The Town of Kirby will be celebrating Moderator John McClaughry's 50th year of presiding over the Town of Kirby's Annual Town Meeting. We would like to collect letters or cards of congratulations (please include a memory you have of John's service as Moderator) to present to him on that day. You may email them to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Town of Kirby, 346 Town Hall Road, Lyndonville, VT 05851. Please do so by February 15, 2016.
Highlights and Red Flags from the State House
Healthcare Provider Tax. The Legislature is considering placing a 2.35 percent provider tax on independent doctors and dentists, which would generate roughly $17 million a year, $10 million plus from physicians and $6 million from dentists. Interesting way to lower the cost of healthcare.
Mandatory Sick Leave. This is a de facto $14 million tax on employers who almost by definition can’t afford it. Most businesses offer their employees some ability to take time off for illness or other family obligations without docking them pay. This is a good policy for attracting and keeping quality employees. Those that don’t overwhelmingly can’t. They don’t have to money, and are operating payroll to payroll. It’s infuriating that the state is giving money ($1,000,000) to Global Foundries, but taking more and more from our most vulnerable employers.
Act 46: The Property Tax Increase. When the legislature passed Act 46, it was in response to an outcry over rising property taxes. The only part of Act 46 that did anything to put downward pressure on property taxes was the penalty placed on school districts that spent beyond thresholds established in the law. Now the legislature has raised those thresholds for 2017 and removed them entirely for 2018. The result will be a 2¢ increase to the homestead property tax rate.
Act 46: the Death of Tuitioning. As we feared, despite the fact that most legislators believed that when they passed Act 46 school choice would be protected where it currently exists, leadership in the personages of Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol), chair of the House Education Committee, and Speaker of the House Shap Smith (D-Morristown) is doing nothing to rectify the unintended consequences of this awful law. Sharpe, an virulent opponent of school choice, refuses to even discuss the issue (which leads us to believe this “unintended” consequence wasn’t really quite so unintended). If school choice is going to continue to exist in Vermont, citizens from choice tows are going to have to aggressively badger their representatives. If you’re not willing to do that, kiss 150 years of tuitioning good-bye.
Burlington Gun Ordinances. Time to take this issue seriously. Though conventional wisdom going into the 2016 session was that the legislature would never pass major Second Amendment restrictions in an election year, there is serious behind the scenes pressure by the Left to pass three Burlington Charter Changes. These would make it illegal to have a firearm on the premises of a business that sells alcohol, mandate that gun owners lock away or disable their firearms when not in their direct position, and give police the authority to confiscate the firearm(s) of someone accused of domestic violence. While the Speaker of the House, Shap Smith (D-Morristown), is saying publicly that he doesn’t think the votes are there to pass the charter changes, he is working hard to find those votes. If you are a supporter of the Second Amendment and the Vermont Sportsman’s Bill of Rights and are not registered to vote, this is the year to register to vote.
Renewable Energy Revolt. Activists this past montn filled the State House to demand a ban on industrial wind projects in Vermont and to restore local control over renewable energy project siting throughout the state. Senator John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans), flanked by two dozen fellow legislators from both the House and Senate, announced introduction of legislation that would accomplish these goals. “It’s time,” he said to loud cheers, “that industrial wind goes the way of the billboard, and is banned in Vermont.” Don Chioffi, a select board member from Rutland Town, spoke for a growing coalition of local communities demanding that control over renewable energy sitings be restored to local communities. “We want the lands of our state back. Town by town. We don’t want deference, we don’t want consideration, due or otherwise. What we want is standing. We want local and regional planning documents to control land use decisions within a municipality. No more, no less,” he said. The legislation that is actually being discussed in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, however, does not do either of these things.
Please Support EAI in 2016
As the Ethan Allen Institute prepares for an aggressive 2016 campaign, we need your help. It's time to renew your support for liberty, common sense, and constitutional government in Vermont. We are only as strong as our members make us! Thank you.
