There’s been a lot of talk about the tax incentives and budgetary targets in Phil Scott’s newly released economic plan. There’s been less coverage of parts of the plan that might actually have the greatest impact: a strongly pro-business orientation in how state government operates.
Regarding tax changes and budget cuts, Scott would have to work with large — possibly veto-proof — Democratic majorities in the Legislature. But a lot of the pro-business orientation is a matter of executive authority. “Governor Scott” could do a lot to make his administration business-friendly without any legislative input.
And let there be no doubt: Phil Scott would be a very business-friendly Governor. So much so, that it calls into question his image of political moderation.
There’s one item that leaped off the page when I was reading his economic plan. He foresees a dramatic re-orientation in the Act 250 permitting process. First, he would establish a 90-day time limit for major permitting applications, and a four-week limit for “minor licensing and permitting.”
I don’t know how he plans to enforce the time limits. And given his vagueness in other areas, I imagine he doesn’t know either.
And then there’s the second thing, which could be even bigger. He wants “Act 250 permit specialsts to serve as pro-growth guides.”
Let that sink in for a moment.
He wants employees of the Department of Environmental Conservation NOT to act in the public interest, or to focus on environmental preservation. He wants them to hold the hands of developers and shepherd their proposals through the process. Yes, we’d be paying DEC staffers to be advocates for business.
Currently, the permit specialists are supposed to communicate with developers. But they are also tasked with communicating with the public and other interested parties. There’s no mention of that in Scott’s proposed rewrite of the job description.
This is merely an echo of a very clear stance at the very beginning of Scott’s economic plan:
State government must be an economic and regulatory ally to private sector innovation and business growth.
As usual, Scott’s booklet pays lip service to protecting the environment — but statements like this set down a clear marker. Under Phil Scott, state government will be an “ally” to business.
And as our chief executive, he’d have the power to make it so. He will, for instance, choose the leaders of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development. They would be tasked with conducting an “Employer Visitation Program,” which would see them traveling outside Vermont to meet with potential employers and determine their “needs and concerns.”
ACCD would be required to report directly to Governor Scott about their findings, and “when appropriate, I will participate in these discussions directly.”
So he would appoint his own kind of people to ACCD, and he’d bird-dog them personally to make sure they’re catering to the needs of business.
All of this should give pause to Vermont’s anti-renewable activists. Sure, Phil Scott wants a moratorium on ridgeline wind and greater local power over renewable energy proposals. But in every other respect, his administration wouild be environmentally regressive. In particular, his plans for Act 250 would make it harder to slow down or block development proposals.
And that attitude is mirrored when it comes to wireless connectivity. He wants a “streamlined and predictable process” for wireless providers.
In sum, if you’re okay with more wireless towers, shopping malls, and subdivisions as long as you don’t get wind farms, then vote for Phil Scott.
Speaking of subdivisions, Scott wants to set “aggressive workforce housing goals.” Now, encouraging more housing is a positive, but the devil is in the details. Regarding tax incentives for housing, Scott has said he would “meet with developers” to see what sort of incentives they’d like to have. No mention of housing activists or nonprofits — just developers.
Seems as though the Governor’s door will always be open to businesses and developers. No mention of the environment, beyond the usual lip service.
And then there’s energy policy. His “Clean & Affordable Energy” section is woefully short on details, as he himself admitted at his press conference. But his top priority is clearly on “affordable,” with “clean” taking a back seat.
Of course, “clean” is Republican code for “maybe renewable, maybe not.” In Scott’s parlance, “clean” includes natural gas. And indeed, he wants to expand availability of natural gas in Vermont, presumably including the Vermont Gas pipeline.
Bear in mind that a Governor Scott would be appointing the next Public Service Commissioner and filling at least one pending vacancy on the three-member Public Service Board. If they’re following his lead, they’ll be more friendly to natural gas development while putting the kibosh on ridgeline wind and imposing new hurdles for solar developers to jump through.
If we can take Phil Scott at his word, his administration would be extremely deferential to the interests of business and developers. Please understand, I acknowledge the importance of businesspeople in our economy and I don’t want them unnecessarily hindered. But government, in my view, has a crucial role as a neutral arbiter between business and the public interest — of smoothing the rough edges and excesses of an untrammeled free market.
From my reading of Phil Scott’s economic plan, he would abandon government’s role as a representative of all relevant interests. Instead, he would take the state as far as he could in a pro-business direction. And much of what he wants to do would be within his purview as chief executive. The Legislature wouldn’t have any direct input into the kinds of policies and attitudes he would foster in his administration.
If that’s what you want, then feel free to vote for the guy.