Category Archives: Economy

Weenie Exceptionalism

Ah, Vermont. Hewn of granite and marble. Majestic mountains, vast forests. A stout and hearty people, hardworking and honest. A land of enduring values.

Or…

An incredibly fragile place that could be knocked out of kilter by the gentlest breeze. A state whose very future might be imperiled by the slightest misstep, no matter where or when.

Myself, I live in the first state. A lot of us seem to have taken up permanent residence in the nightmarish second, at least to judge by their Chicken Little rhetoric.

I see it from all parts of the political spectrum. Conservatives and liberals, business types, environmental activists, townies, country folk, etc., etc.

Let’s take Rutland, a city that’s had its share of hard knocks. The manufacturing boom times, the long steady decline, the scourge of drug addiction. It’s lived through all that, and retained a sense of identity and pride.

But add 100 Syrian refugees, and the whole place will go kerblooey. So say the fearmongers and nativists at Rutland First, anyway. City Treasurer Wendy Wilton claims she’d be fine with 25 Syrians — but 100 is simply too many. Others say the Syrians would be doomed to unemployment or underemployment because there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

Oh ye Rutlanders of little faith.
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Come On Down to Big Phil’s Big Incent-a-palooza!

“YOU get a tax incentive! YOU get a tax incentive! And YOU get a tax incentive! In fact, ALL of you get a tax incentive!”

This appears to be the nuts of Phil Scott’s plan for boosting our economy. The guy who once told VTDigger “I like incentives” certainly does; over the course of his gubernatorial campaign, he’s floated tax-incentive ideas that cover just about every contingency.

It is his favorite approach to boosting growth. It costs nothing up-front; you can stage a shiny photo opportunity with every recipient; and the fallout is vague, hard to measure, and located somewhere in the future.

Unfortunately, there is little to no evidence that tax incentives accomplish anything. At best, they are blunderbusses in a target-shooting contest. At worst, they are just plain giveaways that hurt necessary government programs.

Officially, the state calls these programs “tax expenditures,” which is the appropriate term. It reminds us that every time we offer an incentive, we are forgoing tax revenue. It should be evaluated the same way we’d review a government program: does it work, and is it worth the money?

What’s worse, Vermont’s existing incentives are problematic due to a lack of documentation and oversight. And we need more of that?

There has been, naturally, no counting the cost of all these giveaways. Perhaps that’s why Scott’s own website fails to disclose any specific incentive ideas; if he presented the list all in once place, it’d be downright embarrassing.

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Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas — UPDATED with more fleas

Hey, you know about the Mylan controversy? Yeah, the company that bought the rights to the EpiPen and then jacked up the price by several gazillion percent? It now charges nearly $500 for a gizmo that probably cost them about three bucks to make.

Well, I’d managed to forget, or suppress, its Vermont connection until I was reminded by recent accounts in VTDigger and the Burlington Free Press. To wit, the Shumlin administration arranged a peculiar land swap in St. Albans to facilitate an expansion of Mylan’s operations here.

A land swap that costs the General Fund about a half million dollars a year.

(That’s about the price tag we “couldn’t afford” to spend on an Ethics Commission. Just sayin’.)

UPDATE: As Auditor Doug Hoffer points out, Mylan is also a beneficiary of the Vermont Employment Growth Initiative (VEGI) program to the tune of $5.7 million. More on this below.

I won’t rehash all the details here; you can check out VTDigger’s 2013 story, which lays it all out in excruciating detail.  I will note one thing before moving on: this turd blossom featured the guy I’m beginning to think of as the Joe Btfsplk of the Shumlin administration.

The idea… was largely the brainchild of Lawrence Miller, the Commerce Secretary.

Mmmyeah, EB-5, the endless Vermont Health Connect reboot, and now Mylan. Quite the resume you’re building, Mr. Miller.

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Phil Scott’s magical population boom

Throughout his campaign for governor, Phil Scott has tossed out the notion that Vermont’s population must grow. He offers an ambitious target: a total population of 700,000 within 15 years. That’s roughly 75,000 more people.

Which is ridiculous, impossible, absurd. But that won’t stop him from saying it.

(Matt Dunne said the same thing in the primary race; it was just as ridiculous coming from him.)

