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Shay Totten Commentary: GOP economic message fails to connect with Vermont reality
This commentary is by Shay Totten, of Burlington, who is a former journalist and political columnist.
Can we end this tired old trope that only conservatives understand business and liberals can’t “connect” with people when it comes to jobs, the economy and their personal pocketbook?
Reading Mike Smith’s column: (“Democrats fail to connect with economic message”) reminded me that it’s truly funny when pundits lay plaudits at the feet of politicians like Gov. Phil Scott for being “in touch” with working folks.
It’s one thing to have a message that “sells” to the public But Mike Smith and others should be asking: What is the message actually selling?
If you think he cares about working Vermonters, just look at Gov. Scott’s ongoing efforts to undermine the unions representing school workers and teachers with various “education” proposals. Or his opposition to raising the minimum wage, or paid family leave. Or refuse to raise taxes to fund needed health and environmental protections, including the long overdue cleanup of Lake Champlain.While Scott may not be President Donald Trump, both like to cherry-pick economic and jobs stats to mask an agenda that puts more money into the pockets of the wealthy and leaves less for public services.Now is our economy perfect? Nope. But is it all bad news? Hardly. Unless Wall Street credit ratings agencies giving Vermont’s credit an AAA rating is bad news.
In a late 2016 column on VTDigger, State Auditor Doug Hoffer shed some crucial light on the true story of Vermont’s economy. They’re worth revisiting now as Smith and Scott’s claims about our “economic woes.”
Several key takeaways from Auditor Hoffer’s column:
• Net change in business activity (Bureau of Labor Statistics): From 2011 to 2015 (Democratic governor and a Democratic Legislature), 500 more businesses opened than closed in Vermont (7,900 new businesses vs. 7,400 closed). Likewise, 20,000 businesses expanded.• While Vermont has lost workers, as Scott and others like to point out, it’s not as if we’ve lost jobs. Counting workers is not the same as counting jobs, Hoffer pointed out. For example, Vermont’s population of 65 and older grew by 18,000 from 2010-2015, and during the same time the labor force shrank by 15,000. Coincidence? No. In fact,Vermont added more than 15,000 new jobs in that same timeframe.
And it’s important to acknowledge that states are at the mercy of powerful forces such as the federal budget, interest rates, trade agreements, currency exchange rates and cheap labor overseas,” wrote Hoffer. “These are beyond the reach of state policy, regardless of which political party is in power.”
Then there’s the old canard that Vermonters are fleeing to New Hampshire, or elsewhere, to avoid our “high taxes.” In the past four years, Vermont has seen a net loss of 4,119 people (0.7 percent of our population; 59,000 out and 55,000 in). And of those 55,000 who moved to Vermont, roughly 7,800 of them moved here from New Hampshire. At the same time, about 8,100 people moved from Vermont to New Hampshire.Scott also likes to talk about “jobs” and how we need more of them. OK, how about this: Since 2013, jobs in renewable energy have grown by 30 percent to nearly 20,000 jobs. That means roughly one in every 16 Vermonters is employed by this important sector of the economy. To reach our laudable renewable energy goals by 2050, we should embrace this part of Vermont’s ingenuity economy. Instead Scott and his pals cut Efficiency Vermont and push for greater restrictions on developing new renewable energy projects.
So, let’s recap: It’s good for Vermont’s economy to yank support for an economic sector that is booming. But, it’s bad to stand up for workers getting screwed over by the policies that Scott and his political funders demand from our economy. Got it.
To be honest, this false narrative about Vermont’s economic story shouldn’t be a surprise, because it’s a retread of the Douglas administration’s mantra. I mean, they went so far as to support an aging nuclear plant rather than embrace a clean energy future.
Perhaps Scott and the GOP’s support for cookie cutter economic development models designed to undercut unions, workers, environmental protections and investments in efficiency and renewable energy is the message that is truly disconnected.
Gov. Scott is clearly more comfortable taking money from, and talking to, big businesses and rich folks — just look at the industries who funded his campaign: oil and gas, automotive, pharmaceutical, real estate, and lobbyists, among others.
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