Johnson: Solving Vermont’s problems without spending $10k per person

By Neil Johnson

Vermont is a beautiful state — the privilege of being from Vermont is not lost on me. But Vermont has three pressing issues at hand: affordability, school funding and unaddressed drug problems.

In the affordability category, one of Vermont’s pressing issues is getting industry and jobs that support a living. For years Vermont touted a meager unemployment rate, usually the lowest in the nation. A corollary that goes along with that is many are holding more than one job to make ends meet.

Vermonters are not afraid of hard work and they will fight to the bitter end to honor their financial obligations, often without fuss or complaining. If you talk with bankruptcy attorneys, they will tell you most people do whatever possible to honor these commitments. Rarely do Vermonters hold back, and when they do start over again, they’ve given their all to their creditors.

Montpelier has come up with a new economic plan, and it even had an excellent press rollout, covering our entire nation with the news of our modern plan to prosperity. Vermont will pay $10,000 for the telecommuter to move to Vermont. Just check out the Burlington Free Press and New York times press coverage in two recent headlines:

BFP: “Thinking about that $10,000 incentive to move to Vermont? Here’s what you should know

NYT: “Move to Vermont. Work From Home. Get $10,000. (Or at Least Something.)

It’s not clear to a reader what is the depth and breadth of this program, and how significant this will be to the entire state of Vermont. For the most part, our local press gets into no detail.

From other media reports, we find out that the program will be for 2019, 2020 and 2021. Also, there is money already set aside for this program: $125,000 for 2019, $250,000 for 2020, and $125,000 for 2021. This modern plan will bring an economic boom — for sure, huh.

Let’s do some simple math, starting with 2019. Most reporting talks only about the $10,000. So, $10,000 goes into $125,000 12.5 times. So the first year our best expectation is to bring in 12.5 people through this economic program. Let me say this again, and check the math for yourself: 12.5 people for 2019.

The total master plan would be for 50 people to come to Vermont over three years. This plan is deceitful — this is not an economic plan. This chicanery is an ongoing theme in Montpelier. It is why we’ve earned a “D-” in ethics, having one of the lowest grades in the nation, and why those in Montpelier have not embraced a working ethics commission.

When Irene hit, we dropped all permits necessary to get work done and rebuild Vermont. The power unleashed by Vermont private industry and entrepreneurs was wonderful and powerful. Within in a few short months we were functioning, with roads restored and bridges in place. Had we not dropped the strangulation of regulations we’d still be getting permits, let alone having things rebuilt.

Economic prosperity doesn’t cost money — we only need reasonable laws and zoning. That will bring real change. More than 12.5 people will have jobs from these changes. Let’s give some simple examples of unnecessary complications.

Case A: Going to Vermont Supreme court for five bar stools in five star hotel and losing.

Case B: Having to go to Supreme Court for existing curb cut and winning.

Case C: An industrial park located in a gravel pit that only has agriculture as a use by right. (Farmers will quickly see the double irony as plants don’t grow well in gravel.)

Case D: Your condominium burns down. It had been through all state and local permits when built, you get town permit, but state denies the permission. So you must fight and claw, and still three years later it’s not settled. Due to other construction requirements, you can’t even rebuild because the cost requirements are so high it’s not covered by insurance.

Case E: You apply for a gas station permit. That takes 10 years to receive, and upon completion of building you’re told you can’t open because of traffic concerns. If business rebuilds the highway, you can open your gas station after that.

These are not isolated examples — I could go on for days. Our economic problems are easily solved without money. Cronyism and insider deals are not the way to prosperity — this practice needs to end. Economic problems get solved with sound policy, cooperation and an understanding of how business and a free market works. We can do better for less.

This commentary is by Neil Johnson, of Waitsfield, who is state chair of the Green Mountain Party and a 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor.

Image courtesy of city of Montpelier

14 thoughts on “Johnson: Solving Vermont’s problems without spending $10k per person

  1. Gee, it would be great to give a QUALIFIED out of state worker a 5-year tax holiday to come to work in Vermont.

    For that we should want not just any worker*, but a college graduate, with about 10 years of experience, so he/she can make an IMMEDIATE contribution to the Vermont economy, and the job should pay about $50,000/y or more.

    *Some activist, do-gooder folks might drag in illegal, undocumented, unskilled, illiterate, non-english speaking workers, and that would be a headwind for the already anemic near-zero, real-growth Vermont economy.

  2. The $10,000 idea goes to show just how STUPID these clowns are. For years, it’s been “Vermont is a beautiful state, everyone wants to live here”. Now, it’s, “where has everyone gone?” All these idiots have to do is look in the mirror and they’ll find the answer.

  3. As a retailer, I don’t get it. With the $15 per hour minimum wage they will push until they get it, it is an eleven thousand dollar increase per employee over the $10.50/hr rate when you factor in the FICA share and the up charges for insurances. The downtown businesses employing a keystone markup will have to take in an additional $22,360 a year per employee. Not going to happen. Maybe they should be planning on what they will be doing with all their empty storefronts in every town and the increase of their welfare rolls rather than bribing people to move here.

