Tag Archives: VTGOP

The real lessons of Plasan

Vermont’s pro-business community couldn’t hardly wait to score a cheap political point (and, as usual, soil the state’s reputation) after Plasan’s announcement that it was relocating to Michigan. Decent interval, bah: we’ve got a boilerplate press release ready to go.

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott did the honors for the VTGOP, offering a quick word of sympathy to Plasan’s workforce and then pivoting to the red meat:

This announcement is yet another clear sign that we in Montpelier must put our full focus on not only protecting, but on growing Vermont’s economy and face the reality that we are competing in a regional, national and global marketplace. We cannot continue to blame “forces beyond our control” for our job losses, but turn the mirror back on ourselves and ask ourselves: “What can we do to change the direction of this trend? How can we make Vermont better?”

The best part is Scott’s dismissal of “forces beyond our control,” when Plasan made it abundantly clear that Vermont’s business climate had nothing to do with its decision, and Vermont couldn’t have done anything to change it. But let’s not let a little inconvenient truth get in the way of a stale talking point.

Former Wall Street supremo Bruce Lisman kept it simple; he made time for one self-congratulatory Tweet, with nary a word of sympathy for the workers.

(The link is to WCAX’s story about the Plasan closing.)

Nice, Bruce. Way to show your concern for the common folk.

Okay, so the Usual Suspects reacted in the usual way: grabbing at any available pretext for regurgitating their political cud. (Please chew with your mouths closed.) But there are lessons we can learn from the departure of Plasan and other industries, and things we should bear in mind.

FIrst, let’s re-examine the unique strengths of Vermont. We do have our share of weaknesses, even if you omit the tired bromides of rightist politicos. So why do so many businesses establish themselves here or move here? Why does anybody stay? Why don’t they all move to Michigan or Texas or Mississippi?

Quality of life must be near the top of the list. Our topflight public school system is a draw. We have some very nice cities and small towns, good places to call home. Low rates of violent crime. Abundant recreation. A market small enough that entrepreneurs can gain a foothold before venturing out into the big time. (Ben & Jerry’s would have had a much harder time starting out in a big state with big distribution systems.)

I’m sure there are others. My point is, before we try to tear down Vermont, let’s figure out what we’re good at, do what we can to make it even better, and market the hell out of it.

Okay, so now: what are our weaknesses?

We should certainly review the items on the VTGOP hit list. If there are ways to smooth regulatory pathways without selling our souls, great. If forms or bureaucratic procedures are cumbersome, simplify them. But there’s no way we can compete with bigger states or other countries on things like taxes and incentives. Vermont can’t come anywhere near the packages being offered by New York state, for instance. We can’t be as low-tax as Florida or as development-friendly as Arizona, nor would I want us to be. That’s why our first priority should be identifying and maximizing our strengths.

Beyond the usual GOP talking points, I see three major areas that are drawbacks for Vermont’s business climate. In no particular order:

The high cost of post-high school education. It’s the one thing we consistently hear from business owners (as opposed to their political mouthpieces): “We can’t find enough skilled workers. We can’t fill available jobs.”

The cost of attending our public colleges and universities is absurdly high — especially at the community college level. Governor Shumlin has done some incremental things to nibble away at this problem, but has failed to tackle it in a thorough, systemic way.

Getting around. When Chris Graff wrote his memoir a few years ago, he ranked the top stories in recent Vermont history. His pick for #1: the coming of the interstate freeways. They made it possible to travel and transport goods much more quickly, at least in certain corridors. They brought dramatic change to Vermont — mostly for the good.

But large stretches of Vermont are still remote — or remote enough that it’s a significant competitive disadvantage. The biggest obstacle for places like Bennington and Rutland is the lack of high-speed roadway. The best thing we could do for them is turn U.S. 7 into a freeway. We could also use speedier corridors across central and southern Vermont.

(We pause while liberal readers gasp for breath.)

Also, and just as significantly, we need more public transportation. This is a tough nut to crack in a place with a small, scattered population, but if it was easier to get around Vermont without a car, it’d help convince people to live somewhere besides Chittenden County.

