Government spending up 32% since 2019
by Rob Roper
The Vermont legislature went home for the season with an $8.5 billion dollar budget hanging in the veto balance. This budget is 13 percent higher than last year’s budget and 32 percent higher than what the state was spending in 2019 before the Covid infusion of federal money. It jumps Vermonters from the fourth highest tax-burdened people in the country into the number two spot. And believe me when I say, we’re coming for you, Hawaii!
To cover all this drunken sailor activity by the supermajority, the Democrats and Progressives are just asking you to, as always, “pay just a little bit more.” By “a little” they mean a new $120 million payroll tax, $80 million in higher property taxes, $20 million in higher DMV fees, over $5 million in corporate and personal licensing fees, and, of course, the first installment on S.39, the bill doubling their own legislative salaries and giving themselves taxpayer funded health insurance because they’re doing such a helluva job, if they do say so themselves.
When you divide all that up amongst 325,000 Vermont taxpayers, and I know I’m missing some stuff here, just these big ticket items come out to about $700 per person in new taxes. You know, just a little bit more.
This, it should be pointed out, doesn’t include the cost of S.5, the UnAffordable Heat Act, which due to some slick accounting gimmickry mixed with a hefty shot of political chicanery, the half-a-billion or so a year Vermonters will have to spend on “carbon credits” to heat our homes won’t be counted as a tax or in the budget as a spending. That’s just money pried out of Vermonters’ wallets by force of law to fund government directed spending priorities. Definitely not a tax! But I digress….
Governor Scott, rumor has it, is considering a veto of this budget because it is A) too much, B) unsustainable, and C) irresponsible. And it appears he has the votes to sustain that veto thanks to, of all bedfellows, Progressives. But there’s a catch! The Progressives are opposed the budget because it doesn’t spend enough! They want $32 million more (about $100 per taxpayer) to extend a federal Covid-related program that pays for the homeless to live in hotels. So, if Scott does veto the bill, and it is sustained, the Democrats will have to either compromise with the Progressives and spend more, or with the Republicans and spend less. Bets on how those negotiations will turn out.
What Vermonters truly, desperately need at this point is a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), like the one that Colorado adopted in the early 1990s.
In a nutshell, what TABOR does is restrict any increased state spending to a formula based on inflation plus population growth. That’s it. If the various streams end up bringing in more revenue than is necessary to meet that cap, all excess funds constitutionally must be returned to the taxpayers. For example, the Colorado Sun just reported that $2.7 billion in revenue collected that exceeds the TABOR cap will be returned to Colorado taxpayers this year. If the state wants to keep and spend more than the TABOR formula allows, the people have to approve the spending proposal via state referendum. “This is what De-moc-racy looks like!” as the chant goes.
Since enacting TABOR in 1992, Colorado has been a steady and, more often than not, outstanding economic success story. According to a recent US News ranking, Colorado has the third best state economy in the nation. Over the past decade, according to Rich States/Poor States Colorado ranks sixth best in three categories: Gross State Product growth, domestic migration, and non-farm employment growth, and is 5th best overall in economic performance. Vermont, by the way, in those same categories is 43rd, 23rd, and 47th respectively, and 41st in overall economic performance.
Of course, those on the Left despise the TABOR, all evidence of success and prosperity aside. They would very much like to – and have tried on numerous occasions – to repeal it. All happily unsuccessful, even in a state that has been trending pretty deeper “blue” for well over a decade. They argue that Colorado’s superstar economic status and high quality of life rankings have come about despite TABOR and not because of it. How much better life would be if they could only spend that extra $2.7 billion instead of having to give it back to the people who actually earned it!
So, don’t expect Vermont’s ruling left wing to return to Montpelier next year and adopt a TABOR in a fit of “stop me before I kill again” responsibility. The voters will have to replace at least half of the current Democratic supermajority in November 2024 to have a shot at anything resembling responsible fiscal policy. The time to start working on that project is now.
- Rob Roper is a freelance writer with over twenty years’ experience in Vermont politics and policy.