Tag Archives: Tom Pelham

Tom Pelham is mad as hell. And just as wrong

Now that Bruce Lisman has cut ties with his vanity platform, Campaign for Vermont, the organization is foundering financially and, worse, is stuck with budget scold Tom Pelham as its chief public voice.

Pelham has spent the last five years writing opinion piece after opinion piece slamming the Shumlin administration over taxation and budgets. Now, his temperature appears to be rising — to the point that he might want to check his blood pressure. Reading his latest commentary, I can practically see steam shooting out his ears.

His point, as ever, is that the Shumlin administration is bankrupting the state, wrecking the economy, and imperiling our futures by overtaxing and overspending. And in the process, he repeats a fundamental misperception about money that’s commonly held by budget hawks everywhere.

See if you can spot it:

Excluding federal funds, the state budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor in 2011 required $2.954 billion in revenues extracted from the Vermont economy through taxes, fees, fines, assessments, settlements, etc., and deposited into various state funds.

The key word there is “extracted,” which he repeats three times. Pelham appears to believe that all government revenue is collected, thrown onto the burn pile, and set ablaze. Which is so completely wrong it’d be funny if so many serious, influential people didn’t share that belief.

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Dan Feliciano, man of ideas. Well, three ideas.

Saturday’s gubernatorial debate was a big moment for Dan Feliciano, Libertarian candidate for Governor and presumptive usurper of Scott Milne’s mantle as the real conservative challenger to Governor Shumlin.

Dan the Libertarian Man. Photo by VTDigger.

Dan the Libertarian Man. Photo by VTDigger.

So, how’d Dan the Libertarian Man do? About as well as he could have done. Which is, as you might imagine, a two-edged sword.

Feliciano presented himself as the conservative candidate with ideas. And yes, he has ideas. But to judge from his debate performance, he has precisely three of them: Cut taxes and spending, cut regulation, and institute school choice.

That’s it.

He repeated them over and over during the debate because, well, that’s about all he has to say. It was a good performance but, at the same time, it defined his limit as a gubernatorial candidate. His ideas are simply out of the mainstream.

And, worse still, lacking on specifics.

Let’s take, first, his call for lower spending. What’s his big idea on how to cut the cost of state government?

Challenges for Change.

Stop laughing. I’m serious.

Dan Feliciano wants to reintroduce Challenges for Change, the discredited Douglas Administration plan. This… is our Libertarian’s call to arms? A years-old, formerly bipartisan initiative that was abandoned in 2010 because both parties agreed it just wasn’t working?

Until now, I thought that Tom Pelham was the only True Believer left. But no: it’s him and Dan Feliciano. Sheesh.

I suspect that this is one of Feliciano’s attempts to make himself look less scary to mainstream voters. Don’t start with Libertarian ideas for privatizing schools, prisons, police, fire, and snowplowing; start with a mainstream reform plan. A failed plan, but a mainstream one.

On health care reform, he’s dead against single-payer. His “idea,” though, is weak: cut health insurance regulation to foster competition. We’ve already seen how that works: the competition turns into a race to the bottom, with affordable insurance available only to the healthiest, all kinds of exclusions to minimize claims, and a maze of complicated legalese designed to frustrate consumers.

And Feliciano tried to have it both ways when it comes to community rating, Vermont’s rule that prevents price discrimination against the elderly, the sick, and others with high risk factors.  He claimed to support community rating, but he also called for Vermont to scrap its own exchange and adopt the federal one, as New Hampshire has done. Well, Dan, New Hampshire and other states operating in the federal system don’t have community rating. Which is it?

On schools, he wants spending cuts but doesn’t provide any examples. His Big Idea is school choice, which is going to reduce costs in a way he doesn’t explain. I wonder why. Could it be because the savings are based entirely on free-market dogma? Could it be that, in a system already short of students, spreading them around to more institutions will make the situation worse, not better?

When asked about problems in the Agency for Human Services, he said “We need a wholistic approach to families and children.” Without explaining what in the world he means by that. And when asked about supporting agriculture, his one idea was — you guessed it — cutting EPA regulations.

In spite of rampant pollution in Lake Champlain, to which agriculture is the single biggest contributor.

This is Feliciano’s unique position, and his glass ceiling. He is a man of ideas, certainly. But it’s a small handful of endlessly repeated dogmatic ideas that don’t work in the real world. Much as he tries to water it down, he is stuck with Libertarian dogma. It gives him a clear outline, unlike the endlessly foggy Mahatma Milne. But it also consigns him to fringe status in any race with a credible Republican candidate.

