MONTPELIER-At a public forum May 26, the five candidates seeking the Democrat nomination for governor took turns discussing the merits of spurring job-creating economic growth.
There will be a lot more of this kind of talk over the next five months, but what there will not be, at least from these five, is any concrete proposal for economic development that would conflict with the anti-growth theme that has dominated Vermont public policy since Act 250 passed in 1970.
One needs only to look at the state's Commission on the Future of Economic Development. After three years of work, the council presented its report in 2009. Stacked with appointees of the legislative leadership, the commission decided that what Vermont needs for its economic future is a "comprehensive (government) economic development plan" and a statewide economic development board.
With the controlling plan and supervisory board in place, the idea is to then proceed to build the desirable "collaborative partnership" among the individual who's risking his or her money in pursuit of profit, and the government regulators and assorted stakeholders who exist to defeat any pursuit of profit that might offend the refined sensibilities of the Vermont Natural Resources Council, VPIRG, the Conservation Law Foundation, and other local groups.
In the same spirit was the Vermont Council on Rural Development's 2009 report titled "Imagining Vermont".
The report dwelled on a future Vermont with a working landscape, vigorous small industry, renewable energy, public transportation, creative arts, human-scale shared cultural values, affordable housing, excellent education and health care, more secure jobs and higher incomes, a renewed sense of community and intensified government planning and regulation to bring about the desired results.
The ever-present theme of these declarations is that there must be collective control, through government, of anything and everything significant enough to cause even locally disruptive changes in the environment, land use, transportation patterns, community values, vested economic interests, and a host of lesser desiderata. Approved "green" ventures and perhaps some popular existing businesses will qualify for lenient regulation and various subsidies, but promoters of new ventures will have to run the regulatory gantlet into an economically shaky future. We dare not encourage new ventures that might bring about noticeable changes in an agreed-upon grand plan...
In short, the candidates and commissions proclaiming their commitment to jobs and economic growth will simply not venture beyond the anti-growth consensus. Just reviewing the measures that the three Democrat senators in the gubernatorial race have supported and opposed the past few years must make their urgent pro-growth rhetoric sound hollow to some voters.
Until Vermont's prevailing attitudes toward economic growth change, the state is not likely to become the enclave of prosperity that its people have the talent to make it.