April 3, 2018

By Matthew Strong

When a potential mass shooter from Poultney was arrested in Fair Haven, the issue of mental health in Vermont was once again thrust into the spotlight. Following the Valentine’s Day shooting in Parkland, Florida, some have raised questions about the link to mental illness, and how we can remove stigmas from those seeking help while making sure those who may be a danger risk get care in a timely fashion.

So far, no information has been released as to why Jack Sawyer, the 18-year-old from Poultney, was recently in a mental health treatment facility in Maine and not Vermont. The reason is most likely a lack of capacity in a mental health system traumatized by poor choices.

On Dec. 13, 2011, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, former Gov. Peter Shumlin held a news conference touting new plans to decentralize the state mental health system by pursuing 40 beds scattered across 4 locations. Notably, the hurricane destroyed the state mental hospital in Waterbury.

With hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars needed at the time for a new state health care exchange, the goal for the mental health system was simple: If a mental health facility had 16 beds or less, it it would qualify for more federal funding. This would allow the Shumlin administration to transfer substantial operating costs from the state to the federal government.

On the same day, Dr. Jay Batra, then medical director for the Vermont State Hospital which had just closed its doors, testified before a special legislative hearing and recommended a centralized state mental hospital with 48 to 50 beds at a “bare minimum,” citing a lack of qualified and trained staff capable of running multiple locations. This was in agreement with a plan by outgoing Gov. Jim Douglas to construct a 60-bed state mental facility.

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Batra left the Department of Mental Health to start a co-op health insurance company with another department employee, Christine Oliver, then the recently demoted commissioner of the Department of Mental Health. When state and federal regulatory agencies prevented the insurance company’s launch, Dr. Batra in 2013 returned to his previous post at the department, which had not been filled during the year he was gone.  As a result of the decentralization and lack of available beds, issues developed with hospitals “parking” mental health patients against their will in their emergency rooms, creating chaos, and leading to controversial, unhelpful legislation in 2014.

In 2014, documents provided to the House Judiciary Committee by Chief Administrative Judge Amy Davenport (now retired) described the exact issues which needed addressing. “In 2013 there were 455 applications for involuntary treatment in the Vermont state judicial system. The median time (from application to court decision) was 40 days.” The top sources of delay were clearly defined in her report: a lack of psychiatric doctors in the state to do evaluations within 20 days, delays in obtaining medical records from the hospital and Community Mental Health Center, and scheduling delays for doctors or key witnesses. Some cases in 2013 were even heard by “court officers” or “environmental judges,” due to time and staffing constraints.

The message was clear — there were not enough resources for the judicial and mental health systems to deal with patients efficiently and appropriately. Seven years later, the situation has worsened.

In a report from 2017 highlighting just one incident, a woman in the middle of a mental health crisis (and ending up in police custody as a result) was held in a jail cell for eight days while waiting for a bed in a mental health facility to be available. Pepper spray, handcuffs and riot shields were used to move her to and from her cell.

There seems to be a cycle in which patients, dealing with powerful medications with significant side effects, take themselves off medication. They subsequently may experience long wait times for care, leading to hospital emergency room stays or police involvement, overwhelming both systems. The cycle has occurred frequently enough in Vermont that six Chittenden County municipalities decided to hire and share four mental health counselors in an effort to intervene before the police or hospital stay is required.

The Department of Mental Health gave the legislature a proposal for yet another temporary facility to help alleviate the pressure. However, several committees involved in the House declined to pursue it.

The mental health crisis affects almost every budget the state has, and yet it is continually relegated to the back seat. The vast majority of mental health patients are nonviolent, and often the most vulnerable in our society. If we can’t care for them in a timely fashion, what does that say about our chances of preemptively treating the unknown violent delusional nihilist desperate for his or her 15 minutes of fame?

– Matthew Strong lives in Stowe.

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April 2, 2018

by John McClaughry

I wish every American voter would digest the column by Greg Ip in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal [3/29/18].  Here’s his opening line: “If you think the federal debt is bad, the bigger picture is worse.”

