The Budget Overide

The budget impasse is over. Governor Douglas’ plan to shrink government by reducing the budget was repudiated and replaced with a legislative budget which does not go as far. It’s dangerous, however, to assume that this historic override brings any closure to the problem.

The Governor managed to dominate the discussion with fire and brimstone lectures on the evils of big government and high taxes and the left responded with serial anecdotes of suffering brought on by downsized government. Both approaches not only deflected attention from leadership and management quality, it deepened the impasse that editorial writers have distilled into an oil and water cocktail of competing political ideologies around the size of government, leaving Vermonters again to further thirst for real solutions. Size is not the issue, effectiveness is.

The legislature is like a board of directors who either approves, rejects or amends the CEO’s budget. They have a great deal of influence over what the governor has to manage, but they don’t actually manage the enterprise. That is the Executive’s job. If government is too expensive, ineffective or wasteful, where does the Governor get his rationale for blaming the board? The answer is simple. It’s politics.

A leader should frame the discussion around the cost-efficiency of the government he or she leads, not its size. For an aspiring politician with no real enterprise management experience this, of course, poses political risks. At least the legislature is beginning to talk about management quality, measureable outcomes, redesign, and government efficiency. It’s not just about taxes. Taxes are an investment in community. The real question is whether the Governor spent the last seven year’s worth of our tax investment managing an efficient and effective enterprise that used our tax revenues to produce measureable, beneficial social and economic results.

Vermonters must hold leaders accountable for measureable results and not let them distract us with rhetoric and ideology.

When the shareholders of Vermont next have the opportunity to choose a chief executive officer, they must ask themselves, “Is this an experienced leader willing to be accountable for the management of our state – or just another politician?”

Will he or she have the courage to surround themselves with similarly experienced leaders, regardless of their political DNA, to run and be accountable for a lean and effective government enterprise into which we are proud – or even eager – to invest? Will we have established benchmarks and metrics against which we can hold our new leader accountable or will we again simply indulge in ideological rhetoric?

We must similarly hold ourselves accountable, remembering that our government cannot and should not do everything for us. As Vermonters, we must be willing to do more for ourselves and to reach across the fence and help neighbors who cannot. We must inform ourselves about our communities and be open to new ideas and opinions. We must ask questions.

If we lose what we value most in Vermont, it will be our own fault, not the fault of the leaders we choose.

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