Daily Archives: September 26, 2014

The universal Milne

The Scott Milne campaign has a number of albatrosses around its neck.There’s the newbie candidate’s inept performances on the stump and in debates. There’s his apparent allergy to fundraising. There was, of course, his late start. There’s the devastated, improverished infrastructure of the Vermont Republican Party. (Tickets Still Available for the Congressman Peter King fundraiser tonight!) (Please buy a ticket!) (Pretty please?) There’s the fact that he still hasn’t managed to articulate actual positions on the issues.

And on top of all that, there’s his remarkably incoherent political positioning. Because, you see, Scott Milne is trying to be all things to all people. He’s simultaneously opening his big-tent flap to conservatives, moderates, and even liberals.

Scott MilneLiberals?

Yup.

He’s trying to present himself as a thoughful, moderate leader who will consider all points of view, including the most progressive. He’s depicting Governor Shumlin as a bad manager; his pitch to liberals is, “If you replace Shumlin, state government will work better and you’ll see more of your policy dreams come true.”

It’s an impossible balancing act to maintain. And Scott Milne is definitely not the man for the job.

Look at his runaround on the GMO labeling bill during this week’s debate.

First, he said the GMO bill was “a good example of the radical, progressive management of a bill by this Administration.” Then he said he wouldn’t repeal it. Then he couldn’t say whether he would have vetoed it if he’d been Governor. And finally, he returned to the theme of “managing the bill,” saying that if Shumlin hadn’t been so ham-fisted about it, the bill could have been passed “in a much more business-friendly way.”

To sum up: the bill itself isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, it could even be a positive. But Shumlin’s “management of the bill,” whatever the hell that means, was the problem.

If only Scott Milne had been Governor, we would have gotten the same outcome with completely different results. The liberals would have gotten their way, but we would have remained somehow “business-friendly.” Or something like that.

My theory also explains his odd stance on health care reform. Vermont Health Connect was a radical, progressive program — but single-payer health care is NOT necessarily radical. It could turn out to be the best option. Milne ain’t saying.

What he is trying to say to us liberals is, Shumlin’s made a mess of Vermont Health Connect. Elect me, and I’ll make it work so smoothly that it’ll pave the way to single-payer. Maybe.

On issue after issue, Scott Milne is trying to appeal to everybody at the same time. On school funding, he wants to cut costs but he also wants to retain local control. He wants a freeze on the statewide property tax, but he apparently doesn’t want schools to suffer any cuts. And he’s unwilling to even hint at a new school-funding plan. Because he doesn’t want to lose a single vote.

Many issues are simply too “complicated,” and all he promises is to work with the Democratic Legislature on the details. To conservatives, the message is: I’ll hold the line. To liberals, it’s I’ll let you have your way a lot of the time. Somehow he’s not convincing any of us.

Most telling of all is his stance on legalizing marijuana, which sounds like it came from a chronic doper:

“It is a bad idea but if I get a bill, I’ll sign it.”

In the words of the candidate himself, Holy Shamoley.

I realize the man thinks he is “Gandhi-like,” but even the original Mahatma couldn’t have pulled this off.

 

Vermont schools get a top grade from a surprising source

Those stinkin’ commies at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have put together a state-by-state “report card” on K-12 educational effectiveness, thoughtfully entitled “Leaders and Laggards.”

And guess who got an “A”?

Vermont. 

Yes, the state with the terrible awful expensive union-dominated monopolized anti-choice public school system got an “A”.

From the U.S. Chamber of Freakin’ Commerce. 

Let’s see you spin that, conservative public school critics.

The Chamber did downgrade Vermont in some areas. We got an “F” in “Parental Options” (no vouchers) and in “Technology” (“limited access to… digital learning options”).  And we got a “D-” in “21st Century Teacher Force,” which basically means we don’t fire teachers often enough for the Chamber’s liking. And there were a couple of middling grades.

But Vermont got a lot of top marks in key areas: Academic Achievement, which is kinda the point of a school system; Postsecondary and Workforce Readiness, which is something our schools are often criticized for; International Competitiveness; and (here’s the real shocker) Fiscal Responsibility.

