by Paul Dame
For young Vermonters attempting to buy their first home, last week was a major disappointment. When this year’s significant housing bill, S.100, arrived at the House’s Committee on Housing, many of the members were looking forward to conducting thoughtful legislation to collaborate and make it possible to increase the housing stock in our state. However, it turns out that it was all just for show, and the Speaker of the House did not want any deliberation, rushing the bill through as quickly as possible before anyone could suggest improvements. While Republican Representative Ashley Bartley was vocal about her disappointment in the rushed work, it became a bipartisan disappointment in leadership when another member spoke during the publicly recorded committee meeting.
It’s expected that Democrats will intentionally marginalize Republicans because of the intense discrimination they have for any ideas outside their party. However, the Democratic establishment in power has become so narrow in its approach to governing that they are even beginning to marginalize their own members who have served for half a decade. Many Democrats, especially those in their first year, have been astonished by the process this year, namely how little input rank-and-file members have and how most of the major decisions are being made behind closed doors outside of the public eye. Then every policy decision is handed down from on high, and everyone is expected to fall in line.
With this power move to steamroll this bill and prevent the housing bill from achieving any work on housing, the establishment Democrats have shown their true colors. They have proved to some of their own members and to those outside the building that fixing housing is not a genuine priority, or at least not a serious one.
Whether this is their intention or not, Democrats have been continuously pushing Vermont down the same path for over 20 years. They are turning Vermont into a place where only the wealthy elite who fly in from all over the country can buy second and third homes with cash, while working-class Vermonters who have to borrow the balance keep losing out. When home prices continue to outpace wages, and borrowing costs continue to skyrocket, many Vermonters are structurally stuck in the same economic class, never able to climb out to improve their lot. We’ve been on this path ever since Democrats took control, but it has accelerated rapidly in the past few years. Vermont is becoming a place for the wealthy to vacation, but not for the modest to prosper.
Vermont Democrats have become experts at throwing money at problems through nonprofit organizations that never fix the problem and always need more money. Right now, tens of millions of dollars are waiting around to build more housing. We don’t need more money, but we need all the things that the money could buy – IF they were available. Namely, we need buildable land, skilled labor, and affordable materials.
For all three of these key needs, Vermont Democrats have raised obstacles, instead of tearing them down as Republicans would do. The entire purpose of Act 250 is to restrict the supply of buildable land and make it hard to do. Republicans would reform the law that is older than half of the members on the Housing Committee. Since many towns now have their zoning and Town Plans, we don’t need Act 250 crowding into the wrong places to stop housing from getting built.
Republicans would also work to enhance and promote the number of workers going into the trades. Growing up on a farm, I was forced out of necessity to learn some basic carpentry and framing. But the pressures from messaging in my high school left me and many other students thinking that getting into the trades was lower work, and that every student should aim to go to college. Now we are facing a labor market crisis because it’s almost impossible to get an electrician or plumber to do any work within a few days or even a week.
And lastly Democrats in Washington have made everything more expensive through inflationary spending at the federal level. Prices of basic materials from plywood to copper wire have all increased rapidly in the past few years. In addition to that, there are countless invisible ways that the miles of red tape added through unlegislated regulation have also made it harder to create the products and materials we need – or they have made it harder to create them at an affordable price.
As we saw last week, Democrats are not governing in an open and transparent way with an open mind to hear ideas from across the aisle – or even from their own side. They are instead governing through a small group of leaders who are pushing their agenda through the legislature, and using the rest of the duly-elected members as a decoy to make a show of a deliberative process, when what we actually have is a top-down prescribed policy agenda whose merits have not been fully and publicly debated.
Republicans will continue to fight for a more open and deliberative process on every issue, and specifically push for greater reforms to Act 250 so that young people ca get access to housing they can afford. But we need more like-minded independent people to join the efforts to challenge the Democrat establishment so we can genuinely start solving some of these problems instead of just putting on a facade.
The author is an Essex Junction resident and chair of the Vermont Republican Party.