I’d like to discuss a few of the major challenges facing our state today. Aside from the pressing opiate and prescription drug problem noted by Gov. Shumlin in his recent State of the State address, Vermont is plagued by a weak economy fueled by a potent mixture of anti-business public policy, high individual and corporate taxes and energy costs, weak government ethics, accountability and transparency laws and flawed social services programs that are both inefficient and ineffective in moving lower income Vermonters up the economic ladder.
Vermont is losing employers and has failed to attract new ones, due in part to the difficulties of successfully running a business in the state. Facing rigid, costly and unrealistic development regulations, environmental laws and other state-mandated rules as well as high corporate tax rates, businesses have been forced to defer expanding, close, move out of state or transfer jobs to states more welcoming to business.
We also have a flawed tax system that places Vermont among the highest taxed states in the country and a government that continues to ask more from residents and businesses to fund an ever growing list of state programs that may be well intentioned but are not sustainable or affordable -- and are not held accountable to achieve clearly defined measureable outcomes.
From an energy-cost standpoint, our state, which often claims to be on the leading-edge of energy innovation, is completely out of balance. Vermont continues to have electricity rates that are approximately 40 percent higher than the national average! Still, our elected officials are moving us towards an energy portfolio dominated by even higher-cost, renewable power. There is no doubt that renewable sources, in the correct application, need to be a part of our energy mix in order to support long-term sustainability, but mandating costly levels of renewable is a dangerous path to take.
Our elected officials, many of whom are allowing the very degradation of our state’s well-being and economic viability, are able to do so because of weak accountability, ethics and transparency policies. Unless these policies change, those in decision-making positions will never be held accountable or their performance measured. Campaign for Vermont has offered a number of suggestions worth serious consideration for addressing this problem.
The performance of our state human services programs needs to be more transparent and their performance fully evaluated. If those programs are not achieving desired outcomes, they should be redesigned or eliminated. Many of the state’s programs are based on antiquated, inefficient and ineffective systems that are costly to manage and do very little to give struggling Vermonters the tools required to move toward economic stability and prosperity. Rather than continuing to provide handouts, shouldn’t we design a system that incents desired behavior, provides the necessary support and demands personal growth and eventual financial independence?
I’d like to encourage and challenge our elected officials in state government to really think about the financial health of our state and advance the kind of change required to improve the economic vitality of the state and its’ residents. While our battle against drugs may be important and a specific issue that needs to be resolved, the strength of our state’s economy as a whole is the real elephant in the room and should be the starting point for wide scale change -- if desired -- economic prosperity for all Vermont is to be realized.
Douglas Warren is a resident of Richmond.