Editorial: Lisman’s negativity rings false

In a recent mailer to registered Vermont Republicans, gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman attacked Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who is also running to capture the GOP primary for governor, as being too complicit in support of Democrat Gov. Peter Shumlin’s policies.
Said Lisman: “Our state’s economy ranks 49th out of all 50 states. It’s so bad that for the past 11 years, jobs and people are fleeing Vermont… Where was Phil Scott?” He continued to suggest that Vermont’s changes in its health care (which has added more than 19,00 Vermonters with insurance) has been a “disaster,” and that Gov. Shumlin’s passage of Act 46, in which school governance is being successfully consolidated in many districts across the state, is a terrible idea to which Scott also has been complicit.
Lisman apparently is running on his track record of being negative for the past six years. “Bruce Lisman has been consistent and persistent in his outspoken criticism of Gov. Shumlin’s” policies, writes campaign spokesperson Shawn Shouldice, whereas “Lt. Governor Phil Scott is a 15-year political insider who has not only stood side-by-side with Gov. Shumlin, but has in some cases embraced Gov. Shumlin’s policies.”
We understand that challengers to presumptive nominees have to attack their opponents, and Lisman’s challenge that Scott has been too buddy-buddy with Gov. Shumlin could win over a few GOP voters. But Lisman’s arguments need fact-checking and his role as a state detractor should be questioned.
In Lisman’s comment that Vermont’s economy ranks 49th out of 50, for instance, he takes a statistic created by a right-leaning institution that focuses on political policy, not economics. According to Vermont Business Magazine, the above statistic comes from “2016 Rich States, Poor States.” “The lead author… of the ranking is Reagan-era economist Arthur Laffer. The report, despite its title, is not a snapshot of current economic performance, but of future expectations, based mainly on state tax policy.” New York state, by the way, is ranked 50th, which by Lisman’s inference, would put the Empire State’s economy as the worst in the country.
That explains why well-respected Vermont economist Art Woolf’s column on Vermont’s economy this week would discredit Lisman’s dismal characterization.
“There was a lot of good news in the Vermont Department of Labor’s April report on jobs, unemployment and the labor market in general,” Woolf starts off in this week’s column,then goes on to note that the unemployment rate is 3.2 percent, the lowest since May of 2001; that average wages in Vermont rose by 2.8 percent last year, while inflation was just 0.1 percent, which means, Woolf said, “that real wages, adjusting for price changes, grew by a respectable 2.7 percent.” Furthermore, Woolf notes, “Vermont employers added 800 jobs in April and employment is up 4,000 since December and 6,000 over the past 12 months. Those are very large employment gains. We have more jobs in Vermont today that we’ve ever had, and that’s pretty much been the case since the summer of 2014.”
So what’s with Lisman’s constant degradation of Vermont’s economy, and almost anything else Shumlin and his administration has done? Simple. If opponents expect to get elected, they need to portray terrible current conditions and a dire need for change.
So, voters beware: fact-check the political hype; ignore most of it.
Not everything Gov. Shumlin has done in his six years in office, of course, has worked as expected. In a major overhaul of the state’s health care system, the IT portion of that proposal under Vermont Health Connect, has been flawed since the get-go and remains problematic. But whether scrapping it and the progress made under Shumlin’s health care reforms is the right approach, as Lisman proposes, should be challenged by asking Lisman to prove that his proposals would yield better results.
Vermont voters could set a higher bar for candidates by demanding positive proposals to correct current shortcomings, backed up by unassailable math to prove their case. If they can’t demonstrate their plan will provide better results, then at least voters should demand candidates not bad-mouth the state based on flawed data. That not only hurts the state’s image, it also deceives voters.
Angelo S. Lynn

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