He starts by reviewing a report from Moody’s, the bond rating agency “The U.S., Moody’s report shows, is blessed with extraordinary advantages when it comes to borrowing. Yet it is about to experience a dramatic loss of financial freedom because it is shrinking its tax base just as interest expenses surge and social programs get harder to cut. It is like someone who borrows freely thanks to his rich parents but can’t keep a steady job and won’t curb his lifestyle.”

Moody’s and Ip agree that America’s credit rating is triple-A, and our economic prowess is without peer. But Ip adds, “those assets are all legacies of America’s past, and some are eroding: business dynamism by some measures and economic growth have both declined, and the population is aging. “Interest swallowed 8% of federal revenue last year. As interest rates return to normal and debt keeps rising, Moody’s thinks it will hit 21.4% in 2027. This severely limits the government’s flexibility to respond to emergencies.”

Ip quotes Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, “We’re in a full-blown era of free-lunch economics where no one says no to anyone anymore.”

Trust me: This can’t go on forever.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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By Rob Roper Rob Roper

The vote fraud case in Victory, Vermont, concluded with eleven “voters” being removed from the town checklist. For this small, Vermont community it meant a full 13 percent of registered voters were illegitimate, and these illegitimate votes were more than enough to alter the outcomes of elections.

What’s truly alarming about this case is that the root problem had more to do with election officials – either stubbornly ignorant or flat out corrupt — than with the non-resident voters. It’s hard to blame the out-of-towners who were told repeatedly and defended by those in charge that what they were doing was okay. As Judge Thomas Devine stated in his decision, “… this is a situation where the facts as found by the BCA do not support the legal conclusion of residency.” In other words, the election officials did not understand the law, and, as a result, allowed many people to vote illegally.

The Victory BCA argued that non-residents were eligible to vote because they had an “intent” to establish a primary domicile in the district at some point in the future. These “voters” included second homeowners from Connecticut, an adult child of a Victory resident who lived and worked in Burlington, and a couple who owned a camp in Victory, but lived primarily in Montpelier. However, Vermont law clearly defines a resident as:

“a natural person who is domiciled [not was or will be] in the State as evidenced by an intent to maintain [not establish] a principal [not secondary] dwelling place in the State indefinitely and to return there when temporarily absent, coupled with an act or acts consistent with that intent.” (Bracketed comments added.)

Judge Devine’s ruling in Victory clarifies the obvious, “…domiciled requires having residence ‘coupled with an intention of remaining indefinitely,’ and neither residency or intent alone is enough to establish it.” As such, it is the job of local election officials to determine that a potential voter is A) currently domiciled in the district in which they would like to vote, and B) that they intend to maintain that residence as their primary domicile as evidenced by action. The Victory BCA did not do this.

Which raises the big question, is this fundamental misunderstanding and misapplication of Vermont election law isolated in little Victory, or is this a common belief and practice among BCAs and election officials throughout the state?

I will say here that it is the latter. Here’s just one reason why:

Remember when Garrett Graff attempted to run for lieutenant governor after having lived and worked in Washington D.C. for over a decade? To qualify for that ballot there is a four-year residency requirement, and, as VT Digger reported at the time, “While Graff has lived in Washington, D.C., for nearly a decade, he recently quit his job at Politico and moved to Burlington with his wife. He said he has remained a registered voter in the Green Mountain State … ‘If someone is able to vote for office, they should be able to run for office,’ said Graff.” (VT Digger, 1/27/16)

Sound logic. But, as we know in accordance with Judge Devine’s ruling, Graff was not and never was able to legally vote in Vermont after he established a primary domicile in D.C. Yet, despite these very public comments in a statewide debate over someone seeking the second highest office in state government, nobody batted an eye at the fact that Graff had been voting illegally in Vermont as a non-resident for over a decade. Not local election officials, not legislators, not the Secretary of State, not the press, not even his potential opponents!

Why not? Because they all incorrectly believed Graff was right about his voting status.

