Brock: Legislature swatted flies while house burned down

By Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin)

Imagine waking up one morning and seeing crumbs all over the floor, dirty dishes in the sink and the house full of flies because someone left the back door open. Which problem should you deal with first?  None of the above — because the smoke and flames should have alerted you that the house is on fire. 

But, instead of calling the fire department, you sweep up the crumbs, do a load of dishes and grab the fly swatter.

That, in a nutshell, is the 2021 legislative session. We washed the dishes, disposed of some crumbs and swatted a few flies. But we didn’t deal with the urgent and immediate issues that demanded our real attention.

Many of our legislative acts were symbolic. We adjusted the regulations over electric bicycles. We made some technical corrections to state statutes. We concurred with letting non-citizens vote in municipal elections.  We created who knows how many study committees, task forces and temporary working groups to analyze the problems that we didn’t solve.

– Sen. Randy Brock

Many of our legislative acts were symbolic. We adjusted the regulations over electric bicycles. We made some technical corrections to state statutes. We concurred with letting non-citizens vote in municipal elections.  We created who knows how many study committees, task forces and temporary working groups to analyze the problems that we didn’t solve.

We then spent hundreds of millions of federal recovery dollars using vague criteria and charged the state bureaucracy with figuring out what we actually intended to do.

Sure, we did some very good things, like getting at least some needed COVID-19 relief to struggling businesses.  But we failed to articulate a clear strategy for fully implementing the once-in-a-lifetime  transformational changes offered by an unprecedented influx of federal recovery money.  We made gains in solving the child care crisis and we resisted attempts to alter how we kept our commitments to clean up Lake Champlain. We were able to slightly lower property tax rates.  We supported investments in funding to attract visitors and to stimulate their spending.  But for all the good, there are some glaring shortfalls.

Instead of seeking ways to make housing more affordable in Vermont, legislative Democrats rejected efforts toward permit reform, tried to add new red tape for rental housing and worked to make it more expensive to hire a handyman.  How will that help struggling families looking for a place to live?

Instead of taking a hard look at our unemployment insurance (UI) system, the legislative majority effectively added a $100 million UI tax hike on Vermont’s businesses. And they rejected common-sense measures to recover millions in improper payments and to penalize UI fraud.  How will that help our small businesses that are struggling to stay open?

While thousands of Vermonters can see broadband cables from their front windows, the legislature made no effort to help them connect affordably now.  Thus, we’ve consigned more parents to park outside of libraries and fast food restaurants in the dead of winter so that their kids can do their online homework.  How will that help ensure that no Vermont child is left offline?

Instead of taking steps to bolster our workforce, legislative Democrats spearheaded a bill that would create new hurdles for small construction contractors.  At a time when the legislature symbolically supports Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities through resolutions and statements, why would we create more fees and red tape that would keep out these very same small and emerging businesses that are just trying to make a living?

And perhaps most frustratingly, legislative Democrats kicked the can down the road – again — on dealing with Vermont’s public employee pension crisis, costing the state more money and only making the problem even worse next year.

Yes, the Legislature made the actuarily required contributions to our pension system.  But we had an opportunity to use a multi-million dollar surplus to pre-pay some of our unfunded liabilities, which would have effectively saved Vermonters $822 million down the road.  But House Democrats squashed that opportunity.  They opted for yet another study, thus refusing to deal with structural pension reform — something that even Democrat State Treasurer Beth Pearce has called for for years.

Vermont Senate and House Republicans worked tirelessly to try to tackle Vermont’s demographic problem.  We need both more workers and more tax-paying citizens.  But the majority rejected  exempting military retirement pay from state income taxes, thus leaving Vermont as one of only three states that continue this outdated policy.  Our Democrat colleagues also tried to add a property transfer tax surcharge on certain expensive homes, reinforcing the message to potential buyers and residents that Vermont wants your tax money, not you.

So if you’re someone who thinks it’s more important to deal with the crumbs and the flies while our house burns to the ground around us, then this legislative session might have been a success.  But if — like us– your instinct is to grab the fire extinguisher, then this session was a disappointment.

