What are the dumbest things we do or don’t do in Vermont?

We like to think of ourselves as progressive, pioneering and aware of our neighbors’ needs. Why then do we have some of the worst socioeconomic benchmarks in America?

Unsheltered: As of a January 2023 count, Vermont had the second-highest rate of homelessness in the country.

Food insecurity: Twenty-seven percent of Vermonters experienced food insecurity in 2022, and families with children are more than five times more likely to be food insecure than those without.

Suicide: As of 2021, Vermont ranked among the higher states in the country (13th) for suicides at 20.3 per 100,000 (142 total). As of 2022, the hospital visit rate for intentional self-harm was 366 per 100,000 people aged 15-24.

Medical debt: According to a study from the Peterson Center on Healthcare and KFF, Vermont has among the highest rates of medical debt in the country at 12.2% of the population.

Drug addiction: As of 2010, 4.57% of Vermont residents reported using an illicit drug other than marijuana in the past month (the national average was 3.6%). The rate of accidental fatal opioid-related overdoses has increased to 33.6 per 100,000 in 2021, and reached 37 per 100,000 in 2022.

What are we doing wrong?

  • Proposing to build a new prison when there are mass communal vacancies among our five failed colleges — the verdict is still out on the future of Vermont State University with four partially vacant campuses which combined four waning state colleges in 2021 into one. Many of those incarcerated are detainees because of a massive back-up in the Vermont court system. A House bill, 880, would support some 70 total positions, some new, from prosecutors to IT specialists in an effort to give the courts additional resources to reduce a persistent backlog of thousands of pending cases.
  • Not creating a “Unity Investment Tax”for Vermont’s wealthiest, of whom we have many: There is a bill, which the governor has threatened to veto, that would in fact tax major wealth in Vermont, but the bill is not expected to pass. What community services might $180 million dollars in new revenue fund to prevent the above problem areas?
  • Failing to eliminate the environmental impact of a declining industrial-agriculture system that continues to support a commodity dairy industry with diminishing markets for fluid milk when one of the fastest-growingagricultural sectors globally is regenerative local farms. Their common mission is to raise fruit, vegetable, dairy, and animal protein without the chemical soil amendments that leach into our water supply and aquifers. Not banning or forestalling outright bans on neonicotinoids, glyphosate (Roundup) and PFAs is unconscionable. Europe has already done so. Six years from now in 2030, PFAs will finally be regulated (not banned) by the EPA nationally after science has shown they cause serious developmental effects in children, including low birthweight, accelerated puberty, bone variations, increased risk of some cancers, including prostate, kidney and testicular cancers and reduced immune defense to fight infections. What are we waiting for?
  • As the cost of healthcare skyrockets at the rate of some 15–20% a year and medical debt is among the highest in the nation, not following our own excellent Blueprint for Health. Not enforcing our policy of physiological and mental health parity. Not holding the governing boards of our nonprofit hospitals to full account for delivery on the agreed-upon mission of Population Health, i.e. quality, access, and affordability for a defined population… Vermont.
  • Closing community schools and investing in daycare centers: We need to reimagine public education, retire the concept of daycare and redesign our educational infrastructure for a year-round, community-based, educational system from age six months to end-of-life.
  • Instead of opening space to hotels and luxury residences for transient Vermonters, we must invest in affordable housing and shelters for local people and families.
  • Initiating online gambling, much of which is understood to be addictive for many.As many as 10 million Americans live with a gambling addiction. The act of gambling itself is legal in most jurisdictions. Twenty-nine states now allow online sports betting, which often makes it easier for people to rationalize risky gambling behaviors. Most people who have a gambling addiction don’t see it as a problem. However, medical professionals express grave concerns about the addictive aspects of compulsive gambling to the extent that it is included in the most recent Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The state expects to make some $7 million in revenue in the first year with an average dollar value bet of $23. Is feeding a devastating addiction for many worth a measly $7 million?
  • Not banning flavored tobacco products and protecting our young from nicotine addiction that’s known to cause cardiac and pulmonary failure later in life, and not taxing sugar-laden drinks which are causing a spike in obesity and diabetes. The Legislature passed S.18 banning flavored tobacco products, but Gov. Scott vetoed it, citing loss of retail and state tax income, and the legislature is failing to override the veto. So, money again trumps the future wellbeing of our children?
  • Not regulating customer service agencies such as renegade insurance agencies denying claims and trade services not responding to customer service calls: Consumers — already subject to skyrocketing costs driven in part by evolving monopolies due to business lobbying against regulatory restriction and diminishing trade labor resources — must have local recourse to customer satisfaction.
  • Not banning leg-hold traps and GPS-collared bear hounding hunts. I believe in Vermont’s legacy culture of hunting, fishing and trapping but only one that is humane and diminishes the suffering of our wild fauna. There are active trappers who practice and support banning animal suffering.
  • Vermont has no central strategic planning even though some Vermont agencies have disaggregated planning projects. This as the rate of technical innovation accelerates. Many of Vermont’s data systems remain insecure; others are medieval, as we’ve seen in recent hacking incursions. We have an “educational” government ethics commission but it has no judicial enforcement or prosecution capability. Tsk, tsk.
  • We have woefully inadequate addiction-treatment capacity given the substance abuse rampant in our families and society at large. Emergency rooms daily seeing people with substance abuse disorder have few if any resources within or without their hospital for recovery referrals.
  • We allow concealed carry of weapons in public places, with guns not allowed in schools or school buses. Individuals or institutions may ban concealed-carry in their buildings, but we have little regulatory oversight that might deter mass shootings.
  • We don’t include our young people in our decision-making that affects their future. There’s no formal recognition that provides agency for the voices of our young. Up for Learning understands this issue and is hoping to debut a program to bring the voices of our young into the human chorus.
  • I believe our legislative architecture no longer suits our need to define our challenges and establish relevant new law. Our bicameral legislature of 180 elected officials could be reduced to 90, replacing the existing legislative committee structure with nine chambers each with ten specialist legislators and a chair elected by the chamber members. These nine chambers would reflect experience and knowledge in each of Vermont’s major strategic challenges. The administrative cost of the legislature would be reduced, and the savings invested in compensating elected legislators appropriately so any Vermonter could afford to serve. Any balance would go to fund a more robust legislative support resource, merging the Office of Legislative Council and Joint Fiscal into the Legislative Research Council.

This just in:

Gov. Scott just announced the appointment of a Florida schools administrator and former for-profit charter school executive to be the next secretary of the Vermont Agency of Education. Vermont has no charter schools, and the appointee has reportedly never taught in a classroom.

In summary, most of the dumb things we do are the result of one of several flaws in our deliberative processes:

We lose our sense of the equilibrium expressed in our own motto “freedom and unity,” which calls on us to find the balance between the good of the individual and our common good.

A human frailty, it’s easier to procrastinate (create a “study committee,” hire a consultant) than it is to lead, elicit diverse civil discussion, build a consensus and move ahead.

As a result, we expend vastly greater deliberative and monetary resources trying to fix rather than to prevent. If we just moved our investments upstream to education, prevention and community resources, we could accomplish more with less, do so in less time and reduce human pain and suffering.

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