The loosely interpreted “future intent” or “intent to return” is the standard that has been applied – and applied wrongly — to Vermont’s voter checklist on a statewide level for at least a decade. This has allowed people who do not reside in our communities to influence the outcomes of or local elections. First, we need to find out how widespread this problem is. Is it the 13% level of Victory? It’s a small town, but not as hot a second home destination as many other Vermont communities.  And then we need to get to work cleaning up our voter lists and correcting this injustice.

– Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

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By David Flemming

For many years, Vermonters have included themselves among the Americans who have been held hostage by the the artificially high prices for pharmaceutical drugs, brought about by the collusion between our federal government and pharmaceutical companies. Senate bill S175 would attempt to alleviate the painful price gouging for Vermonters and is awaiting action in the House after a unanimous vote in the Senate. It directs Vermont’s Agency of Human Services to “design a wholesale prescription drug importation program…us(ing) Canadian prescription drug suppliers.” There have been few Vermont bills in recent memory that have lead to so many fascinating questions about the interplay between federal and state government.

WebMD has a helpful synopsis showing how Americans have already begun importing drugs without respect for the federal statute: “While the practice of reimporting drugs from Canada, Mexico, or other countries is still technically illegal… is increasingly becoming a custom more honored in the breach than in the observance. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed three versions of bills that would allow consumers to import legal drugs for personal use.” While none of these bills have yet to pass through the Senate and the President, it is clear that there is real Congressional and Presidential momentum behind the federal efforts. So far, to no avail: the yearning for a more competitive drug market with more affordable prices has not been realized by Americans at large.

Under federal law, importing drugs from foreign countries is illegal. But due to the sky-high costs of legal prescription drugs in the US, our government Is turning a blind eye to the free-market solution: letting US citizens find lower-cost suppliers abroad and giving them their business. This practice is very much in line with 6 out of 7 of the Ethan Allen Institute’s fundamentals of a free society which are “individual liberty, private property, competitive free enterprise, strong local communities, personal responsibility, and expanded opportunity for human endeavor.”

The EAI fundamental of ‘limited government’ would seem to be in direct conflict with S175. Under American federalism, the federal government has the ultimate authority over matters such as drug commerce (Section 1, Article 9 of the US Constitution), and the states and people are left with the authority not relinquished to the federal government (10th Amendment).

And here is the rub. Special interests (ie prescription drug companies) have abused the complexities of federal government to isolate themselves from competition, but their situation is more precarious at the state level. So it is up to the states, like Vermont, to secure the competitive free enterprise that has been limited by a monolithic, lackadaisical federal government

If a government is to be respected, it must have respectable laws. But the commerce clause in the US Constitution, that the government shall make commerce “regular,” has become less respectable with age, and an open invitation to cronyism. We might feign surprise that people are breaking the law in order to pay less for drugs that sustain their lives, but 21st century innovations and the hundredfold increase in trade in the past 200 years has made selective enforcement of the commerce clause for favored companies the federal government’s only recourse. In the meantime, the rule of law has become less respectable. Supporting the rule of law as defined in our Constitution is important, but not when that support leads to nepotism and severe curtailing of free enterprise and human freedom.

If the federal government already turns a blind eye to, and perhaps hopes, that Americans will have the survival instinct to buck the law by importing foreign drugs, the damage to the rule of law has already been done. Giving Vermont legislators the means to tear down this corrupt federal sanctuary through S175 could do much for enabling human freedom, while re-establishing a responsive and respected statewide government in the absence of a federal one.

Assuming of course, that S175 can appropriate the $1 million needed to fund the program without raising taxes, while giving any Vermont business the chance to import prescription drugs from Canada so as not to create a government sponsored importing monopoly for one business.

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by John Klar

Vermont’s recent $28 million windfall from years of wrangling with the tobacco industry offers insights into the role of government regulation in society. Regardless of one’s view of the appropriate degree of governmental regulatory control, this payment raises a completely different set of issues — what is government’s “place” when redistributing collected funds.