Ethan Allen Institute
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Montpelier, VT 05601
EAI is a 501c(3) nonprofit, educational organization that neither solicits nor accepts government funding. Contributions are TAX DEDUCTIBLE for businesses and individuals.
Make Big Wind Pay Its Own Way
by John McClaughry
An intriguing battle is shaping up in the legislature, over industrial wind power.
On one side is the Shumlin administration, wind developers, and pro-renewable energy lobby groups like VPIRG.
The Governor has been a consistently outspoken advocate for renewable energy. He issued an edict in 2011 that Vermont must be made to obtain 90% of its total energy from renewables by 2050, in the name of defeating the menace of “climate change”.... (Read More)
Act 46: Fix It All, or Repeal It All
By Rob Roper
This week (January 24-30) is national School Choice Week, celebrating the great steps forward school choice has made in states around the country. Confronted with many of the same concerns Vermonters are facing about the high cost and quality of their schools, sates from Florida to Texas to Wisconsin to Nevada have expanded options and access to resources for parents to choose the best educational setting for their children.
Sadly, Vermont is heading in the other direction, throwing away a national leadership position we have held on school choice for a century and a half -- by accident!... (Read More)
Abandoning Low Cost Hydro for Expensive Renewables
by Willem Post
Gov. Shumlin has decreed that Vermont must obtain 90% of its total energy from renewable sources by 2050, to ”make Vermont energy independent, fight global warming and climate change, do our part, and be a leader”, and Act 56 of 2015 requires utilities to market electricity that is 55% from renewable sources in 2017, increasing to 75% in 2032.
In its pursuit of these goals, Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest electric utility, has significantly decreased its low-cost, renewable, near-zero CO2 emitting hydro energy. In its place GMP is buying high-priced, variable, intermittent, heavily subsidized wind and solar energy.... (Read More)
February 13. Rob Roper will be a guest on True North TV, 10:00 am, Chanel 17.
House Votes to Raise Education Spending Caps, Raise Property Taxes, 94-52. Click for full report.
House Votes to Adjust FY 2016 Budget Upward by $91.8 Million, 90-54. Click for full report.
Senate Votes to Repeal Act 46 Education Spending Caps, 28-1. Click for full report.
EAI's News & Views: An eclectic collection of notable items from just about anywhere.
No White Means No Green Christmas. The lack of snow this winter has had a negative impact on service jobs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the accommodation and food services sector lost 2,200 jobs from November to December.
Vermont Has Second Highest Cost of Health Insurance Premiums. This according to GObankingrates.com (cited in VermontBiz 1/20/162) “Vermont's cheapest silver option has the highest monthly premium of any state, charging $469 a month, or $5,628 a year in premiums. New York is #1. It’s what we get as a result of a decade of government reform efforts designed to “bend the cost curve” down.
Pension Crisis Getting Worse. David Coats, Vermont’s unfunded liability guru, writes, “Vermont’s unfunded liability for the state workers and teacher pensions and retiree health care benefits (OPEB) increased in 2015 by over $500 million. As of June 30, 2015, these liabilities total $3.8 billion versus $3.3 billion in 2014, a 15 percent increase in one year. By contrast, Vermont’s economy grew at 2 percent over the previous year. This is a remarkable amount considering general fund revenues are expected to be $1.7 billion this fiscal year. In other words, Vermont would have to dedicate over two years of our revenues to just balance the amount due state workers and teachers as of June 30, 2015, per the actuary’s report.”
Chief Architect of Act 46 Admits…. “It’s a mess.” This is what Rep. David Sharpe (D-Bristol), who chairs the House Education Committee said. Sharpe, it should be noted, was appointed by Speaker of the House, Shap Smith (D-Morristown) in January 2015 specifically to shepherd this “reform” bill through. Great job all around! (Source: 7 Days)
How Messed Up Is Act 46? As Ways and Means Committee member Patti Komline (R-Dorset) said, “It was hard to justify that a town like Weybridge is allowed to be spending $20,200 with no penalty, and the town of Franklin, which spent over $11,800, they’re going to get a penalty.” (Source: VT Watchdog)This is nuts. When things like this are happening, it's time to scrap the whole system and start over.
