In my previous post, I explored the fiduciary contradictions of Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s recently posted essay on VTDigger. For those just joining us, Scott believes he can hold the line on state spending and reject any tax or fee increases, while also increasing spending in several areas and somehow hold harmless our social safety net and environmental protections. Which, hahahaha.
That was enough for one post. But there’s something else in his essay that’s worthy of attention. It’s stunningly radical, putting him way, way out in Tea Party territory on a crucial, all-encompassing issue of governance.
… the Legislature needs to set a clear standard for all legislation. If a proposal responsibly decreases the costs of living and doing business in Vermont, they should pass it. If it increases costs in any way and leaves us open to financial uncertainty, they should set it aside.
Whoa. This ain’t the bland, inoffensive, centrist Phil Scott we’ve all come to know and love. This is a hard-line stance that would warm the cockles of David Koch’s heart, if he’s got one.
It’s also completely unworkable, natch. In the abstract it’s simple and elegant; in practice, it would create all sorts of problems.
It makes me wonder afresh whether this guy is capable of being our governor. Or whether he’s really given much thought to this whole “platform” thing.
According to Scott, a proposal should be tossed in the dumpster if it “increases costs in any way.” Does he realize how much ground this would cover? It would eliminate practically any new bill on environmental protection, renewable energy, land use, permitting, worker protection, or health care reform, among others. It would obviously eliminate any tax or fee hikes, no matter how small.
But that’s just the first monster to fly out of this big ugly Pandora’s box. Next: Who decides whether a given proposal would “increase costs in any way”? Must every bill be thoroughly vetted? That would be a job far too big and complicated (and political) for the modestly-staffed Legislative Council. Sussing out the potential costs that might be imposed by a given piece of legislation is a huge task loaded with variables and unknowns.
If not the Legislative Council, then who? If an interest group raised complaints, would that be enough to kill a bill? Who evaluates and passes judgment on the claims and counter-claims? I suspect that a Phil Scott administration would give great credence to the voices of the business community.
What if a bill would increase costs in the short run but save money in the longer term? For example, energy efficiency costs more in the short run but promises tremendous savings. How short-sighted does Phil Scott want us to be?
Also, in many cases, a bill could decrease costs for some and impose new costs on others. Say, for instance, we decided to really screw the doctors and hospitals and cut reimbursement rates. That’d save the government (and hence taxpayers) some coin, but it’d leave providers and institutions scrambling.
Heck, this principle would make it a lot harder to cut the state budget. Let’s say we cut state funding for liberal arts programs at colleges and universities; the state would save, but either the institutions would bear the costs or they’d pass ’em on to students. Or if we cut social services, costs would clearly go up for our most vulnerable Vermonters.
And then there’s that second term on Scott’s banned list: “Uncertainty.” Need I say that uncertainty is almost impossible to disprove?
This half-baked idea of Phil Scott’s would seriously hamstring the legislative process, making it even more difficult than it already is to make meaningful change.
If his idea of bold leadership and a new direction is to put the lawmaking process into virtual stasis, then he’s on the right track.
I’m still waiting for the presumed front-runner to present ideas that are both innovative and workable. I’m beginning to think it will be a long wait.