The lack of housing, for purchase and rental. One of the biggest drags on our economy is the aging demographic. What do young families need? Rental properties and small- to mid-sized houses. Just what we don’t have.

This is one area of regulation that needs to be loosened in a targeted way. We need to do more to encourage affordable housing — by which I don’t just mean Section 8 or mobile homes, I mean houses costing less than $250,000 and enough rental stock to keep rents reasonable. I’d like to see an emphasis on in-fill housing in existing cities and towns. I don’t want to open the regulatory door to more suburban sprawl.

Housing affordability touches on a fundamental problem with our 21st Century economy: wage stagnation in the middle and working classes. Part of the problem with affordability is depressed wages, something that’s beyond the scope of this post. But as long as young people are starting their lives with college debt and low salaries, we need to help them find housing that fits their budgets.

So there you have it. My initial prescription for improving Vermont’s business climate. And it has nothing (much) to do with taxation or regulation.

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We eagerly await good tidings from the VTGOP

As you might know, although they did little to publicize the fact, the Vermont Republican Party had its fall fundraising dinner last Friday. The guest of “honor” was Islamophobic national-security nutbag Peter King, undistinguished Congressman from New York.

During the course of the evening, the operator of the VTGOP Twitter account posted four photos form the event. All four showed one of the evening’s speakers at the podium; all four were taken from angles that showed very little of the crowd. One example:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 1.29.38 PM

Okay, so we know there were at least three people in the audience. Which is more of the crowd than you can see in any of the other photos, all of ’em focused on the podium.

No crowd shots, VTGOP?

What, too embarrassing? In my mind’s eye, I’m picturing a few dozen people crowded around the front tables, with plenty of empty seats farther away.

You may think my surmise unfair, just another example of theVPO’s liberal bias. But riddle me this, Batman:

— Right up to the day of the event, the VTGOP was sending out reminders that tickets were still available. The last one was sent at 10:43 a.m. Friday, less than seven hours before go-time.

— Since the Twitter posting of those four photographs, we’ve heard not a peep from the VTGOP about the success of the fundraiser. Or anything else, for that matter.

— This, in spite of the fact that I’ve been sending them gentle reminders via Twitter:

Screen Shot 2014-09-29 at 1.38.41 PM

And still no response.

I see a pattern. Last December, the VTGOP was very free with very generous pre-event estimates for its Chris Christie fundraiser. After the event, not a peep. Then in the spring, the Vermont Democrats hosted Sen. Elizabeth Warren; shortly after the event, the Dems announced attendance and fundraising totals.

Now another Republican event comes along, and once again, they’re being tight-lipped about the actual results.

As I said in one of my subsequent Tweets to @VTGOP, “I’ll take that as bad news.”

If the Vermont Republican Party does release totals for tickets sold and dollars raised, I’ll be happy to report them in this space, with whatever comments they provide. And if the totals are respectable or better, I’ll be happy to retract my cynicism and congratulate them on a successful event.

I’m not holding my breath.

The VTGOP: It’s worse than it looks

While poring over the campaign finance filings from this week, I couldn’t help noticing that — in sheer fundraising terms — the Republican Party has slipped into the #3 position. Yep, they’re being out-fundraised, quite handily, by our humble friends in the Progressive Party.

The numbers: VTGOP raised $7,500 for the most recent period (mid-March to mid-July) and $61,000 for the entire election cycle. The Progs, by contrast, raised $16,000 for the period and $89,000 for the cycle. (All numbers rounded off, thanks.)

See, it’s not even close. The Progs are a solid number 2.

This isn’t because the Progressives have enhanced their drawing power; their numbers are roughly on track with the same time frame in the 2012 cycle. It’s just that the Vermont Republicans are simply terrible at fundraising. Really, really, bad.

But wait — it’s worse than that.

