Op-Ed

Balancing Self-interest and Community Interest

All tax codes have winners and losers. Overtime, different classes of taxpayers advocate steadily for self-serving changes that eventually complicate and corrode the tax system. Legislators call these various deductions and exemptions  “tax expenditures,” because any revenue sources exempted from taxation must be made up somewhere else. Eventually tax codes become a complicated mishmash of arcane and often inequitable exceptions. Since there is no intrinsic system for tax code maintenance, legislators periodically ask citizens to review the entire code and suggest both broad architectural changes as well as specific amendments. It is in this spirit that the Legislature appointed the Blue Ribbon Tax Commission. It was understood that the Commission’s job was not to raise or lower taxes nor to …
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Principles Underlying a Redesign of Vermont’s Tax Code

Bill Schubart serves with former Secretary of Administration in the Dean and Kunin Administrations, Kathy Hoyt, and the economist and radio commentator, Bill Sayre, on the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Tax Commission. It was not the job of our commission to either raise or lower taxes, but to review years of accrued legislative patchwork and create a simpler, more equitable code. But before considering any changes, we determined to seek agreement on the principles that would underlie such a system. We took testimony from tax professionals, think tanks and foundations and made the time to discuss and distill their input into a set of principles against which proposed changes could be measured. The first principle was that any changes be “fair …
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Dear Governor-elect Shumlin,

Congratulations and thanks for taking up the challenges we face. May I suggest some priorities as you move ahead?  You know from your own political experience that there are no easy answers. All durable solutions are incremental, involve compromise and take time to implement. They are the result of listening and open discussion. Above all, you will need to be a communicator and educator. We have become too disconnected from the purposes and mission our taxes fund.  You will need to use the Web and your office to bring more understanding, transparency and measurement to the work of your administration. It will be possible to reduce some indirect costs of education like energy, healthcare, administration while preserving quality. It will, …
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The Courage of the Nuns

Well, the bishops have their vestments in a twist again, as if they hadn’t created enough problems for themselves, swearing the victims of their colleagues’ sexual predations to secrecy. In spite of the bill’s hair-raising passage, they opposed it, health care access for God’s poor, imagining that somehow, somewhere, some poor child might terminate an unwanted pregnancy and that some benighted do-gooder would help her by finding a way to get some of your tax dollars to pay for it even though the health care bill explicitly forbids tax monies to be used for abortions. These soldiers of Christ, far too many of whom have for centuries turned a blind eye to the sexual predation of children in the faith, …
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Governor Douglas Attacks Non-profit Salaries?

Burlington Free Press: My Turn Jan 31, 2009 So now we begin feeding on ourselves. Rep. Patty O’Donnell’s recent press conference calling for those in the non-profit sector earning over $60,000 and whose agency receives more than 50% State funding to take a mandatory cut of 5% is a sad indicator of the daunting lack of creativity in our leadership. It is also an insult to those working to provide the services at which government itself has largely failed. This would be fine were it a call to generosity rather than a punitive mandate. It comes, however, on the heels of Governor Douglas’ attack on the sector in which the lion’s share of Vermont’s job creation is occurring and which …
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Vermont is Not What You Think

In the 14 years before joining the original colonies in 1791, Vermont was a feisty, independent republic with allegiance only to itself and the motto “Freedom and Unity.” Today it is the same landmass of mountains and river valleys 80 miles wide and 160 miles long with 608,000 people, fewer than those living on the East Side of Manhattan between 34th and 72nd Streets. It is viewed by some as an Eden and by others as a sylvan asylum for reclusive nutcases who tax and regulate themselves or second homeowners to extinction. Vermont’s fragile equipoise is reflected in its motto. Unlike New Hampshire’s less subtle “Live Free or Drop Dead” motto, Vermont’s “Freedom and Unity” suggests an equilibrium of opposites …
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Vermont’s 2500 Non-profits

Vermont has over 2500 non-profit organizations. They are either mission-driven or overhead-driven. They are focused either on achieving their stated mission or on their survival. There is a great deal of mission overlap and contiguity in Vermont’s many non-profits. Competition is healthy in the for-profit sector but merely duplicative in the non-profit sector. Some of our most vital non-profits began as the benevolent vision of an individual. Sadly, it takes more than a dream to fulfill a mission in the non-profit world. It takes money. There are 650,000 people in Vermont and 2500 plus organizations competing for the donations of those who can or will be philanthropic. In the recent past, Chittenden County alone played host to over forty capital …
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Homage aux soeurs

While visiting Québec City last week for the Fêtes de la nouvelle France, we were wandering through Place Royale surrounded by early Québec re-enactors in period pantaloons, rough linen shirts and tricorne hats with conspicuous cell phones hanging from their beautiful woven sashes. Surrounded by countless camcorder-bearing tourists visiting for the Fêtes, the International Fireworks Expo at Montmorency and the sheer beauty of this ancient outcrop in the middle of the St Lawrence River, they were demonstrating early craft skills associated with agrarian and river life. Early Québecois music played somewhere in the distance, a mixture of ribec, galician pipes and fiddle, when suddenly a small flock of elderly nuns strolled by in their beautiful off-white habits smiling broadly at …
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