Let’s start with the fact that he’s swimming against very powerful national tides. America’s population has been growing in southern and western sectors, and staying the same or shrinking in the midwest and northeast. There are a number of reasons for this, among them being climate, natural resources, and far greater immigration in the south and west.

Now, a couple of points made by VTDigger’s Jon Margolis in an essay posted earlier this year. For starters, there’s the fact that such growth is unprecedented without a tangible underlying cause:

States experience that kind of growth only after a discovery of natural resources (such as the California Gold Rush of 1849 or North Dakota’s Bakken Shield oil and gas in 2006) or when the federal government decides to invest billions in military, aerospace or energy projects.

In all its history, Vermont has had but one period of rapid population growth. It was in the 1960s and 1970s. The federal investment that made it possible was completion of interstates 89 and 91. Vermont’s version of “gold” was lots of cheap land…

That ain’t happening again, especially if Scott’s Republican buddies take control in Washington. Indeed, if the federal budget were to endure anything like the cuts the GOP would like to impose, small rural states like Vermont and its hypothetical Governor Scott would be royally screwed.

Moving on.

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Geoffrey Norman is a bitter, fact-challenged man

See if you recognize this place.

 

It’s drug-infested and scandal-plagued; its only growth sector is “methadone clinics.” Government is bloated and ineffective; politicians offer tired bromides or worse. Its politics march to an “angry populist beat” but the electorate is “too old, too tired, and too disillusioned” to turn their anger into action. “Soaring” taxes bludgeon inhabitants into sullen beggary, stripped of the will to resist. Many believe that the place’s “moment has passed.” For-sale signs litter the neighborhoods, as multitudes seek desperately to escape.

In case you don’t recognize this hopeless wasteland or the aimlessly trudging zombie-eyed inhabitants wandering the land, yes, it’s Vermont, and those zombies are you and me.

At least it’s the Vermont that haunts the fever dreams of Geoffrey Norman, best known in Internet circles as the former operator of the late, great free-market blog, Vermont Tiger.

Well, Norman is still around, and is respected enough in conservative circles that he managed to sell an essay to the Wall Street Journal. It’s gloriously entitled “In Declining Vermont, the Mood Is More Resigned Than Angry.”

And if you want to know why some see Vermont as a bad place to relocate or do business, maybe it’s because the readers of the Wall Street Journal are being fed this kind of crapola.

I mean, thanks, Geoffrey, for doing your utmost to defame your home state.

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The VPR Poll: Pants On Fire, and other observations

Rich Clark was worried about inaccurate results. That’s why he didn’t want to survey Vermonters about their preferences in the August primary.

Okay, but when you look at the results of his VPR Poll, you realize that some of those people are lying their asses off. Which kinda makes the whole accuracy concern seem a bit irrelevant.

The biggest whoppers came when respondents were asked how likely they are to vote. 87 percent said they were very or somewhat likely to vote in November. In actual fact, we’ll be lucky to hit 60.

As for the primary, 68 percent claim to be very or somewhat likely to vote. More than half of those people are lying. The biggest primary turnouts in recent years were 23 percent in 2010 and 30 percent in 2000, the year of the Great “Take Back Vermont” freakout.

Which makes me wonder. If that many people are lying about that, why should we believe the rest of their answers?

After the jump: analysis of their possibly truthful answers. 

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Hey look: another failing business-incentive program!

Remember a couple years ago when New York launched “Startup NY,” an ambitious, expensive business incentive program? Vermont officials looked on with envy and concern as a program they couldn’t possibly match went into effect — with a barrage of slick TV ads saturating the Vermont airwaves, no less.

Republicans used Startup NY as a cudgel when attacking Governor Shumlin for not being business-friendly. Shumlin used it as something of a bargaining chip to get the Legislature to approve his desired incentive programs.

Well, the Cuomo administration just issued its required annual status report on Startup NY — months after the due date, and released at 4:30 pm on Friday afternoon heading into the Fourth of July weekend.

Yep, a newsdump. And yep, the report was bad news.

The companies that moved into the StartUp NY network of tax-free zones have created just 408 of the more than 4,100 jobs they promised to add to the state’s employment rolls within five years, according to a long-delayed report released late Friday by Empire State Development.

Well, now we know why the report was “long-delayed” and released at the last possible moment before a three-day weekend. Nobody in the Cuomo administration wanted to face questions about it.

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