Roper: Our seriously unserious legislature
Recently the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce surveyed 500 young professionals, primarily Burlington area residents between the ages of 22 and 34, and learned that over 40 percent intend to leave Vermont. Why? The high cost of housing, the overall high cost of living, and the lack of upwardly mobile career paths. While the high number eyeing the exits may come as a shock, the reasons are not. We've known for a long time these are things that need fixing.
We also know that our roads are in poor shape, sewage keeps overflowing out of our waste treatment plants and into our rivers and lakes, our state pension liabilities are a financial time bomb, and the cost of pre-K — 12 education keeps inexplicably rising despite the loss of 30,000 kids.
So, given this list of real challenges as we head into the final weeks of the 2019 legislative session, here's a rundown of some of the issues our elected officials are tackling:
Allowing non-citizens to vote in Montpelier. The House passed this charter change bill 94-46 allowing non-citizens the right to vote in local Montpelier elections despite the fact that the Vermont Constitution sates explicitly that you have to be a U.S. citizen in order to vote. As of this writing the bill is under consideration the Senate.
Eliminating Columbus Day and replacing it with Indigenous People's Day. The Senate passed this on a voice vote and the House passed it 113 to 24. Nice for Native Americans; insulting to Italian Americans. But are any of us really going to spend our day off any differently?
Banning plastic grocery bags. The Senate passed this one 27-2 and, as of this writing, it is under consideration in the House. Not only does this bill ban plastic bags, it demands that store owners charge 10 cents per paper bag. These are really not decisions government is constitutionally empowered to make for us.
A constitutional amendment to end slavery. Yes, despite the fact that the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ended all slavery in 1865, and the Vermont Constitution was the first state constitution to ban slavery, the Senate voted 28-1 to start us on the four year path to amend the state Constitution, including a state-wide vote, in order change and/or accomplish exactly nothing.
Raise the smoking age to 21. This passed in the Senate on a voice vote and in the House 124-14. What's truly comical about this is that all session many of these same legislators have been touting the wisdom and praising the policy leadership of middle and high school students on issues such as climate change and gun control, but then rule young adults are too immature, ignorant, and foolish to make personal choices on their own.
Expand the "Pay to Move" Program. The original program to pay people up to $10,000 to move to Vermont was so successful (29 workers moved here) the Senate voted 27-2 to expand the program. Why are we reduced to having to pay people to move to Vermont? Probably because of all the nonsense listed above.
In addition, there are serious negotiations about banning fossil fuel infrastructure in the state (essentially a move to ensure cheap, low carbon emitting natural gas is prohibited from competing with more expensive, less reliable renewable energy business/donor interests), which would deal a considerable blow to economic development. And, one can't forget the Vermont Global Warming Solutions Act (H.462), which would in effect usher in a "green" police state under which our government "shall [emphasis added] adopt and implement rules to achieve the 2025 greenhouse gas reduction requirement , including addressing greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, transportation sector, and building sector." "Shall" means you will be forced to comply by whatever means necessary in order to accomplish approximately nothing in regard to climate change.
But isn't this just what Vermonters want and voted for? Well, as Rep. Mike Yantachka (D-Charlotte) explained, "If our constituents say 'don't do this,' we should be able to tell them we have to do it."
Maybe our state would be better off if, instead, we told our legislators to quit screwing around in their ideological sandbox and to focus their time and energy on actually operating the machinery of government. Fix the roads, fix the wastewater system, shore up the pensions, make sure our public schools are educating our kids effectively and at reasonable cost, and stop taxing and regulating productive people and businesses out of the state. And if they say they don't want to do this, we should be able to tell them they have to do it.
Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. He lives in Stowe.
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