May 29, 2019

by Rob Roper

The Morning Drive with Marcus and Kurt on WVMT this morning featured two freshman lawmakers, one Democrat and one Republican, reflecting on what their first year was like in the State House. Both remarked how much it was like going back to school; so much to learn! I’m sure this is the case. It is also at the root of why government should be limited in its scope and why, when it overreaches, government so often fails big time.

Think about this…

The overwhelming majority of legislators enter their committee rooms knowing nothing or next to nothing about the subjects upon which they are asked to make laws. They’re just like first year college students in a 101 class. As described in this radio interview, it’s up to the experts (though rather than professors, these experts in Montpelier are trained lobbyists arguing on behalf of special interests) to come into the classroom and teach these empty skulls about their subjects.

This goes on for four and a half months, or about as long as a single college semester. The committees (classes) meet for a couple hours a day four days a week. There is no enforced homework or outside reading requirement. There are no quizzes or tests to determine competency in the subject. But at the end of this “semester,” these students use their newfound knowledge to determine things like, I don’t know, how to spend $1.7 billion to educate all of our children.

It’s not that these people aren’t smart (most are), or diligent, or don’t care about what they’re doing. Like any college class, there are the star students and the ones who are hung over and hiding in the corner. It’s just that nobody in their right mind would allow even the brightest bunch of freshman business majors or biology majors from UVM or St. Mikes to, after one semester of study, to design and implement a statewide healthcare system. Ever. Because they do not know what they are doing. Yet that’s what happens in Montpelier every year!

Now, I am not arguing against a citizen legislature. What I am arguing for is applying the principle of limited government to the citizen legislature. As Abraham Lincoln explained so well, “government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more.”

The problem is, like most arrogant, ignorant freshmen, the folks we elect too often think that they always know better and can do always do better for us than we can for ourselves. They don’t. The mark of a good legislator is one who recognizes that fact and acts – or more importantly, refrains from acting – accordingly.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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May 28, 2019

by John McClaughry

My friend the nationally known economist Walter Williams, now at George Mason University, recently had this comment on the upwelling of support for socialism.

“Socialism promises a utopia that sounds good, but those promises are never realized. It most often results in massive human suffering. Capitalism fails miserably when compared with a heaven or utopia promised by socialism. But any earthly system is going to come up short in such a comparison. Mankind must make choices among alternative economic systems that actually exist. It turns out that for the common man capitalism, with all of its alleged shortcomings, is superior to any system yet devised to deal with his everyday needs and desires. By most any measure of human well-being, people who live in countries toward the capitalistic end of the economic spectrum are far better off than their fellow men who live in countries toward the socialist end.”

“Prior to capitalism, the way individuals amassed great wealth was by looting, plundering and enslaving their fellow man. With the rise of capitalism, it became possible to amass great wealth by serving and pleasing your fellow man.”

So, Walt concludes, “Here’s my question to you: Are the people who, by their actions, created unprecedented convenience, longer life expectancy and a more pleasant life for the ordinary person — and became wealthy in the process — deserving of all the scorn and ridicule heaped upon them by intellectuals and political hustlers today?”

No, Walt, I think not.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 


May 24, 2019

by Rob Roper

One of the most anticipated bills of any legislative session is the “Yield Bill,” which sets the property tax rate to pay for public education. This year we learn, as our representatives scramble out the State House door for the year, the property tax rate will increase by a penny ($1.51 from $1.50 per $100 of assessed value for homesteads and $1.59 as opposed to $1.58 for non-residential properties). This is necessary to fund an additional $70.5 million in new spending this year, an increase of 4.5%. — for a system that continues to lose student population. K-12 enrollment dropped from 76,220 to 75,510 between the 2016-17 school year and the 2017-18 school year continuing a twenty-year trend that shows no signs of slowing.

Legislators did not record a roll call vote in either the House or Senate to chronicle who voted for this. (Pitch here for electronic, digitally recorded voting for every vote!)

