Unfortunately, odds are it won’t be.
by Rob Roper
The Vermont legislature purposefully broke the state’s childcare system when they placed a slew of unnecessary regulations on small, independent childcare providers. The end result of these regulations was to drive over 25 percent of such providers out of business, making childcare more difficult to find, less convenient geographically, and more expensive for Vermont families. Now those same legislators want $125 million per year – to start – via a new payroll tax to “fix” the problem they created.
I say “purposefully broke” because it has long been the goal of the public education monopoly in Vermont to execute a hostile takeover of the birth to five demographic – a project they have been nibbling away at for a decade and a half. The plan has been to trash independent childcare providers (unjustly) as “low quality”, drive them out of business with government over-regulation, subsidize state-controlled providers driving up costs, cause a crisis of availability and affordability for parents, and then ride to the so-called rescue. It’s working like a charm!
It’s no secret that the VTNEA and the Vermont Democrat Party are close bedfellows, and now that the Democrats have the supermajority numbers to override vetoes in both chambers of the legislature, the days of nibbling are over and, as they see it, the time has come for the python to swallow the pig. Thankfully, Governor Scott vetoed H.217 – An act relating to childcare, early education, workers’ compensation, and unemployment insurance. It’s a terrible bill.
At its core, H.217 establishes a brand-new 0.44 percent payroll tax that will automatically take $125 million out of working Vermonters’ paychecks every year. Per capita, that’s about $370 per worker. For a household earning $125,000 a year, the tax will take $550. This is just to start and, mind you, it is on top of your existing state income taxes, which are already pretty freakin’ high.
The bill also establishes a thing called the Prekindergarten Education Implementation Committee “to assist the Agency of Education in improving and expanding accessible, affordable, and high-quality prekindergarten education for children on a full-day basis on or before July 1, 2026.” (Emphasis added.)
“The Committee shall examine and make recommendations on the changes necessary to provide prekindergarten education to all children by or through the public school system on or before July 1, 2026, including transitioning children who are three years of age from the 10-hour prekindergarten benefit to child care and early education.” (Emphasis added.)
And, “costs associated with expanding prekindergarten, including fiscally strategic options to sustain an expansion of prekindergarten.” (Emphasis added.)
So, expect that 0.44 percent payroll tax taking a chunk year out of your pocket every two weeks to undergo a “sustained expansion” as the years go by. That’s the plan, and they will stick to it.
And for what? For those who haven’t been paying attention, Vermont’s public school system is a hot mess. The classrooms are filled with violence and mental health issues that the staffs are admittedly untrained and unequipped to handle. Test scores across the board are dropping and have been for over a decade. Why we would make it a state policy priority to put our most impressionable and vulnerable youngest children into this kind of environment is bafflingly moronic – if you actually care about what’s best for kids.
If your real priority is to funnel more taxpayer money into a failing but politically powerful government monopoly, well, then what’s not to love?
So, who’s on this Pre-K Implementation Committee? It is a veritable parade of special interest groups, including the Executive Director of the Vermont Principals’ Association, the Executive Director of the Vermont Superintendents Association, the Executive Director of the Vermont School Board Association, the Executive Director of the Vermont National Education Association, the Head Start Collaboration Office Director, the Executive Director of Building Bright Futures (They get over a quarter million dollars in H.217. Cha-Ching!), the Head Start Collaboration Office Director, the Executive Officer of Let’s Grow Kids.
Talk about putting the foxes in charge of the hen house! Or more like the deer ticks in charge of the deer.
The spin being put on this massive pile of political patronage is that Vermont employers are losing out on labor because – heaven forbid – new parents are staying home to raise their children. While there certainly is a labor shortage in Vermont that needs to be addressed, this is not the solution.
In the long term it is bad for children – our future work force – who, barring extreme circumstances, are much better off emotionally and educationally staying home with a parent during their first five years. And in the short term it will be bad for our economy as saddling businesses and their employees with the hassle and expense of what will be an ever-growing payroll tax will only serve to drive more employers and potential employers out of this state. Add H.217 to the list of things cementing Vermont’s reputation as one of the least business friendly states in the nation.
So, Scott’s veto should be upheld in the name of good government and basic common sense. Sadly, odds are against that happening as the roll call votes to pass the bill were 118-27 and 24-6 in the House and Senate respectively, well over the 2/3 necessary to override, with a significant handful of Republicans voting “Yes” in the House, one of seven in the Senate, and no “blue dog” dissent from Democrats in either body.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com