By John McClaughry
The Vermont Digger headline a day after the elections well captured the enthusiasm of the newly elected legislative majorities: “Democratic supermajority comes with sky-high expectations.” The final House tally was 102 Democrats and Progressives, 43 Republicans, and five independents. The Senate will be 24-6. Both chambers now have the two-thirds majorities needed to override any veto by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
The Democrats will start with passing another $15 an hour minimum wage bill and a payroll-taxed financed parental leave bill, both of which Scott vetoed last session. But that’s just the unfinished business. With unrestrained legislative power in their hands, all of the issues that excite the liberal imagination will compete for a high rank on the “must pass” list.
Carbon Tax: This measure, first offered in 2014, is now disguised as carbon pricing, pollution fees, decarbonization, cap-and-trade, greenhouse gas initiative, etc. after the initial, straightforward “carbon tax” aroused massive resistance. The recent UN IPCC SR1.5 report telling Americans that we have only a few years left before it will be too late to rescue the dying climate will be weaponized to create a huge new tax resource for state government, but produce no detectable effect on climate.
Welfare Increases: The $15 minimum wage will only benefit lower-wage workers who aren’t priced or automated out of their jobs. Much more compulsion will be needed to that assure everyone enjoys a “livable wage.” Mandating employers to pay it avoids making taxpayers pay it, but mandating that employers stay in Vermont could prove troublesome.
Act 250 Expansion: A stacked six-member legislative commission will report in January on how to strengthen Act 250 after 50 years. Likely recommendations: make Act 250 apply to the smaller developments not now covered, make every development satisfy regulators that it will have no net adverse effect on climate change, and mandate that almost all change occur in state-designated growth centers.
Health Care: High on the agenda will be forcing all individual Vermonters to buy state-approved health insurance or suffer a financial penalty. The Legislature will compliantly support moving forward with the UVM Medical Center-dominated “All Payer” mega-system as a way station toward reviving the single-payer plan that collapsed in December 2014.
Energy: It’s likely that the Legislature will put into state law former Gov. Peter Shumlin’s fiat that Vermont must obtain 90 percent of its total energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. This fiat, once actually enacted, will invite legislators to push through a lengthy list of mandates, prohibitions, regulations and taxes designed to drive up energy prices to benefit the Renewable Industrial Complex and its political friends.
Labor: The Legislature may try to find some workaround to avoid complying with the Supreme Court’s holding that compelled “agency fees” paid to labor unions are blatantly unconstitutional.
Education: The Legislature will cheerfully advance the centralization of control over public education spurred by Act 46, and try to choke off every path for parents and children to escape to independent (non-unionized) schooling. They’ll make universal prekindergarten programs mandatory, publicly controlled and unionized, despite no evidence that pre-K actually improves educational outcomes. They’ll move onward toward replacing the school homestead property tax with income taxes, with little consideration of the effects of much higher income tax rates on the economy.
Gun Control: Having breached the constitutional barrier in 2018, the gun control advocates will try to ban “assault rifles” and prohibit possession of firearms not just by persons judicially adjudged as “extreme risks” (current law), but also by persons subject to much less demanding “relief of abuse” orders.
The new Legislature also will be faced with a deepening liability for state employee and teacher pension and health care benefit obligations, now totaling an astounding $4.5 billion. Failure to a least modestly reverse the trend will result in lowered bond ratings and higher cost of borrowing.
The 2018 legislative leadership recognized this problem and appropriated a one-time extra $36.2 million, but with supermajorities clamoring for immediate spending on pet programs, it’s hard to see how reducing the pension fund inadequacies can compete.
The new legislative majorities will be intoxicated with the declaration put into law in Shumlin’s 2012 budget bill that “spending and revenue policies will reflect the public policy goals established in State law and recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment.”
That lofty purpose neglects a few other considerations, like a business-friendly, job-creating economy, and most people’s need to keep the ever growing Nanny State off of their back and out of their wallets.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.