on this: a one-size-fits-all system fails the majority of the kids and families stuck inside it.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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