In accounting terminology, there is a concept of “tracing” funds. This can apply literally, as for instance with illegal or fraudulent transfers, or fictionally, as in LIFO and FIFO systems, where we pretend to “trace” an individual unit of inventory and its related economic value. We do the same thing as individuals when we save money in a piggy bank for a vacation, or to pay off a debt — we “trace,” or allocate, those specific funds to a specific cause.

The State of Vermont actively “traces” its citizens’ funds along moral channels. For example, it advertises the Vermont lottery for ticket sales, and also how much money the lottery has diverted to the education fund. I here term this “moral tracing.”

Our state is collecting $28 million (in addition to the $22-$29 million it already receives annually) for the pain and suffering of cigarette smokers, and has immediately announced that $14 million will be used to combat the opioid crisis. This is moral tracing, and appears to be as unchallenged as creating a government-run lottery racket (that causes profound addiction and preys on the poor) to ‘fund’ education. But in truth, that $28 million, along with those lottery receipts, could as easily go into the general budget and then be considered in the normal course of legislative wrangling. The idea that the money is “set aside” is a tracing gimmick, not an actuality. “Moral tracing” is a political fiction.

If Vermont recovers moneys from the pharmaceutical industry that seeded our opioid crisis, will those funds be applied to lung cancer treatment for cigarette smokers? To education? To our growing tax crisis? Perhaps it would be sensible “moral tracing” to apply some of these state “windfalls” from citizens’ illness to pay down some debt — maybe the 2017 Series A and B General Obligation Bonds, which exceeded $105 million. Less debt would enable us to respond more effectively to future challenges, whatever their caliber.

It is one thing for government to regulate to protect citizens from improper predatory business conduct: quite another to act as class-action recipient for a segment of the population. By what authority, and by what process, does our legislature decide to foist its moral tracings on us? Who decided that $14 million of this windfall would be used to fight the opioid crisis? Perhaps that is an appropriate allocation, but by what democratic process was it determined? And by what process will that other $14 million be allocated? Whether it goes to farmers, school security, special needs children, or paying off debt, it should perhaps be a matter of public discussion, for it is our morals the legislature is tracing.

– Attorney John Klar farms, and writes, from his family land in Brookfield.

 

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by John McClaughry John 2

The legislature is debating how fast to propel the state into the new adventure of universal coverage for primary health care services, “whether the services are publicly financed or covered by health insurance or other means … [made] affordable for all Vermonters, such as through income -sensitized, State-funded cost-sharing assistance.”

The current proposal (S.53) directs the Green Mountain Care Board and the usual “stakeholders” to deliver a report by January 2019, followed by a “draft operational plan” a year thereafter. The single payer advocates are furious that the bill doesn’t decree single payer primary care right now.

Let’s make this easy to understand: the Green Mountain Care Board plus numerous “stakeholders” (all of whom will be advocates and most of whom will be protecting their livelihoods) will produce a report recommending which primary health care services and benefits, produced by which providers, will be distributed to which people, and at whose expense.

The Board and its stakeholders are, however, unlikely to examine how the cost of primary care can be brought down, while at the same time better serving patients, improving health, reducing reliance on expensive medical interventions, and making the practice of medicine more rewarding.

The most rapidly proliferating model for doing this is Direct Primary Care. DPC is built upon the direct relationship between primary care doctor and patient. DPC clinics are “cash only” – no third party payer like Blue Cross or Medicare. This eliminates the maddening complying, negotiating and pleading with third party payers that typically consumes as much as 40% of primary care practice revenue.

DPC patients pay a monthly membership fee. Practices of course vary, but usually the fee covers almost unlimited access to your doctor, extended, relaxed visits, an annual physical exam, diagnostic and procedure benefits at no extra cost, and slightly above wholesale prices for laboratory testing and pharmaceuticals. DPCs typically arrange for discounted prices at rehab services and independent imaging centers for X-Rays, CT scans, and MRIs. Some even make house calls.

