Daily Archives: July 14, 2015

What’s your favorite boondoggle?

Hey look, the state’s talking about boosting passenger trains! Cue the Republican Outrage Machine.

The [Vermont] Agency of Transportation has issued its first statewide rail plan in nearly a decade. The proposal envisions new passenger routes to Burlington, Montreal, Manchester and Bennington…

… The combined price tag for the 20-year plan totals $665 million, well more than the $380 million in state and federal funding anticipated over the same time frame.

I can hear it now: a waste of taxpayer dollars! Unconscionable subsidies for a bygone system! Passenger rail serves only a small affluent clientele of train buffs!

Republicans, after all, have been trying to kill Amtrak for years because they believe passenger rail should pay its own way.

Which sounds nice in theory, makes a good sound bite. Problem is, there isn’t a transportation system of any kind that can stand on its own two feet. They all require massive subsidization.

Roads and highways, well, that’s easy. Construction and upkeep is entirely a taxpayer-funded enterprise, with the very occasional exception of toll roads. If we actually apportioned the costs on the basis of usership, the cost of long-distance trucking would go through the roof. Cargo trains would suddenly seem like a bargain by comparison. And if inter-city commutes reflected their true costs, well, let’s just say CCTA would have to greatly expand its LINK service.

But air travel is the big enchilada. An airport manager once told me, “Airports inherently lose money.” The infrastructure and security costs are borne by taxpayers, most of whom rarely or never use the facilities. (Talk about taking from the poor and giving to the rich.)

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A cup of weak tea… with Kristin Carlson

Last week, I reacted to the news of Vermont PBS’ new program, “Connect… with Kristin Carlson” with a measure of skepticism over the host’s dual role — as host of the show, and as lead spokesperson for Green Mountain Power, the state’s largest utility.

Since then, the show has had its premiere. And sorry, I didn’t watch. I did, however, listen to Carlson’s July 9 interview with WDEV’s Mark Johnson about the new show. During the interview, Johnson quizzed her about the conflict of interest questions. And her answers were surprisingly weak and one-dimensional. Uncharacteristically so, for a person with double digits’ experience in TV news who’s now one of the most prominent corporate spokesflacks in Vermont. I presume she does a better job when she’s representing GMP.

Anyhoo, kind of an underwhelming performance. Her fallback position, expressed several times, was that this is not an “issue” show, but a show about “sharing the stories of Vermonters.” She’ll avoid talking with people who would create an obvious conflict — which could include quite a swath of Vermonters, depending on how you interpret “conflict.” She wouldn’t interview GMP President Mary Powell — or anti-renewable activist Annette Smith, for that matter. But how far does she take it?

Is anyone involved in energy issues, or environmental issues, or business, on the no-show list? To be on the safe side, they probably should be; but the bigger that list becomes, the more incomplete the show becomes.

Johnson asked about potential guests who don’t have an obvious conflict, but “you never know where a conversation is going to go.” Her response?

… I do a lot of the pre-interviews with people, talk to them about what we’re going to talk about, and if I get into an area where I might think ‘Okay, this might be a little, mmmm,’ then we just won’t do it.

My prediction? If she plans to err on the side of caution, this will by necessity be a pretty toothless show. Or at best a deficient reflection of Vermont’s character.

But that’s not the real problem.

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