  4. Vermont is depopulating. It is inevitable that downsizing will occur in state government. The tax base is shrinking in part due to high taxes, reckless spending and bad management. An economic and demographic black hole has been opened up. It is political action that created this situation. To think that the same left leaning politicians who made this mess are going to fix it, is insane. The Vermonters that continue to vote expecting the political promises of liberal politicians to be fulfilled are in for a rude awakening in the years to come. Vermont is having it’s Detroit moment.

    • You are right on with your comments. Vermont is a beautiful place to live, however if when offered a job and there are no reasonable housing available in Burlington, or Rutland why would anyone move here? The costs have out weighed the benefits thanks to our out of touch politicians!

  5. Well, a few years back, the act to disallow a home to be built on less than 2 acres because of the ground pollution left many thousands of properties unbuildable. What happened to them? The owners couldn’t sell them, so the owners walked away rather than keep their little part of their dream. So, they were taken over for tax sales. Guess what, who is going to buy a 1 acre lot that they can’t use, build on or anything else. Towns and the state lost the tax revenue, with no way to replace it.

    Brilliant.

  6. Neil a couple points:

    “Let’s do some simple math, starting with 2019. Most reporting talks only about the $10,000. So, $10,000 goes into $125,000 12.5 times. So the first year our best expectation is to bring in 12.5 people through this economic program. Let me say this again, and check the math for yourself: 12.5 people for 2019.”

    You math is correct but it also clearly stated in the law that the $10,000 is paid over two years at the rate of $5k/year. That’s how they came to the numbers.

    “A new remote worker may be eligible for a grant under the Program
    for qualifying remote worker expenses in the amount of not more than
    $5,000.00 per year, not to exceed a total of $10,000.00 per individual new
    remote worker over the life of the Program.”

    https://legislature.vermont.gov/assets/Documents/2018/Docs/BILLS/S-0094/S-0094%20As%20Passed%20by%20Both%20House%20and%20Senate%20Official.pdf

    • This is true, I was off in that regard. You’ll notice in all the national and world advertising, to which was my first source of information, non of this was discussed. And my total numbers of 50 people for $10k per piece was correct.

      But you’ll notice the state is planning on getting 100 people with this program, so they are planning on only paying $5,000 to each person, due to what ever regulations they put on the program. This advertising is less than truthful.

      So the first experience someone may have to a world wide program Vermont advertised is the following, you’ll only be able to get half the money and from one day advertising we already have the program filled for 16 years of which we only have money for 3 years.

      A nation wide program for bringing in 50 people or even 100 people over 3 years is dumb. We’ll need to go over the list of people to make sure they are not doled out to those connected to Montpelier such that we avoid crony grant writing. On top of that we have to tell them the town they chose doesn’t have high speed internet and we’re closing down that school.

      Worked in real estate for 30+ years, we can tell you why people aren’t coming to Vermont, it’s really very, very simple. Many in Montpelier aren’t listening or don’t have the background/experience to solve the problem.

      • “Worked in real estate for 30+ years, we can tell you why people aren’t coming to Vermont, it’s really very, very simple. Many in Montpelier aren’t listening or don’t have the background/experience to solve the problem.”

        And you can tell us why folks are packing their bags, specifically, the young to middle aged folks that are looking for Jobs. I’m in my early 40’s with 3 kids. Entering my PRIME earning years. My wife and I said bye to Vermont going on two years now, and financially it’s been the best choice we could of made. The state I live in hands out nearly 7k per year to students who finished in the top 10% of their class to attend ANY state collage in the state. Is there anywhere in the North East that does that? Not that I have found. Then you add the houses that can be purchased for sub $100/sq ft all day long. Good NEW houses.

        Why again aren’t folks moving to VT? I can tell you, it makes absolutely ZERO financial sense to do it. Period.

  7. I have a bit of a unique perspective on this issue as someone who no longer lives in Vermont but have coworkers that know that I recently came from Vermont.

    I’ve had two coworkers approach me after reading the news. Both of the reaction were similar. The reaction went along the lines of:

    “Is Vermont really so desperate that they need to pay people to mover there”

    The conversation then goes on about how they read that it has one of oldest average ages, a shrinking work force, and both times the comment ended with . “Aren’t the taxes there really high?”

    I simply replied: “Astronomical”

    Short story is, this isn’t pulling the wool over anybody’s eyes. The news is out, Vermont’s desperate, and also, they it’s a high tax state.

    I did tell them, if anyone they know of is looking to move to New England, their best value for tax dollars spent is certainly New Hampshire with no income or sales tax. NH sports one of the lowest poverty rates in the country, one of the highest median incomes, better income equality then Vermont, several reasonably priced airports to fly from.

  8. This $10K boondoggle that the Governor has presented, I guess the state must be in
    great shape “No Debt” as the Governor his handing out money from the “Bottomless ”
    coffer of taxpayer funds……………Just like his new-found Liberal friends.

    Governor, please tell the buffoons we have in the Legislator ” Lower Taxes ” would be
    the ” Incentive ” for people to come and live here, not this liberal ” Feel Good ” fiasco.

    So today in Vermont if you’re starting out in life, you cannot afford to live here or if your
    Retired today in Vermont, you cannot afford to live here….Now that’s consistency !!!

    What Montpelier doesn’t get is with this $10K program they’ll bring in 12 people, but they
    are loosing 24 ………………….. Sad !!……………

    This is only year one of a three-year plan.

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