Daily Archives: March 23, 2015

So maybe James Ehlers wasn’t such a nut after all.

Not too long ago, most of Vermont’s environmental groups were lining up to give Gov. Shumlin a pat on the back for a strong Inaugural Day commitment to cleaning up Lake Champlain. The notable nonparticipant in the cheerleading was James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International, who saw the plan as inadequate and almost doomed to failure.

Vermont’s waters need more science and less politics. That is what we have taken away from the governor’s inaugural address and the subsequent media events.

… We need and want his plan to succeed. But, sadly, it won’t.

For his trouble, he was cast as the outsider unwilling to accept a pretty good plan that was probably the most that could be hoped for, given current political and fiscal realities. Well, that might have been the nicest way it was put:

To his admirers, Ehlers is a fearless crusader for water quality, willing to speak truth to power — even if that pisses off political officials and establishment environmental groups in the process.

To his detractors, Ehlers is, at best, a bombastic ideologue. Some doubt his motivations, wondering privately if he’s fueled more by ego than environmentalism.

But now, here come the “reasonable” enviros sounding an Ehlers-like alarm.

Shumlin’s [Inaugural] message was celebrated by environmentalists. But two months later, many of the same supporters say the state’s cleanup plan is insufficient to achieve state water quality standards.

“It really doesn’t do much of anything to deal with the several agricultural problems that are present in the most polluted watersheds in Lake Champlain,” said Chris Kilian, vice president and director of the Conservation Law Foundation.

Kilian and others are upset over the Agriculture Agency’s handling of farm-related water quality issues. Ag Secretary Chuck Ross has refused a petition to impose “best practices” on farms near impaired sections of Lake Champlain, and seems more concerned with concocting excuses for inaction than for pushing ahead with an aggressive enforcement plan.

Maybe that’s no surprise, considering that his agency is more of an encourager — and enabler — of the ag industry than an environmental enforcer. As Kilian says, “there is no demonstrated track record that we do share the same goal.”

It’s easy to conclude that the Shumlin administration is ambivalent about Champlain; if not for the threat of the EPA hanging over its head, we’d almost certainly still be in “speak loudly and carry a toothpick” mode. The administration’s goal seems to be devising a plan that will barely be enough to mollify the feds.

Ehlers, of course, was saying so all along. He should be forgiven if he indulges in an ironic chuckle.

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Throw your rubbers overboard, there’s no one here but men

Members of the House Republican caucus held a presser this morning, to slam the Democratic majority’s budget and promote their own ideas, whatever the hell they are. I wasn’t at the event, so I’ll have to wait for other media before I can comment on the substance. But I cannot resist commenting on the style. This is a photo of the presser from VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld:

The Men of the VTGOP

 

Now if that isn’t the very image of Republican diversity, I don’t know what is. Look: they’ve got old white guys — and younger white guys!

C’mon, folks. Couldn’t you get Peg Flory or Heidi Scheuermann or Patti Komline to show up, just for the sake of appearances?

Flynn Center Presents: Serenade for Tiny Violins

A state tax reform measure that would cap itemized deductions at 2.5 times the standard deduction has picked up quite a bit of steam in the Legislature. And right on cue, here comes the Flynn Center’s John Killacky to sound the alarm: limiting itemized deductions “could have dire… consequences for Vermont’s nonprofits.”

tiny violinAwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Pardon me if my heart doesn’t bleed. What he’s saying is that we have to let our wealthiest keep a whole lot of their money in hopes that they’ll give bits of it to charity. It’s a very inefficient way to encourage philanthropy, especially in a day when our regulation of “nonprofits” is so lax, it’s laughable.

Just one example. The Koch Brothers, and many of their fellow megawealthy conservatives, don’t actually donate much to political parties or candidates. No, they set up networks of nonprofit organizations with “educational” missions and — wowee! — promote their ideology while simultaneously pocketing huge tax savings. Yeah, we’re subsidizing conservative propaganda. Feels good, doesn’t it?

(We’re also subsidizing a fair bit of liberal propaganda. The Vermont Workers’ Center has become a very well-funded organization thanks to dozens of annual gifts from nonprofit foundations, many of them set up by wealthy individuals. Its biggest donor is the Ben & Jerry Foundation. I’m not equating the Vermont Workers’ Center with the Koch Brothers, but they both sail along on a rising tide of tax-deductible contributions.)

Back to Vermont. Killacky cites a survey that shows “67 percent of people interviewed confirmed that a decrease in income tax deductions would cause them to contribute less.”

Perhaps. I’d like to see how the study was conducted and how the questions were worded. But even if it’s legit, it should have little to no impact on Vermont’s debate over itemized deductions.

That’s because the big kahuna is the federal deduction. A change in Vermont law would have no effect on that far larger tax benefit. There would still be abundant incentive to contribute.

Killacky also fails to mention that Vermont’s current tax rules for the wealthy are among the most generous in the nation. If we put a cap on deductions, we’d no longer be an outlier in our generosity to our wealthiest citizens, but we’d still be plenty generous.

The scare tactics are entirely out of proportion to the real situation. I can understand why Killacky feels obligated to scurry to the defense of his fat-cat donors, but his arguments are unconvincing.