In its mid-March filing, the VTGOP reported raising more than $45,000. This, presumably, reflects the take from the big Chris Christie fundraiser in December. That’s a really nice number, but it’s a whole lot lower than what party leaders were projecting before Christie’s visit. And it didn’t set the party on a new, healthier course; it merely provided a temporary jolt, like treating a pneumonia patient with Red Bull. Judging by its latest report, the VTGOP can’t draw flies without a big event. $7,500 is a wretched total for a “major” party entering a statewide election campaign. (It may help explain why short-term party staffer Brent Burns has departed to set up his own campaign shop; I suspect that either he wasn’t getting paid regularly, or it was made clear to him that the party couldn’t continue to pay him. Instead, we have Jeff Bartley as the party’s “Victory Director.” And I’m pretty sure that’s a part-time gig.

But wait — it’s even worse.

That $7,500 for the most recent period included $2,000 from Lt. Gov. Phil Scott’s campaign fund, $1,000 from Phil Scott’s construction company, and another $1,000 from State Rep. Heidi Scheuermann’s campaign fund. Plus $1,000 from Jani-Tech, a janitorial services company. Jani-Tech’s owner, Dawn Terrill, is the VTGOP’s new finance chair. Plus $800 from Greenleaf Metals, owned by party treasurer Mark Snelling.

So the bulk of that pathetic fundraising total came from a handful of insiders. Without Scott, Scheuermann, Terrill, and Snelling, the party would have received a measly $1,700 over a three-month period. A three-month period in which the party ought to have been marshaling resources for intensive campaigning.

What’s worse than pathetic? Abysmal?

One final note of despair. The GOP’s campaign bumpf is generously festooned with references to the state’s political elite, by which they mean the Democrats. But if the Republicans are trying to appeal to the common folk, the working man, Joe Sixpack, they are failing completely. In the past year, the Vermont Republican Party has taken in only 15 individual contributions of less than $100. What little money they’re raising is being given by the usual handful of insiders and well-connected business types.

Of course, a big part of the Republicans’ problem is that they’re getting a lot less from those business types than they used to. Many businesspeople and wealthy donors of centrist orientation, or of a practical bent, have abandoned the Republicans and are either sitting on their money, sending it out of state, or giving it to the Democrats.

But the takeaway here is, the Republicans have no appeal for the general public. At least, not enough appeal for individuals to open up their wallets.

See, it’s even worse than it looks.

Is the VTGOP broke?

Click the link to see the Vermont Republican State Committee’s campaign finance report for July 15. Do you see what I see?

I see a party with a negative balance. More expenses than revenues for this campaign cycle so far.

Yikes.

The key numbers:

Total contributions, campaign to date: $61,367.32.

Total expenditures, campaign to date: $62,523.00.

Negative eleven hundred bucks, amirite?

Now, the VTGOP also files with the Federal Elections Commission; its most recent filing came in mid-June, and showed a balance of $36,430.25. I’m not smart enough to know the difference between the state and federal filings; I can say that either way, the bottom line is kinda pitiful. Still gonna be a long slog for “Super Dave” Sunderland as he tries to rebuild from the inglorious days of Angry Jack.

Also, there’s a curious fact in today’s state filings: while the state GOP is bereft of funds, quite a few local and county GOP organizations are rollin’ in it. Well, by Vermont Republican standards anyway. There seem to be a lot of die-hard Republicans who are supporting their local colleagues/cronies, but aren’t doing so for the state organization.

I’m still pondering the meaning of that. And I’ve got some other notes on deadline day coming along shortly. Stay tuned!

Your VTGOP: sacrificing integrity for a tired talking point

No, I didn’t seriously think the Vermont Republican Party would retract their latest news release, even after I showed it was completely without foundation. But I was a little bit hopeful that the Republicans would quietly drop the issue, rather than making fools of themselves.

But they can’t help it. In spite of my most recent blogpost (and I know a lot of top Republicans read this site), VTGOP chair “Super Dave” Sunderland continues to tout his baseless claims about Vermont’s poor showing in this year’s survey. When, in fact, Vermont hasn’t been included in the last two years’ editions due to a lack of response from Vermont business owners. The “F” came out of the 2012 survey. It’s two years old, and who knows how much has changed since then.