One of the leading DPCs, Atlas MD of Wichita, Kansas, sets its fees at $50/month for adults 20-44, $75/month for adults 45-64, and $100/month for adults over 65. Each child is an extra $10/month. Employers, especially if self-insured, may pay the membership fees as an employee benefit.

A typical DPC patient would also buy a wraparound high deductible insurance plan coupled with a Health Savings Account, into which the patient, the employer or both can make tax-free contributions up to $1350/year ($2700 family).  For lower income families, states could design Medicaid waivers to allow payment of the membership fees.

If a DPC patient develops a major health problem requiring surgery or hospitalization, the DPC will usually suggest a cost-effective provider. The Surgery Center of Oklahoma and Ocean Surgery Center (Torrance, California) have gained national attention for posting their all-inclusive prices for a wide range of surgical procedures including recovery and medications.

According to a survey by The Physician’s Foundation, many doctors are dissatisfied with the burden of dealing with third party payers, including the government. The survey found that doctors complained of “too much regulation and paperwork” (79%), “loss of clinical autonomy” (64%), and “erosion of the physician-patient relationship” (54%). The DPC model relieves doctors of these annoyances.

An important benefit of the DPC model is better patient health, measured by fewer hospitalizations, fewer ER visits, fewer specialist visits, and fewer surgeries compared to traditional patient populations.

So why aren’t we moving rapidly toward Direct Primary Care coupled with independent specialist centers, paid for by HSAs, and backed up by high deductible health plans? Partly because there’s a learning curve, but also because large medical centers see their profits threatened by low-overhead cash-based clinics and specialist practices focusing on patient satisfaction and wellness.

In addition, opponents have argued in some states that DPCs are insurance plans, bringing them under insurance regulation and preventing patients from paying membership fees from their HSAs (whose funds may not be used to pay premiums). Another roadblock is Certificate of Need (CON) regulation, the great shield of every dinosaur health care monopoly.

To date, there are two DPCs in Vermont: in South Burlington (Frank Landry MD) and Manchester Center (Keith Michl MD). There will be more – unless primary care is swept into yet another government program designed and dominated by threatened “stakeholders”.

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

 

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March 26, 2018

by Rob Roper

As the Vermont legislature debates raising the state minimum wage to $15 an hour, a handful of lawmakers is taking what’s being called the minimum wage challenge. The idea is to live on what a minimum wage earner makes in a week, which, according to the rules put out by Rights & Democracy, is:

Take home income (after avg. housing & taxes subtracted) – Add 1 of the 4 below into your budget line based on your life circumstances*
     1 — Married person living alone – $161.00
     2 — Married person sharing housing cost w/spouse – $274.50
     3 — Single person living alone- $147.00
     4 — Single person sharing housing cost w/partner or roommate – $260.50

While trying to understand the real challenges of making ends meet on limited income is a worthwhile endeavor (suggest reading Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich), this game misses the mark.

According to the Vermont Paycheck Calculator, the take home pay of someone earning $10.50 an hour for a 40 hour week is $374 after taxes. Those game figures of $147 to $275 reflect a reduction in housing costs of what my back-of-the-napkin calculation appears to be $850 a month. Fair enough. But what it does not reflect is the benefits someone earning $20,800 per year (minimum wage/40 hours per week) collects in Vermont.

As the chart below illustrates, a single parent earning minimum wage has access to resources of roughly $45,000 a year, including benefits such as state and federal earned income tax credits, food stamps (3 Squares), and childcare subsidies. This is an amount roughly equivalent to the after-tax resources of someone who earns a salary of $52,000 a year. Legislators need to explain why it is fair for someone earning $50,000 a year to be forced to subsidize through taxes the higher standard of living, at least in terms of access to resources, of someone earning $25,000. Significantly higher when you subtract childcare costs from the $50,000 earner’s after tax income, which is not reflected in this chart.

Benefits Cliff Chart

Also looking at the chart you will see that someone earning $32,500, about what someone earning $15 an hour would make in a year, is starting to slide over the “benefits cliff”: the point where added income equals a reduction in overall access to resources. The worker who gets a wage bump from $15 to $18 or $19 an hour as a result of the minimum wage increase is really screwed!