This is the same legislature that failed to fix act 46, the forced school district merger law, which was passed in 2015 to – remember the promise? – lower the cost of delivering K-12 education and, therefore, property taxes. We spent $1,514,000,000 on public education in 2015 and the projection for 2019 is $1,681,000,000. (AOE Budget Book, 2019) So, I guess we can mark this down as a failure to deliver on so many levels.

So, what’s driving these cost increases? In large part a growing number of students identified as special needs. But wait a minute. When we passed publicly funded pre-k programs back in 2007 (Act 62) and made them mandatory in 2015 (Act 166), one of the big promises made was that “investing” in these programs would cause a reduction in the need for special needs students. Remember? For every dollar spent we would save $3, $7, or $16 depending upon which bogus study you chose to believe.

The number of pre-k students in Vermont is actually growing (from 6,999 in 2017/17 to 7,685 in 2017/18). This is, of course, a cost driver in and of itself. But it appears that this “investment” (increased costs) is actually driving up increased costs elsewhere in the system rather than reducing them. Another promise broken.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


May 22, 2019

by Rob Roper

During the debate over the plastic bag ban, Rep. Jim McCullough (D-Williston) explained the need for the legislation because, among other things, “the pounds of plastic in the oceans would soon outweigh the pounds of fish in the ocean.” Wow! Serious stuff.

During interrogation on the floor, Rep. Bob Helm (R-Castleton) actually

Rep. Bob Helm

confronted McCullough about this “fact,” asking for confirmation of how many pounds of fish there actually are in the ocean. McCullough had to admit he didn’t know. Then Helm asked how many pounds of plastic there were in the oceans and where that number could be verified. Again, McCullough had to admit he had no idea, and couldn’t verify anything.

It was the single best moment of the legislative session.

Helm’s point, humorously illustrated, was that many of the bills the legislature puts forward are based on false findings, incorrect assumptions, and “factoids” that really aren’t based in reality. Too often, nobody challenges those assumptions. This is how we get bad legislation that becomes bad law. And, in order to do justice to the issues and their constituents, the legislature should do a better job of vetting these foundational arguments for interfering in our lives.

Good lesson. Good laugh!

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.


About half of U.S. workers need an occupational license to do their job, a huge increase from the one in twenty workers in 1950. 2020 Presidential hopefuls Donald Trump and Joe Biden have denounced this encroachment on labor freedom in the past several months. Yet Vermont legislators aren’t keeping with up with the times.

Our legislators are seeking to add residential contractors to the growing list of low-middle income occupations in Vermont that are license-to-work. The Vermont Senate narrowly passed the contracting bill a few weeks ago, over objections from a bipartisan group of Senators. Now, the bill is being considered in the Vermont House.

This seems especially incongruous if we recall that many of our legislators have recently attempted to show high school graduates the value of choosing trade school over 4-year college degrees that often give graduates massive debt with little guarantee of getting a job.

In 2017, Vermont had almost 4800 residential contractors who made an average of $42,000 last year, some of whom made more than $58,000 a year. These are good paying skilled jobs that need younger workers. By imposing a certification process with an added fee, Vermont will in effect be discouraging recent graduates from considering becoming residential contractors. Or perhaps, these graduates might choose to take their talents outside Vermont.

If a contractor receives at least $2500 to do a job such as putting in a window , they must register to continue legally working in Vermont. An individual self-employed worker would pay $75 every 2 years, while a business would need to pay $250 every 2 years.

In order to have their license issued or renewed, each contractor is required to have “professional liability insurance,” to cover $1 million of damages. Witnesses testified that buying this insurance would cost around $600 annually for a self-employed individual.

In an earlier version of this post, I had claimed that the bill was truly licensure: putting in place tests from the government that are necessary to do your job legally. In fact, the bill was actually mandating State Certification, the slightly less restrictive government intervention on the Institute for Justice’s “Hierarchy of Alternatives to Licensing.” In other words, the bill’s State Certification component would restrict Vermonters from advertising that they are a “certified residential contractor,” unless they pay a fee to have their skills tested. So rather than the worst type of occupational licensing, we have the 2nd most onerous. And just so we’re thorough, we’re also throwing in Registration (3rd most onerous) and Mandatory Insurance (4th most onerous). Might it make worse to try Mandatory Insurance before we go all in with Registration and State Certification?

