By Guy Page
On June 14, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., tweeted, “Today I met at @VTChamber with businesses of all sizes to learn about the damage #TrumpTradeWar is inflicting on Vermonters & our economy. I am fighting to pass legislation to protect these businesses & their employees from Trump’s erratic & irresponsible trade policies.”
As further reported by VT Digger, Welch listened to members of the Vermont Chamber of Commerce in Barre prophesy economic woe due to the tariffs aimed at ending decades of unequal trading practices by (mostly) our largest trading partner, China.
Front-and-center among the complainers was Burton Snowboards, which predicted it could lose $5 million in profits next year due to the tariffs.
Burton Snowboards, of course, is not some politically disinterested maker of outdoor gear. It is a longtime donor to Democratic and progressive politics. In 2018, Burton Snowboards (company, owners, employees combined) gave $42,630 to Democratic congressional candidates and $0 to Republican counterparts, according to the campaign finance website OpenSecrets.org. The company also is listed by OpenSecrets as #12 on the all-time donor list for Rep. Peter Welch, with $47,200 for business donations and another $47,200 in individual donations. According to a May, 2019 Politico news story, company founder Jake Burton donated $5000 to the 2016 presidential campaign of Pres. Bernie Sanders.
It’s true that Burton, Vermont and the rest of the U.S. may suffer during a tariff war. But China has been dealing unfairly with the United States for almost 30 years. The U.S. lost a quarter of its manufacturing jobs to China between 1990 and 2007, according to Fareed Zakaria in the Washington Post. Every president in the last 30 years has sought fairer treatment. No dice. China refuses to equalize trade relations. As the Wall Street Journal recently noted, “the president’s tough line now—heading into the final stretch of negotiations—will reduce friction later. China is less likely to cheat on any future agreement if it needs to comply to earn a reduction.”
Vermont critics of Trump’s economic policies seem willfully ignorant that Vermont individuals, families, companies, pensioners, and state revenue have benefited from the national economic boom spurred at least in part by Trump’s tax cuts and deregulation. Vermont unemployment is at an all-time low. The Trump tax cuts restored millions of dollars to Vermont ratepayers and employees. Headliners reported on that terrific windfall to Vermont energy users and workers in September, 2018. In October 2018, we reported the $15.5 million windfall in Vermont corporate tax revenue during the first three quarters of 2018, thanks to Trump’s forced repatriation of corporate tax revenue from off-shore businesses. When we published those two stories, we thought the Vermont political/business/media establishment might sit up and take notice.
Alas, no. That’s not what happened.
Instead, this “good news” story for Vermonters was toxic to political/media Montpelier. In the halls of the State House, it simply wasn’t discussed out loud – I know, because I tried. It’s not that lawmakers and media didn’t intellectually grasp that the tax cuts had just enriched virtually every Vermonter through cuts in power bills, and had also benefited thousands of workers. But they (including many Republicans) were unwilling to give public attaboys to Donald Trump – for any reason. To paraphrase something Fox News commentator Brit Hume recently said, “if Donald Trump suddenly announced a cure for all illness and death, he would be criticized for harming the health care industry and increasing the population crisis.”
Will tariffs hurt Vermont in the short run and/or the long run? Time will tell. But what Vermonters can confidently predict is that many of our elected officials and the businesses that financially support them will not say so if the Trump tariffs work, after all.
Guy Page is affiliated with the Vermont Energy Partnership; the Vermont Alliance for Ethical Healthcare; and Physicians, Families and Friends for a Better Vermont.