This “benefits cliff” is what causes some workers to refuse promotion or increased salary for fear of loss of benefits. But, in doing so, folks that make this decision are relegating themselves to being part of a permanent underclass. Barring a lottery win, choosing benefits over income means poverty forever.

This dynamic is the “wage challenge” our legislators should be looking to fix.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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March 22, 2018

by Rob Roper

IMG_0942

Long faces as committee members learn the harsh truths about a $15 minimum wage.

The House Committee on General, Housing, and Military Affairs began debating the $15 minimum wage legislation (S.40), following the bill’s passage in the senate. Representatives of the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) provided a broad overview of the likely impact of the higher wage if it becomes law. Here are some of their conclusions in a nutshell…

The impact on employment, according to JFO, includes a net annual long term disemployment rate of 2250 jobs, disemployment as a share of total jobs of 0.05%, and disemployment as a share of minimum wage jobs of 3.3%. What this means is that Vermont would be losing about 2250 jobs a year from 2028-2040 after the $15 minimum wage was fully implemented in comparison to anticipated job growth if the current law remains in place, and that the negative impact would land way disproportionally on low income workers.

It can be expected that if the $15 minimum wage becomes law low income Vermonters will experience other negative side effects, such as loss of work hours, loss of work-related benefits such as paid vacation and health insurance, as well as state sponsored benefits, for which the higher wage could be disqualifying. The state benefits most affected would be Medicaid, reach up, LIHEAP, EITC, and particularly child care subsidies.

The businesses most likely to be negatively affected by the $15 minimum wage include gas stations, retails stores, food and beverage establishments, warehousing and storage, food services and drinking establishments, textile and apparel, furniture and wood product manufacturing, large food product manufacturing, non-profits and social services, and child care services.

Overall, JFO expected the net impact of the $15 minimum wage would be on state GDP of negative 0.3%.

Why the legislature would consider, let alone pass, a law that they know will both a drag on the overall economy and have significant negative impacts on the state’s most vulnerable businesses and citizens is mind-boggling. But, at this point it appears that a majority on this committee are inclined to support the bill. Governor Scott has hinted strongly that he will veto the $15 minimum wage if it reaches his desk.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute

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By David Flemming

Like it or not, Vermont needs its top 1% of income earners for economic growth and to fund our government services.

According to economist Art Woolf, as the incomes of those earning at least $500,000 fell between 2014-16, income taxes paid by Vermonters earning at least $500,000 declined $30 million. If the past actions of our legislature is any guide, our legislature will forgo cutting spending and fill this gap by squeezing more out of taxpayers across all income brackets, not just the 1%.

Rather than discuss the income tax decline, some of our legislators have tried to distract Vermonters from the fact that the 1% are providing so abundantly for Vermont by stoking our sense of envy. On March 16, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) hosted a nationally televised town hall focused on income inequality, an issue that has been thoroughly researched in the past few years.

Contrary to what Sanders may think, the left-leaning Economic Policy Center’s (EPI) income inequality data shows a strong correlation between the success of the 1% and the 99% at earning higher incomes. Between 2009-14, the 15 states with the highest income gains for the 1% gave those in the 1% bracket a 26% average income increase, while the 99% in those states increased their incomes by a state average of 2%. On the other hand, in the 15 states where the 1% only increased their incomes by a state average of 1.4%, the 99% saw their incomes increase by a minuscule state average of 0.8% over 5 years. This means that an average American in one of the 15 best states for the 1% saw their income grow three times as rapidly as in the 15 states where the 1% was least able to grow their incomes.

EPI’s data is not completely above suspicion, since it was founded by a coalition of eight labor unions and has supported unimaginative policies like the $15 minimum wage with faulty data techniques in recent months. I suspect that the inequality data may be similarly skewed to exaggerate the actual gap. Still, it can be used to help lay out the principle that inequality is of secondary importance to partnering with the 1% to propel economic growth in Vermont.