Another Mess: Vermont Health Connect. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the pool, VHC software fails again. The backlog of customers, which was briefly gone, is back up to 3,000. According to VPR, “… the state’s largest insurance carrier, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, says technological shortcomings at Vermont Health Connect have made it impossible for them to process changes to their customers’ policies. ‘We were definitely optimistic that the software upgrades that were put in last year … would bring about a fully functioning system, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case today.’ says Cory Gustafson, director of government relations at Blue Cross.”
Vermont Green Energy Not So Green. The Valley News cited the University of California at Berkeley’s analysis of Vermont renewable energy policy of selling credits, “If you’ve installed solar at your home and are now basking in the I’m-saving-the-planet warm glow, you may be in for a splash of ice water. There’s a good chance someone else has purchased your halo and is wearing it right now.” As a result, “the Vermont Attorney General’s Office recently issued a warning letter to solar industry players saying some could face penalties for deceptive advertising if they are not clear when consumers are buying electrons but not environmental benefits.”
Dartmouth Hitchcock Follows Through on Lawsuit Threats. DHMC is suing Vermont over Medicaid reimbursement rates. As reported by WCAX, “DHMC provides more Medicaid services to Vermonters than any hospital other than UVM Medical Center, but DHMC gets paid about 18 percent less on a per patient basis according to a federal complaint filed by its lawyers. Attorneys for the medical center say that violates the constitution.”
Vermont Population Is Falling. UVM Economist Art Woolf points out, “A few weeks ago, the Census Bureau reported that there were 626,042 Vermonters on July 1, 2015. That’s 725 fewer than one year earlier, and 1,100 less than in 2013. Vermont’s population has fallen in three of the past four years. The last time that happened was in the mid-1950s — more than a half century ago.”
Preschool Flunks Again. Yet another study of universal preschooling, conducted by Vanderbilt University and involving a thousand Tennessee kids, found some early learning gains for preschoolers, but “by the end of their first year in school (kindergarten) there were no longer significant differences between the two groups on any achievement measures.” By the end of the second grade, the children who had been assigned to the pre-K programs performed slightly worse than the control group. (Peter Suderman, Reason, 1/16)
Lt. Gov. Scott: No on Carbon Tax. “The Legislature’s interest in a carbon tax, Scott said, would drive away businesses from the state. ‘It has the same feeling as the single payer conversation, which was allowed to continue for too long,’ Scott said. He described the carbon tax as a distraction from lawmakers’…. “We need to stop it in its tracks now,” Scott said. (VtDigger 1/9/16). Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman earlier described the carbon tax as “insane”.
How the Left Attacks Climate Realists. Mark Steyn recently gave dazzling testimony to a Senate committee on how the climate thought police are trying to stamp out any dissenting views on “climate change”. Read it HERE.
FDR on Public Employee Unions. “All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.” (Letter to NFFE 8/16/37)
Jefferson to Sanders. "To take from one because it is thought that his own industry and that of his father's has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association--the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it." --Thomas Jefferson: Note in Tracy's "Political Economy," 1816.
Book of the Month: Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper
How Innovation Keeps Proving the Catastrophists Wrong
by Robert Bryce
Public Affairs, 2014 (400 pgs.)
Robert Bryce is optimistic about our energy future, and indeed, the future of humanity. His books and op-eds are carefully researched and clearly written. Bryce does not claim that every problem will have a technological fix, but our frequently-successful search for such fixes have led to a world in which more people are living longer and healthier lives. For example, in 1970, the average life span in the least-developed countries was 43 years. In 2011, the average for those same countries was 59 years. Almost everywhere in the world, literacy is up, mortality and maternal mortality is down, and lives are longer and better.
