False Economies

As the legislative biennium winds down, it’s time to consider what happened, what didn’t, and more important, why? Many Vermonters are vocal about wanting their government branches to change how they do business; others have altogether given up on government’s ability to better their lives. And while it’s fine to distrust and criticize government leaders, an outright anti-government stance, unfortunately, denies help, hope, and invites tyranny.

Though I’ve never chosen government service, I have respect for those who have. I believe in government’s ability to improve our lives, but without ethical oversight, strategic planning, leadership accountability, and transparency, new laws may add little to our quality of life.

In a world of accelerating change, I am flummoxed by our adherence to a 19th century governance model. A $5.5B enterprise needs ongoing planning, data and trend analysis and future modeling. It needs a three-year budget planning horizon and four-year leadership terms for the executive and legislative branches. In times of unbridled self-dealing, it also demands transparency and an objective ethics resource.

The current biennium is trying to process more than 1100 bills in both houses in two five-month sessions. In some cases, these bills are crafted from strategic need, but in too many cases, they represent patchwork, knee-jerk responses, or worse self-dealing.

We have real world problems. Vermonters live them daily and can articulate them if asked. We need to step back, understand our long range challenges and rethink how we address them.

Our legacy systems: public education, criminal justice, transportation, healthcare, housing, the tax code, environmental regulation, and economic development seem to roll forward without questioning whether they still work as they should, whether they position us for a better future, or whether they’re just cryogenic.

To shoot down a real ethics commission for expense reasons, as was Governor Snelling’s earlier strategic planning office, is unbearably shortsighted. To just grind out legislation outside an ethical framework, and with no strategic planning, just piles on more cost and complexity.

Neither an ethics or a strategic planning commission need cost more than its simple cost of administration – perhaps $200,000 each for an office and administrator. Both could be resourced with experienced lay people who have expertise in ethics or strategic planning and data analysis, and who are chosen by both branches of government.

The ship-of-state needs both moral and navigational compasses. We must listen to engaged Vermonters, who are asking tough questions. We’re sailing into rougher weather.


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