Editorial: Gov. Scott’s vetoes vs. leadership

The standoff between Gov. Phil Scott and the Vermont Legislature is seemingly over Scott’s campaign pledge not to pass any legislation that would raise more taxes. As a political sound-byte, that’s about as safe a proposition and campaign pledge any politician could make. But if maintaining a pledge to not raise taxes also means the governor will do nothing to address fundamental problems facing the state, is that the kind of leadership that helps or hurts?
For example, how effectively did Gov. Scott address the state’s most pressing problem — the state’s lack of economic growth. Statistics show significant job and population losses in 10 of 14 counties over the past several years, and the sub-par growth in the other four, which comprise Chittenden, Addison, Lamoille and Washington. Surprisingly, the issue received almost no attention from the governor this session.
There were no headlines touting initiatives to boost growth in any economic sector, nor increases to education or vocational training that might better prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow or supply businesses with the workforce they desperately need. Rather, the session was devoted to maintaining his no new taxes pledge, which included rejecting many ideas that would have made the state more affordable for the average Vermonter and, arguably, could have created incentives to attract young families (and workers) to Vermont, stimulating local economies and our business sector.
The family leave bill, for example, would have done just that and it received significant bipartisan support in the Legislature. Republican Fred Baser, Bristol, writes in a column in today’s paper (see Page 5A) of those benefits. Noting that he helped write the Family Leave Bill, Rep. Baser lauded the bill as “a good measure for employees, families and business. Childbirth accounts for almost 80 percent of the utilization of paid family leave … studies have also shown women who take leave for childbirth return to their old job at much higher rates than women who do not have this benefit. There is also a positive benefit to employee morale, a good thing for business. Plus this benefit will distinguish us from most other states, making it a good recruitment tool. Employees will pay for this via a 0.13 percent payroll tax. That equates to $1.30 a week for someone earning $52,000 a year.”
Despite the good it would provide, it’s minimum tax increase on workers and little impact on businesses, and despite its bipartisan support, Gov. Scott vetoed the bill because it levied that small tax.
We appreciate that many Vermonters are siding with the governor on his effort to keep tax increases to a minimum, but when the decision is based on an ideological perspective, rather than on a cost-benefit analysis, such campaign pledges cause more harm than good. Gov. Scott made a similar mistake by vetoing a bill to tax opioid manufacturers, the money from which would have been used to fight opioid addiction and help address the crisis for many families that has caused.
Which brings us back to the question of leadership: Is just saying “no” to new taxes the mark of a strategic and successful leader?
Or would we rather have a leader who identifies the most pressing problems facing the state, then outlines the strategies to resolve them?
Earlier this session, Gov. Scott did an excellent job leading the state to reasonable measures on gun control. He outlined what he thought was needed, explained how far he would go to support various measures and then encouraged the Legislature to act quickly to get bills passed.
In contrast, on many spending bills he has drawn a line in the sand about no new taxes, and left it up to the Legislature to figure out how to make that work. That’s the absence of leadership, and it has been at the root of the political partisanship we’ve seen in Montpelier this year.
As a political ploy in an election year, Gov. Scott’s strategy may prove effective, but it’s not the straightforward, pragmatic leadership we expected of him, nor does it serve the state well.

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