Wow. If the U.S. Chamber of Commerce thinks Vermont’s schools are excelling in fiscal responsibility and academic achievement, and the Chamber has put Vermont in the top echelon of “Leaders,” I think that’s cause for celebration.

Somehow I doubt it will quiet the critics on the right, although it sure as hell should.

Art Woolf’s arguments of convenience

Welp, Vermont’s Loudest Economist is at it again. Art Woolf’s latest dispensation of wisdom in the Thursday Burlington Free Press is chock full of half-baked research, lazy reasoning, and politically convenient conclusions.

The main conclusion, as is often the case: Vermont sucks.

The topic of Art’s latest “How We’re Doing” effort was outmigration – the fact that Vermont’s population is roughly stable (or stagnant if you prefer, as Art does) and a lot of people are leaving.

This week’s entry in the digital Freeploid is entitled “Ex-Vermonters Vote With Their Feet.” (The print edition had a different title.)

As if every decision to move is a “vote” against Vermont. Every birth, a “yes” vote; every death, a “no” vote. (The Medical Examiner ruling: Death By Taxes.)

popchgsept25The accompanying chart shows three factors in population change: births/deaths ratio, immigration (from outside the US), and Net Domestic Migration. It shows immigration as a constant: we have a relatively small trickle of foreigners setting here. The births/deaths ratio was healthy until 2008, when the birthrate began to drop. But the biggie is Net Domestic Migration, which has been negative since about 2004.

(The chart is, of course, scaled to dramatize the net-migration plunge.)

Woolf chalks up the declining birthrate to our aging population, which is reasonable (although I wonder how much the Great Recession played into it): we do have more people beyond the usual child-rearing age. Woolf speculates that our birthrate will continue to fall as our population ages.

But later, when he’s expounding on the causes of our negative Net Migration, he completely ignores the aging population. Did it occur to him that a lot of our outmigrants are senior Vermonters heading for the Sun Belt? Not to judge by his column:

When people vote with their feet, they are saying something about the desirability of a state.

Those people are saying that despite its many attractions, Vermont is not a popular place for people to live and work.

For some that’s true, but not for an 80-year old who’s tired of hauling firewood and shoveling snow.

Woolf uses our aging population as a cudgel when it’s convenient; he ignores it when it’s not.

Also, as usual, Woolf doesn’t bother to compare Vermont to similar states. The outmigration of young people is a common problem for small, rural states; is Vermont’s better or worse than, say, Maine’s or Wyoming’s? Or northern New Hampshire’s?

Finally, let’s bring up a sacred cow that Woolf would never touch: the role our employers play in making Vermont undesirable. Generally speaking, Vermont’s pay rates are on the low side. Even if you’re talking about comparable jobs, the pay is often lower in Vermont than elsewhere.

Two examples I have some familiarity with: medicine and academics. Pay scales at UVM (and Dartmouth) are lower than at similar institutions elsewhere — sometimes substantially lower. Like, 50% or more. Our institutions get away with that because (a) Vermont offers such a high quality of life that many professionals will settle for a lower salary, and (b) our cost of living is relatively low compared to, say, Boston or New York or even Albany.

Many Vermont employers, especially in technology fields, complain that they can’t find enough qualified workers. Well, maybe they aren’t paying enough. Maybe they’re not recruiting hard enough.

No, that’s not it. Must be the taxes.

To be fair, Woolf doesn’t come out and blame taxes and regulation for Vermont’s outmigration. But he omits a lot of factors that lead to other conclusions: that we have built-in disadvantages, that our employers skimp on pay and aren’t aggressive enough in attracting new residents. And that our aging population is likely a major factor in growing outmigration.

This week’s entry, like many of his columns, is meant to undergird the business point of view — that we need to fling open the door to growth by cutting taxes, regulations, and those pesky environmental laws. As a thorough, honest look at How We’re Doing, the best grade you can give is Incomplete.