COMMENTARY: Single-party rule has failed in Vermont
As of last week, the legislature sits and, as it has since 2009, the Democratic supermajority will once again control every single aspect of the legislative process. From who serves on which committees, which issues are addressed, and every added penny of state spending, the supermajority will impose its will on Vermonters with little desire for compromise or acknowledgment of those who, often vehemently, disagree.
Those in power will tell you this situation has served Vermonters well; that the state of our state is strong, and that their collective work on your behalf should be applauded.
However, if we look past the rosy platitudes and self-congratulatory statements that come from the governor and Democrats in the legislature regarding the "positive direction" of state government, we find that nothing could be further from the truth.
For eight years, the Douglas Administration warned of the consequences of rising taxes, increased spending and burdensome developmental permitting. Today, those consequences are beginning to have startling and stifling effects on our economy, job market and workforce.
In April 2009, Vermont's civilian workforce -- the number of people working or looking for work -- was 362,000. Today that number has shrunk by 11,200 workers to a low of 350,800 -- the smallest workforce since October 2005. Fewer workers means fewer jobs, fewer tax payers and a less attractive climate for Vermont businesses.
11,200 fewer workers in less than 5 years. This is a terrifying number: it's larger than the population of all but eight of Vermont's towns and cities; its more workers employed by any private company in Vermont and represents the effects of economic policies that are truly, failing Vermonters.
Job numbers are equally dismal. This year alone, the number of employed Vermonters fell from 338,550 in November 2012 to 335,450 in November 2013. That's 3,100 fewer jobs, 3,100 moms and dads struggling to make ends meet, 3,100 fewer opportunities to keep young, talented Vermonters here after college.
Or, if you're anything like me, 3,100 reasons to stand up and fight for accountability in Montpelier.
In his farewell address, Gov. Jim Douglas offered a final warning to the legislature: "By closely managing the state's finances, pushing necessary reforms and working to ease the burden of taxation, we have been able to advance responsible initiatives for the betterment of all Vermonters. Without that commitment, hard-won progress will be easily lost..."
It has become clear, that on this front and so many others, the Democrats' experiment in single party rule has failed.
It has failed Vermonters by neglecting to address both the high cost of living and doing business in Vermont.
It has failed Vermont taxpayers by constantly raising the tax burden to pay for a billion dollars in new spending and unsustainable budgets that have grown well beyond the rate of inflation.
And it has failed Vermont businesses by refusing to address our burdensome permitting process.
Without swift and direct attention paid to each of these issues, we will continue to lose jobs, workers and businesses.
But, don't take my word for it.
Just across the lake, Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, faced with many of these same issues, had the political will to admit that high taxes have a tremendously negative effect on economic development and ushered to passage, "Start Up NY," a program that offers businesses willing to start, grow or relocate to the state, 10 years of operation: 100 percent tax free.
You may have heard about it, since New York has been heavily promoting it on Vermont's television stations in prime time for nearly three months.
I assure you, our rising tax rates and this advertising campaign are not a coincidence.
We, perhaps more than ever, need to hold accountable those in power who bemoan the tax burden on the campaign trail, then vote to increase it once elected. We must demand that the allegiance of our senators and representatives lies with the people, and not the praise or preference of party leadership. And we must restore the sacred concepts of cooperation and compromise to our legislative process.
This year's session offers us the chance to advocate for desperately needed change and November brings us the opportunity to make it a reality.
Dustin A. Degree is a former aide to Gov. Jim Douglas and former state representative from St. Albans City.
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