If Milne keeps on soiling the sheets, Dan Feliciano might get into the double digits on November 4. But he’ll never be anything more than that. And whenever the Republicans run a viable candidate, he’ll be back down to Emily Peyton territory.

All right, who asked Tommy One-Note for an encore?

It’s been awhile since Tom Pelham, self-proclaimed prophet of fiscal restraint, graced us with one of his interchangeable opinion pieces. But here he comes again, with yet another screed on Vermont’s impending financial doom.

Hey, you keep repeating it, it’s gotta be right sometime, no?

The latest installment, entitled “Inevitable Consequences,” is all about the same stuff as every other Tom Pelham wheeze: the state is on the edge of the abyss because we (by which he means profligate Democrats) are spending beyond our means.

Republicans have, of course, been singing this identical tune for several years now. We are still waiting for the cataclysm to arrive. But hey, they keep repeating it, they’ve gotta be right sometime, no?

Tommy One-Note begins with his one and only guiding principle of governance: “sustainable spending requires that growth in government spending reasonably equate to growth in the underlying economy.” Which is an absurdly dogmatic approach to government, or anything else. But more on that later.

He cites an array of statistics in support of his case that Vermont’s population is stagnant, while public sector spending continues to grow. He sees the gap growing wider and wider until it becomes an unbridgeable chasm.

And you’ll never guess what his solution is.

That’s right, Challenges for Change, the discredited Douglas Administration initiative for which Tom Pelham is the sole remaining cheerleader. There’s good reason for that: Challenges for Change was a bust. 

Before he became Governor, Peter Shumlin was a notable proponent of CFC, touting it as “a great success.” But when he was actually running the joint, he discovered that CFC was a hollow shell, whose projected savings “may not likely be realized.” CFC had fallen far short of its goal in FY 2011, and there was no evidence it would suddenly kick into gear.

“It was a big disappointment and a failure,” Sen. Vince Illuzzi, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development said last week. “We would have saved time and money if we had simply trimmed all departments’ budgets by 2 to 3 percent.”

And a top House Republican, Patti Komline, called CFC “smoke and mirrors” and “a dismal failure.”

In short, the abandonment of CFC was not, as Pelham claims, due to a lack of fiscal restraint by governing liberals; it was a bipartisan dismissal of a failed experiment. And yet, Pelham still clings to those savings estimates that had lost credibility among virtually everyone not named Tom Pelham.

That’s not the end of Pelham’s myopic approach to budgeting. He says that state spending has risen in spite of a shrinking workforce and a sluggish economic recovery. His reasoning includes the  unstated assumption that, if the state had spent less money, the Vermont economy would have performed exactly the same.

Which is nonsense. Many states fell into the trap of cutting spending in mid-recession, and were rewarded with even slower growth in jobs, production, and tax revenue. Pelham appears to believe that the “extra” money spent by Shumlin & Co. might as well have been tossed into a bonfire — when, in fact, public-sector spending has a beneficial impact on the economy. Just about every state program — transportation, human services, education, corrections, etc., etc. — puts money into the economy. The Keynesian approach mandates accelerated spending in bad economic times, in order to get the engine going at full speed again.

Also, many areas of public sector spending make our economy stronger, and our people safer, healthier, and better educated. That equals progress. And most of those investments would never be made by the private sector. If government doesn’t act, shit don’t get done. Within his own definition of fiscal restraint, Governor Shumlin is making wise investments in clean energy, education, and other areas that will strengthen Vermont in the future.

I’m certainly not saying we should waste money. Indeed, as a liberal, I feel strongly that the public sector should operate as efficiently as possible. And in fact, far from completely abandoning Challenges for Change, the Shumlin Administration has used some of its principles and process in writing budgets and managing the government. Which is another Pelhamian fallacy: some of the relatively meager savings promised in CFC have, in fact, been realized.

It’s just that the Governor has chosen not to bank the savings, but rather to invest them in Vermont’s people and economy. That’s why the financial doomsday predicted by Pelham and others has stubbornly refused to materialize: if Shumlin’s policies work, the economy will improve and revenues will increase. It’s worked very well so far, to the tune of a historically low unemployment rate and an economy that weathered the Great Recession far better than most.

In short, what I’m saying is, Tom Pelham can shut up now. He is wrong, and no amount of repetition will make him less wrong.