Add this all up: a self-employed contractor without insurance would need to spend an additional $650 annually for registration and insurance. They would pay even more if they wanted to take test(s) for certification(s). A larger contractor would cough up more overall, but less per employee.

Contractors would also be told what constitutes a legitimate contract with their customers, down to the line item.

These stipulations may just be the beginning. Rep. Marianne Gamache (R-Swanton) suggested that the contracting bill may just be “laying a base for the building industry” to pass “license rules and regulations that don’t exist now.” Let’s hope we don’t get full on licensure in the coming years.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute



May 20, 2019

by Rob Roper

In a recent commentary featured on Vermont Digger, Steering Clear of the Shoals of Socialism, David Moats urges his fellow leftists to avoid the negative stereotypes of the socialist label by calling their ideology, of all things, “Democratic Capitalism.” Yeah, nice try!

He says, “One way for Democrats to protect themselves from the deeply ingrained American fear of socialism is not to get hung up on labels. For one thing, they need not call themselves socialists at all, democratic or otherwise. No one, not even Sanders, is proposing to resurrect the old socialist platform — no one wants to nationalize the banks or seize the means of production.”

I posted a comment on this to the Digger site that was rejected. (I asked for an explanation as to why because it breaks none of their supposed rules of etiquette or engagement. After I pointed this out, I was told they don’t have time to explain every rejected comment. Read into that what you will!) So, here it is as originally presented for your consideration:

Allan Murray, CEO of Fortune, described this socialism well. “In addition to ‘clean and renewable energy,’ it calls for jobs for everyone, living wages, parental leave, racial and gender justice, health care for all, strengthened labor law, vastly increased infrastructure investment, justice for indigenous people, a radical rethinking of monetary policy, and a new approach to antitrust policy. In other words, it reaches deeply into every corner of the economy…. The semanticists can debate whether that is or isn’t the same as ‘controlling the means of production.’” Capitalism allows that each of us is free to invest our own capital, even if the only capital one has is one’s own labor, as we see fit. That is freedom. Sanders et al seek the power (the authority) to decide for others how they should/shouldn’t invest their capital and to enforce those decisions via government force (e.g. police). Any way you cut it the pig Moats is trying to put lipstick on is an authoritarian police state.

Maybe the editorial staff at Digger can’t handle that truth, but truth it is. Sanders, Moats, and their considerable ilk want the authority to tell us that we must buy health insurance and what kind of insurance it must be. They want to tell us what kind of electricity to buy and what kind of car to drive – or no car at all. Take mass transit! They want to tell us where our kids must go to school and what they must learn while they’re in there. They want to tell us where to live (in urban centers) and where not to live (out in the country). They want to tell us what we can and cannot do with our property no matter where we live. They want to control every aspect of our lives down to the minutia of refusing to let us use a plastic straw. And, of course, they want us to obey when they tell us all this stuff, or else.

Seriously, folks, if the state has to power to make a decision as small as “paper or plastic” for you and can engage law enforcement personnel and resources to enforce that decision, what power does it not have? This is not limited government, it is limitless government. What freedom do you have?

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


May 17, 2019

by John McClaughry

A year ago the Supreme Court ruled that public sector labor unions could not require nonmembers to pay agency fees of usually around 80% of full union dues. Here are some recent developments, as the unions try to keep their members from departing:

Three Kent State University workers in Ohio have filed a lawsuit after their union continued deducting dues from their paychecks after they resigned their membership last August.

The Liberty Justice Center and National Right to Work Foundation have launched a federal class action lawsuit to force the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees to refund an estimated $2 million in agency  fees that 2,700 Illinois government workers were forced to pay from May 2017 to June 2018.

Last week, Oregon AFSCME Local 75 inserted provisions substituting union loyalty over workplace seniority in its new collective bargaining agreement. It gives newly hired union members vacation preferences over long-time employees who are not union members. The Freedom Foundation sent a cease and desist letter, putting the Department of Corrections on notice and threatening to file suit if it accepts the agreement.