Would you rather Vermont be in the one-percent’s top 15 states, or remain in the one-percent’s bottom 15 states? To our legislators primarily interested in reducing inequality, remaining in the bottom 15 states makes a lot of sense for Vermont. According to the EPI data, the Hawaii-one-percent-club saw their incomes fall nearly 10% from 2009-14. However, Hawaii’s 99% saw their incomes fall only 2.7% during that time-frame! Just like that, inequality was reduced, because the poor saw their incomes decrease less than the 1%. Somehow, I don’t think many Vermonters would prefer decreased incomes, even if the highest income earning Vermonters saw their incomes fall even more.

Regardless of the importance we place on reducing income inequality, it should always take second fiddle to ensuring positive income growth rates for all. Vermont’s government can no longer afford to see businesses as hostile to the interests of low and middle income Vermonters. If our legislators change their outlook, Vermont (top income tax bracket of nearly 9%) could begin to look less like Hawaii (with a top income tax bracket of 11%), where the 1% and 99% each saw decreased incomes, and more like Utah (flat income tax of 5%), where the 1% and the 99% saw increased incomes. The one-percenters of Utah increased their income by 16% while the bottom 99% grew their incomes by 11%. Yes, Utah’s income inequality gap widened from 2009-14, but more importantly, Utah’s 99% and 1% both earned more.

Vermont’s inequality grew less than Utah’s from 2009-14. Vermont’s 1% increased their incomes by 7.6% and the 99% increased theirs by 3.9%. But since even the 1% of Vermont were behind the income gains of the 99%  in Utah, this success at decelerating inequality doesn’t mean much by comparison.

So, rather than following Senator Sanders and building resentment toward the 1%, perhaps we should be trying to encourage high-income earners to move to the state, and offer our services in helping them build the next great private enterprise that will provide jobs and sustainable economic development.

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March 19, 2018

by Rob Roper

Last fall, Carbon Tax supporters staged a major push to build support for their latest Carbon Taxing scheme, The ESSEX Plan. It has been a flop to say the least. So, to keep this zombie concept out of the grave where it belongs and roaming the countryside (at least long enough to get past the November election) Carbon Taxers shifted their efforts to passing a taxpayer-funded “study” of various Carbon Taxing concepts (H.763). Even this has received a tepid response. The governor said he would veto it. So, now their hope is to stick the language from the stand-alone bill into the “must-pass” budget bill, where they hope the thing will become law by default.

Whether or not that happens is currently in the hands of the House Appropriations Committee, which can add funding for the Carbon Tax study directly into to the budget (the Big Bill) – or not. Incorporating H.763 into the Big Bill would allow legislators to pass it without having to cast a direct roll call vote in support of the Carbon Tax agenda. Pretty sneaky, huh! Not doing so would leave the bill to languish “on the wall” to die.

The language in H.763 would direct the Joint Fiscal Office (JFO) to evaluate the costs and benefits of various Carbon Tax proposals. JFO testified against the bill, saying that they did not have the expertise to perform the study and that subcontracting the job to a qualified consultant would be cost prohibitive, far exceeding the $100,000 allocated.

The political dynamic at play here is that support for the Carbon Tax outside the State House is driven primarily by influential big donors from the renewable energy industry. These folks would benefit mightily from a Carbon Tax that would simultaneously drive up the cost of their competitors’ products while providing taxpayer funded subsidies, either directly or indirectly, to their own businesses. Those donors want to see something for their money, even if it’s just a study that keeps the ball moving down the field.

(FYI, members of the House Appropriations committee are, Reps. Kitty Toll (Chair, D-Danville), Peter Fagan (R-Rutland), Maureen Dakin (D-Colchester), Martha Feltus (R-Lyndon), Robert Helm (R-Castleton), Mary Hooper (D-Montpelier), Berard Juskiewicz (R-Cambridge), Diane Lanpher (D-Vergennes), Mathew Trieber (D-Rockingham), and David Yacavone (D-Morristown).

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

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