In this book, Bryce shows that this happy result is a direct consequence of our human quest to achieve more results while using less resources. In other words, we seek to do our work in ways that are “Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper.” His book covers some of the same ground as his earlier book, Power Hungry. In this book, he expands the scope to fields beyond energy.
Some of the areas that he describes are familiar to all of us: the fact that computers are smaller is no surprise to anyone. But other aspects of “smaller faster” were new to me. For example, in poor countries, cell phones can encourage commerce. In Africa and Afghanistan, most people do not have bank accounts. The ability to buy goods by cell-phone has increased commerce and partially disabled corruption. (The account is held by the cell phone company, and there are kiosks for people to deposit or withdraw cash.) In one case, Afghan policemen, paid through their cell phones, thought they had gotten a major raise. Actually, the policemen were merely getting their full pay, without their superiors skimming about 30% of their cash payments before the policemen ever saw the money.
In expected ways, and in surprising ways, the world of making things smaller, faster, lighter, denser and cheaper has led to unprecedented prosperity and health. For the energy to power this world, Bryce recommends the N2N plan described in Power Hungry: Use natural gas (N) while building advanced nuclear (N). I would amend this slightly to be sure to Keep Existing Nuclear while building advanced nuclear, but his basics are correct.
Some parts of the book are painful to read. The title of one section is pretty direct: “Biofuels are a crime against humanity.” Government and academic reports question both the practicality and the morals of biofuel production. Using land for biofuels increases the cost of food, increases the volatility of food prices, decreases the ability of poor nations to import food, and indeed, decreases our ability to feed the poor and hungry.
With many examples, Bryce shows that moving to low-density “renewable” energy would be a step backwards for human health and happiness. His analysis of McKibben’s “Energy Starvation” plan is well-referenced and scathing.
I hate to say that anything is “required reading” for everyone, but I strongly recommend that people in Vermont read this book. Why Vermont? Well, right now, Vermont has an official state energy plan that claims we will reduce statewide energy use by more than 1/3 by 2050. Further, the state of Vermont “plans” to have 90% of the remaining energy come from renewable sources by 2050. The energy plan admits that renewable sources are not as dense as conventional sources, and that the ridges planned for wind turbines are important wildlife and watershed resources. (Quote from plan, below). The Vermont plan is the opposite of N2N. The Vermont plan is not about making things smaller, faster, lighter, cheaper.
Will Vermonters allow this plan continue to be our state plan, in which everything is justified on the basis of “low greenhouse gases”? Are we going to use the “Energy Starvation” plan proposed by those who hate nuclear energy (which also produces no greenhouse gases) and who also don’t seem to care very much about wildlife habitat? Or will we take some reasonable version of N2N, choosing dense, relatively low-emissions energy sources.
Will Vermont continue to move to Smaller, Faster, Lighter, Denser, Cheaper, as humanity has always aimed to do? Or will we go backwards? It’s up to us, right here in Vermont, to choose a happy and prosperous future. Let’s not mess it up.
- Review by Meredith Angwin
Senator John Rodgers (D-Essex/Orleans) proposed legislation to ban industrial wind in Vermont. Should the legislature pass such a ban?
Make your voice heard. Take the survey HERE!
January Survey Results
What’s the dumbest thing the Vermont Legislature will do in 2016?
- Pass a Carbon Tax - 25.37%
- Mandate Paid Sick Leave - 1.49%
- Snuff Out School Choice - 7.46%
- Legalize Marijuana - 14.93%
- Expand Dr. Dynasaur (Medicaid) to 26 year olds - 2.99%
- Take Over Medicare Payments Through "All Payer Waiver" - 8.96%
- Pass a payroll tax to cover Medicaid funding shortfall - 4.48%
- Other (Please Specify) - 34.33% (Most said all o the above -- cheaters!)