Plus, recall that the spring of 2012 was smack in the middle of the Tropical Storm Irene recovery. Governor Shumlin’s first-term agenda had been kicked over and strewn about like so much debris. If he’d had any plans to improve Vermont’s small business climate, he certainly hadn’t had time to implement them by spring 2012.

In fact, if you think about the timeline, you’d have to conclude that Vermont’s small business atmosphere was much more the responsibility of Shumlin’s Republican predecessor, the sainted Jim Douglas, than the current Democratic administration.

But I don’t expect Super Dave, the guy who’s allegedly making the VTGOP more inclusive and broad-based, to have a sudden attack of conscience. It’s his job, I guess, to ignore the still small voice within, and loudly publicize any possible campaign issue.

Whether or not there’s a shred of truth to his claims.

Dear @VTGOP: Please retract your most recent press release.

Vermont Republicans have been making quite a bit of hay from a recently-released survey of American small businesspeople, rating their home state’s friendliness to small business. The survey got a writeup in The Economist, which reported that Vermont got a grade of “F”. The VTGOP has been braying about this, repeatedly, on Twitter, and party chair “Super Dave” Sunderland issued a press release slamming Governor Shumlin for creating such a strongly anti-business climate.

Problem is, no such grade was ever given. The surveyors received too few responses from Vermont, so they omitted the state entirely from their 2014 report. And if the VTGOP has any integrity, it should retract the press release immediately.

Let’s start from the beginning.

Every year, a small-business online services company called Thumbtack.com conducts a Small Business Friendliness Survey, in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. It’s an unscientific poll compiling the opinions of small business owners from across the country. The idea is to hear from businesspeople themselves, the pluses and minuses of their home state’s business environment.

The Economist published a story about this year’s survey in its July 5 issue. Accompanying the story was a map of the US,with each state getting a color code related to its grade. Vermont was deep orange, signifying an “F”.

After reading this, I went to Thumbtack’s own summary, which also had a map of the US. And if you click on a state, you’re linked to a rundown of its results. On Thumbtack’s map, Vermont was light gray. And when you try to click on Vermont, nothing happens.

That’s odd, I thought. At the bottom of the page, Thumbtack offered the email address of its staff economist, Jon Lieber. So I sent him an email asking why I couldn’t access the Vermont results. His reply?

Vermont didn’t receive a grade this year because we didn’t receive enough responses from the state to credibly compare it to other states. We set a minimum response level so that we weren’t just judging noise from a handful of very happy or unhappy business owners. 2012 is the only year we were able to provide a grade for Vermont.

Which explains why no clicky-click on its map. But it doesn’t explain why The Economist, normally a reputable (if pro-business) publication, reported an “F” for Vermont. I asked Lieber about that.

It looks like they took the grades from previous years and mingled them in with grades from this year. Not exactly on point but does help provide some context for states that we were missing this year.

And indeed, in the year 2012 Vermont received an overall grade of “F”. Which is misleading, because Vermont’s overall grades ranged from “A” to “F”, with quite a few high marks. I don’t know how that averages out to an “F”, but that’s beside the point.

Which is, Vermont hasn’t received a grade in the Thumbtack survey for two years. It didn’t get an “F” or any other mark in 2014.

The error was not the Republicans’ fault. They saw the Economist writeup, and assumed (reasonably) that it was accurate. But it’s not, and now they know.

The VTGOP should immediately stop claiming otherwise and issue a clarification.

Postscript. I’ve sent an email to The Economist’s media office asking for an explanation. This seems to be very sloppy journalism. Lieber’s estimation of “Not exactly on point” is, shall we say, very charitable. If The Economist wanted to eliminate gaps by commingling this year’s survey with others, it should — at the very least — told readers what they were doing. I’ll let you know if I get a response.

Postscript II. There was one fascinating result of the survey that went entirely unmentioned by Republicans. The national survey found that two-thirds of small business owners are pretty much unconcerned with their tax burden. In fact, they believe they’re paying about the right amount. They do have concerns with government’s effect on their enterprises in other areas, but taxes? Not a problem. Kinda flies in the face of Republican dogma, doesn’t it?