The long time sweet deal for government unions, including those in Vermont, is over. Now the unions will have to keep their dues paying members coming by offering them something of value, instead of mere compulsion.

Maybe they should also rethink the “us versus them” mentality long a part of the union creed.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 


May 17, 2019

by Rob Roper

VPR is doing a terrific series on state programs titled, Did It Work?, going back to see whether or not the promises put forth by government programs actually delivered. So far, they have examined three such programs, none of which met expectations. I wish I could say I was surprised.

One story focused on electric vehicle rebates done through the Burlington Electric Department (BED). The idea wa

s to put more low to moderate income people into EVs and hybrids by offering an $1800 subsidy with a lesser subsidy offered to higher income Vermonters. It’s important to note that BED was doing this in order to comply with a government mandate related to renewable energy targets. It wasn’t a cust

omer driven business decision (except for the fact that in a state command and control economy the state, not the end user, is the customer).

In the end, three lower income people ended up getting the rebate ($5400), as opposed to seventy-seven higher income people who got rebates totaling nearly $80,000. Green Mountain Power (GMP) is running a larger version of the same idea and, according to VPR, 400 people claime

d the rebate, just ten percent of whom are low/moderate income.

So, did it work? Like the overwhelming majority of government programs, no, it didn’t. What it the program is succeeding in doing is transferring wealth from low-moderate ratepayers to wealthy Vermonters. Thanks to rep

orter Henry Epp for quoting me in his article, “for the state to come along and say, ‘I’m going to tax you, Peter to put Paul in a Tesla,’ that does not seem like a just use of government power or a fair use of taxpayer funds.” It’s not under any circumstances, but especially so when Peter is poor and Paul is rich.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute


May 15, 2019

By John McClaughry

Last week Jason Riley, a young black columnist for the Wall Street Journal, wrote “It has long been an article of faith on the political left that Republicans win elections by disenfranchising certain voting blocs. We are told that requiring voters to present photo identification at polling places not only depresses minority turnout but is tantamount to racial discrimination. The evidence challenging these assumptions gets stronger with every passing election, but Democrats and most of the political press don’t seem to have noticed.”

“Two weeks ago the Census Bureau released a report on voter turnout in 2018, which climbed 11 percentage points from the last midterm election, in 2014, and surpassed 50% for the first time since 1982. Moreover, the increased turnout was largely driven by the same minority voters Democrats claim are being disenfranchised. Black turnout grew around 27%, and Hispanic turnout increased about 50%.”

“None of this comes as news to anyone who pays attention to facts instead of inflammatory rhetoric. The black voter turnout rate has grown steadily since the 1990s. This has occurred notwithstanding an increase in state voter-ID requirements over the same period.”

“In a 2016 Gallup poll, voter-ID laws were supported by 4 in 5 respondents, including 95% of Republicans, 63% of Democrats, 81% of whites and 77% of nonwhites.”

“The Democrats’ real fear is that people will vote their pocketbooks. Under Mr. Trump, working-class minorities have experienced generational lows in unemployment.”

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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by Rob Roper

The legislature started out this session with the intention of passing a mandatory $15 minimum wage in Vermont. Their assumption is that businesses can afford to absorb the added burden in their budgets with no problems. The measure seems to be hitting some snags as it appears, ironically, the state’s own budget limitations are unable to absorb the higher wage.

So, here is a modest proposal for an alternative: pass a law mandating that workers earning less than $15 an hour make ends meet within their household budgets at the current minimum wage of $10.78. Just mandate that they buy more food, shelter, heat, etc. with the resources they have.

What? That’s absurd, you say. How can the government force people to stretch a budget further given no new resources? If workers could simply raise their standard of living on $10.78 they would already be doing so! Well, it is absurd

. But no more absurd than insisting employers buy more payroll with money they don’t have.

The reality is that businesses are like people. Some are wealthy and thriving, and some are poor and struggling. All have to live within their budgets. To mandate that poor, struggling businesses – businesses that we hope will overcome their challenges to become wealthy and thriving – spend money they don’t have is futile, even counterproductive.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 



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