Category Archives: Economy

Big Greenwashing

Dartmouth College has announced a new, lavishly-funded institute to study energy issues. Or, as the PR bumpf puts it, the institute’s purpose is “ato advance the understanding and knowledge of a resource that powers modern life and is directly related to society’s standard of living and success.”

Great news, right?

Well, not everybody thinks so. As the Valley News reports, “environmentalists within the Dartmouth community described [the institute] as a ‘horrific’ example of influence-peddling.”

See, the full name of the new body is the Arthur L. Irving Institute for Energy and Society. That’s “Irving” as in Irving Oil, one of New England’s leading distributors of fossil fuel. The Irving family donated $80 million — roughly half the estimated cost of the thing, including a shiny new building to be erected on campus — in exchange for the naming rights and, some fear, a measure of influence on what exactly is studied.

This is a growing trend on college and university campuses: rich people with axes to grind putting up scads of dough to establish “institutes” devoted to studying questions of their choosing. And churning out “research” that, mirabile dictu, supports conservative and pro-business points of view.

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Phil Scott serves up a man-sized portion of word salad

I think I understand why they tried to cut off Phil Scott’s healthcare policy press conference after a mere eight minutes of questions. Because to judge by this week’s unveiling of his economic plan, he has a very hard time when he has to get specific.

The plan was presented in a 56-page or 39-page* booklet, which was supposedly comprehensive and detailed.

*It was originally touted as 56, but it turned out to be 39. That included fourteen and a half pages of large glossy photos, mainly featuring Phil Scott. 

That all fell apart as soon as reporters started asking questions. And pretty soon, you could almost see the smoke rising from the candidate’s ears.

The most obvious FAIL was his inability to provide numbers for his “detailed” plans. He admitted that the costs of his numerous tax-incentive ideas haven’t been calculated. He acknowledged that there wasn’t any detail to his energy plan. He ducked a question about specific cuts he would make in the state budget. And when asked how much money would be saved if all 50 of his proposals were implemented, he answered thusly:

I don’t know, to tell you the truth. We haven’t done that analysis.

Exsqueeze me?

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Phil Scott by the pound

Y’know, if I didn’t think Phil Scott was a different kind of politician, a straight shooter who refuses to indulge in gamesmanship, I’d congratulate him for a decent bit of trickeration today. See, on the morning of WDEV Radio’s Tunbridge Fair debate (the one he refused to take part in), he held a press conference to unveil a major policy initiative.

Complete coincidence, I’m sure. Because Phil Scott would never resort to such shenanigans.

The big unveil was Scott’s “comprehensive blueprint for economic growth.” And it seems \designed to counter the criticism that his campaign is short on specifics. It weighs in at a robust 56 pages — although that includes roughly 14 pages of large photos, mainly featuring Phil Scott.

The document includes a “12-part Economic Growth Plan” with “more than 50 specific ideas, initiatives and proposals.”

Trying too hard, are we? Looks like a high schooler trying to pad the ol’ word count.

Most of those 50 ideas have been previously announced. Some appear to have little to do with the economy, including “Restoring Faith &: Trust in State Government” and “Addressing Vermont’s Opiate Epidemic.”

Some of the “specific ideas” are fundamentally nebulous, like his assertion that he will “encourage and support all employers” and “retain and recruit the best medical professionals.”

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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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