Editorial: Of candidates and job growth

As five Democrats, an independent and a Republican compete in the race to become Vermont’s next governor, the focus is all about job growth, who can do it better and what their particular qualifications are to get the job done.At a recent candidates’ forum in South Burlington addressing the Vermont Business and Industry Expo, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, R, told the group: “I know that we need to have a state that welcomes new businesses and fights tooth and nail for the companies that we have in the state.”It’s an all too familiar theme, as if the state hasn’t been working for the past 20 years to create a “business friendly” environment. Does Dubie, for example, really believe that Gov. James Douglas hasn’t been trying to create a business friendly environment and “fight tooth and nail” to keep Vermont jobs throughout the past eight years — even in light of the thousands of manufacturing jobs lost during his tenure? Of course not.Voters should press the candidates to move away from such tired rhetoric and get serious about specific ways to make changes that matter. Here are a few things voters should demand in the upcoming debates: • No longer should candidates be allowed to pledge they’ll make the state “more business friendly” without explaining how the previous three administrations have failed to do so; and telling why they are more likely to succeed.• No longer is “jobs, jobs, jobs” a legitimate campaign mantra unless the candidate can guarantee success through some signed contract with likely employers. (Otherwise, it’s just a bunch of empty promises that voters should recognize.)• No longer should tax cuts be the panacea to attracting job growth without explaining where the lost revenue will come from to provide the very necessary services those same revenues provide, such as improving the state’s roads and bridges, expanding broadband and telecommunications capabilities, and the important health care and education benefits that make this state one of the nation’s best — all things that also attract industry and job growth.• And no longer will we allow candidates to talk about improving educational outcomes and in same breadth chide the state for its high property taxes and pledge to lower them.Not to be disrespectful, but if candidates say those things, they should expect some hissing and booing (in the good-hearted tradition of melodramas) and expect challenges to their simplified and often contradictory comments.**********A quick review of the past 20 years on this topic is instructive.Back in the early 1990s, Gov. Dick Snelling took over from former Gov. Madeleine Kunin with a no-nonsense approach to politics and state affairs, pledging, above all else, to bring the state budget into balance and attract business. His first measures were to raise taxes (with a sunset provision), balance the budget and start to reign in some state expenses through bureaucratic reform. He did that to great success.Gov. Howard Dean took over that pledge midway through Snelling’s term, and continued the pro-business agenda much to the consternation of his more liberal Democratic colleagues through the end of the 1990s and into 2002. Douglas assumed the mantle with his campaign mantra of “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs,” and “Jim equals Jobs,” a nicer version of President Bill Clinton’s earlier campaign slogan: “It’s the economy, stupid.”What’s interesting about this political era is that both Republican and Democratic candidates have adopted the same campaign themes regardless of the performance of either party’s candidates. In truth, the reality is better than the negative rhetoric that would have Vermonters’ believe no progress has been made in the past 20 years.That’s just not so. Reforms were made to Act 250 that streamlined the process to the praise of industry groups statewide, and for the past 20 years, Vermont governors have been traveling the nation and the world trying to bring business to the Green Mountains. At the executive level, the state has been uber “business-friendly” for a long time.Gov. Dean, meanwhile, brought Husky to Milton, while championing a “business friendly environment,” but worked hardest on improving the state’s health care provisions and childcare and signing a favorable hydro-power contract that has proven to be very advantageous to Vermont’s cost of energy. Douglas also became an important supporter of the state’s health care provisions that, frankly, allow today’s businesses to hire employees who often qualify for the state’s Catamount health care plan — thus providing an important subsidy for businesses and employees that keeps Vermont’s businesses competitive and helps attract and keep younger employees.Another positive step is the establishment of a statewide tax-abatement fund (known as Vermont Economic Growth Initiative, VEGI) to attract job growth — which allows the state to bargain for jobs in exchange for tax cuts. Vermont has long had such enticements, as do most states, but this latest incarnation has proven popular and effective.**********The question to ask the candidates is what more can be done?If a candidate suggests cutting the state income tax to attract more business growth, ask them to pinpoint which state agencies will see less funding, and exactly which industries are chomping at the bit to move into the state for what kind of benefit? If they propose cutting the income tax, how far do we need to cut it to be competitive with other states those same employers are considering? If it’s 2 or 3 percent, is that enough to make a difference or is more needed, and can the state afford such a loss of revenue? Then ask that candidate if the state’s solid public school system, scenic views, thoughtful town planning and recreational amenities might actually be just as important to that same potential employer — and if that employer might go elsewhere if those current amenities are diminished by the tax cuts?Then ask if any candidate has a plan to raise revenues, but dedicate them to specific job growth areas? That would be the model that industry itself uses. That is, industry makes a profit, then reinvests in itself to grow bigger and become more competitive. Using that analogy, a state could effectively raise broad-based revenue on a temporary basis to reinvest in a specific area to stimulate job growth in that sector. (Vermont currently offers tax cuts to the captive insurance industry with great success.) The state could, for example, raise the state gasoline tax and put all those revenues toward developing the green energy growth sector.Other suggestions to grow the economy are out there to discuss, but don’t naturally come out of political debates simply because the public allows candidates to say stuff like… “well, I’ve run a business before,” or “I’m a good leader, therefore it follows that I can grow jobs in Vermont.” Well, no, it doesn’t. As Gov. Douglas found out, job growth doesn’t just occur because a candidate makes it his or her campaign mantra. The next governor will need specific plans to implement and the resources to carry them out, if any growth is to occur. The candidate who has the moxie to say precisely how they would do that and can convince residents of their potential success will surely stand a good chance of running the show after next November.-Angelo S. Lynn

Login for Subscriber Access

Addison County Independent

58 Maple Street
Middlebury, VT 05753

Phone: 802.388.4944
Fax: 802.388.3100