With the statehouse awash in ambitious schemes to enlarge government, expand the tax base, deliver ever more services, increase dependency, and impose new mandates on businesses, one major avenue of real reform is chronically overlooked: repealing the ideas of yesteryear that didn't work, proved counterproductive, or were downright destructive.
Here's a selection of candidates for repeal from among Montpelier's long roster of mistakes.
This highly touted Challenge for Change scheme for closing the state's annoying general fund budget (Act 68 of 2010) has one success to its credit. It allowed Sen. Shumlin, Speaker Smith and Gov. Douglas to share a photo op announcing the coming solution of the FY2011 budget problem.
The budgeteers dutifully booked the declared "savings" and headed home to be reelected. Most of the projected $38 million in "savings" got lost somewhere along the way. This is especially true in education, where the Commissioner could only plead with school districts to stop spending money so he could meet his Challenge for Change targets.
Repeal this foolishness and launch a real performance review, as promised in the 2004 Democratic platform but promptly forgotten in 2005.
The 2006 legislature passed, and Gov. Douglas dutifully signed, a feel good law (Act 168) to put Vermont in the forefront of the titanic battle against the Menace of Global Warming. It mandates a state action plan to lower our greenhouse gas emissions to an astonishing 50 percent of 1990 levels by 2050. Achieving this goal will necessitate job-killing emissions quotas, mandates, taxes, cap and trade schemes and prosecutions.
Attorney General Jerry Brown of California, now Governor again, used an almost identical statute (AB 32) to threaten to stop new factories that would emit greenhouse gases. Vermont attorney general William Sorrell has pointedly refused to say that he won't do the same thing to stop growth in Vermont. Repeal this incipient monster before it drives businesses out of the state and kills many of the good jobs we have left.
Act 48 of 2009, a Shumlin favorite, pressured the Milk Commission to mandate subsidies to dairy farmers, price controls on grocers, and price increases on mothers buying milk for their children. Repeal this milk tax authority before new Shumlin appointees, unlike Douglas's, impose this scheme without a vote of the legislature.
Act 160 of 1992 included a provision strongly favored by Gov. Dean and physicians, to send medical malpractice cases to arbitration. Unfortunately the law directed this to happen only when a sweeping health care "reform" plan was in place. That effort crashed in flames in 1994. Repealing the effective date language would bring this needed reform to life.
Act 62 of 2007 gave the key to the education fund to any school district that wants to launch a preschool program. The universal preschool law will produce no identifiable and lasting educational benefits, charge the taxpayers for universal day care, put severe pressure on independent day care and early education providers, and offer no true parental choice. Repeal this costly monument to false claims and focus early education on the ten percent of kids who will actually be helped by it.
Act 2 of 2005 put Vermont into the Illinois-sponsored ISaveRx drug importation program. The Illinois governor boosting it was impeached and removed from office, the program was shut down in 2009 for waste and drug safety concerns, and Vermonters long ago forgot it existed. Repeal it.
Act 160 of 2006 declared that the general assembly must approve before the Public Service Board can issue a certificate of public good for the continued operation of a nuclear power plant. This year, a majority of legislators may well vote Vermont Yankee off the island, regardless of the serious economic consequences. Repealing this language in Act 160 would be a far better choice.
Even Vermont's Supreme Court has hammered Criterion 10 of Act 250 of 1970, requiring a development applicant to conform to vague and aspirational town plans. Repealing "town plan" in favor of "approved zoning bylaws" would remove this arguably illegal roadblock to development.
Finally, repealing the words "age and" in the health insurance laws (Act 160 of 1992), to again allow insurance companies to charge premiums based on age-related risk, would be a valuable step. This assumes, of course, that the Gov. Shumlin and the Democratic legislature fall short of making health insurance illegal altogether.
This is, of course, only a sampler. After forty years of ever more enthusiastic liberalism, there is lot more.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute (www.ethanallen.org).