Next legislative session, let’s not pour gasoline on the fire.  Despite how difficult it may be, we must focus directly on the fundamentals and tackle the real challenges above all else.  We simply cannot afford to get it wrong.

Randy Brock represents the Franklin District in the Vermont State Senate.  He is the Senate Minority Leader.  This commentary represents the views of Vermont’s Senate Republicans: Sen. Joe Bennington (R-Caledonia), Sen. Brian Collamore (R-Rutland), Sen. Russ Ingalls (R-Essex-Orleans), Sen. Corey Parent (R-Franklin), Sen. Joshua Terenzini (R-Rutland) and Sen. Rich Westman (R-Lamoille).

Categories: Commentary

9 replies »

  1. The Union won by threatening to vote Progressive in next cycle and funding. Dems folded to pressure and fear which as Sen. Brock states will cost Vermonters hundreds of millions down the road. As I stated before liberials seem to love committees and research groups so there’s no liabilities upon election time.

    • because they don’t want to face facts, Dems continue to kick the can down the road

  2. Thank you Senator Brock and fellow contributing Senators Bennington, Collamore, Ingalls, Parent, Terenzini, and Westman for giving us the truth about what’s really going on in the Vermont Legislature. Very, very sad indeed to learn that the majority of Democrats (and some republicans) are destroying Vermont’s economy while enriching themselves with our tax dollars. We need to start a Petition with each one of you involved in an effort to stop the huge tidal wave that will hit this little state and complete it’s financial destruction very soon. Not just financially, but this State is also being pushed into a communism zone of ideologies of hate and racism in order to destroy our peace and our Constitution. It is on the verge of complete disaster and must be stopped. We need to ban together and start a counter, start the offense that is so badly needed in this state. We do not have a representative government for the majority of the people who live throughout all the counties in this state. The majority of tax-paying, hardworking, legal citizens of this State need representation and we have to be strong and work against the tide of what is happening to Vermont.

  3. Great analogy Senator Brock!

    I’m sure many Vermonters who still have common sense will agree with you!
    It’s unfortunate to have to say, but it seems that the majority of Democrats and Liberals mostly FEEL and do not THINK.

    It appears to be much the same in Vermont as what is now taking place at the Federal level of our United States Government. Rather than honestly assessing and solving problems to make things better FOR THE PEOPLE, those elected are focused on being sure they are seen as “woke virtue signalers.” They pat themselves on the back while they make things worse for honest hard-working citizens.

    It was so easy for State and Federal Government employees to tell everyone else to shut down, stay home and not work during the “pandemic” and ALL while they never missed a government pay check for themselves.

  4. The VT education AND the STATE Employees unions have the BEST government their money can BUY While the rest of us have to PONY up more of OUIR HARD EARNED dollars and SOCIAL INSECURITY money to pay for their salaries and PERKS.

  5. Again, Senator Brock rings the bell with an honest assessment of this legislative session.
    To his summary I would add that the Unemployment Benefit issue and the legislatures’ mangling of continuing extended benefits will sting hard in the next year as Vermont attempts to recover from the government inflicted carnage surrounding the Covid 19 hysteria.

  6. With a 2 to 1 majority in the house it’s no wonder that the Dems have their way. When will we wake up and realize that our only hope of making things better is to elect more Republicans to Montpelier? We need to recruit and elect people in 2022. Complaining on this and other sites will do no good. Our reps on the right need better numbers to help our cause. Demonstrations on the state house steps serves no purpose either. If organizing is what we need, then we need to get our towns and counties organized, working to get candidates elected. If your town has no Republican Committee. That should change. If every town in the state was organized,
    recruiting and supporting candidates we would see a difference in our state in 2022 and beyond.

  7. If one needs to find an example of racism in white Vermont it is that we had the opportunity to elect this fine man as our Governor and instead chose Peter Shumlin. Randy Brock is a gift to freedom-loving Vermonters.

  8. Thank you Senator Brock you deserve to be in the Senate, good job