While campaigning over the last three weeks, I’ve walked more than 120 miles around Colchester and visited over 3,000 homes. I’ve spoken with hundreds of Colchester residents and one thing is clear - you all love Vermont! But far too many of you are concerned that you won’t be able to stay here much longer.
Rising costs of living, coupled with stagnant wages have made Vermont the most unaffordable small state in the nation. We’re the second-worst place to start a business, and the only state with median wages lower now than in 2009. To make matters worse, we’re facing a demographic crisis that is compounding our economic decline.
You’re working harder than ever before and you’ve got less to show for it.
More people die in Vermont than are born here, and more people leave Vermont for other states than come here to live. Vermont’s tax-paying population is getting strangled, and our K-12 and Higher Education enrollments have been sharply declining since their peak in 1996.
But our State Legislature has repeatedly taken exactly the wrong approach to address these problems:
— Their only solution to a plummeting median wage has been to increase the mandatory minimum wage - as if by magic, we could solve our economic crisis by decreeing struggling local businesses to pay higher than market rates to their least-skilled entry-level employees? As if a minimum-wage job was ever meant to be the pinnacle of achievement. When exactly did we lower that bar? I didn't consent to it, and I know of no one in Vermont that did.
— Their only attempt to stem the mass exodus of Vermont's middle-income taxpayers has been to offer $10,000 “incentives” to out-of-staters to come and live here. By any measure, this has been a resounding failure, bringing only 290 people here at a Vermont taxpayer expense of over $400,000. Even Vermont's Progressive State Auditor Doug Hoffer, criticized this program as having a “serious structural flaw” that has “undoubtedly resulted in wasted taxpayer funds.” and “at best, a minor incentive for grantees to move to Vermont.” Yet we foolishly continue to fund it.
The reality is that in order to pay for the things we all want - clean water, world-class schools, paved roads, well-maintained parks and trails, engaging social programs, fully-funded state pensions and a sustainable safety-net for the indigent - we need a strong economy! We cannot continue to tax and spend our way out of this economic hole.
We need to grow our way to a prosperous future!
A strong Vermont economy requires us to compete with our neighboring states. To recognize our worth in the regional, national and global marketplace. To play to our strengths by supporting our farms and our small businesses and helping them to grow to reach new markets, create new jobs and bring in revenue from outside Vermont. Our government needs to help - not hinder - economic activity in Vermont.
Send me to Montpelier and I will lay an economic foundation that will bring 10,000 high-paid sustainable jobs to Vermont within four years (plus a further 20,000 in ten years) and set Vermont on a path to sustainable economic prosperity. We will be the envy of not only New England and the US, but the world. Our High School and College graduates will be well-prepared to immediately embark on fulfilling and well-paid careers. The economic activity will bring prosperity that will dramatically reduce the magnitude of our opioids epidemic and mental health crisis.
We will immediately begin negotiations with large Internet/technology companies - Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Netflix, Apple and Amazon - with the goal to commit one or more of them to establish a technology campus in Vermont. We will offer tax incentives and fast-track regulatory approvals to make a deal that will establish Vermont as the most desirable destination for highly-skilled technology workers in the world. Pipelines will be established directly from our High Schools and State Colleges to provide these companies with highly-qualified graduates that are ready to go on day one in high-paid jobs that will power the new economy. This will immediately stall our demographic crisis, and completely reverse it within ten years.
This plan will bring 8,000 new technology jobs to Vermont within four years. A 2,000-employee campus in (say) Rutland will be augmented with 6,000 remote workers all over the state, bringing a huge boost of vitality and economic prosperity statewide. These workers will all pay taxes, and therefore play a role in finally reducing your taxes, but they will not burden our infrastructure like many conventional jobs. Most will work remotely from their homes nine days out of ten, with occasional days at headquarters as needed. They are green jobs. They are sustainable jobs. They are resilient jobs. They will form the backbone of the new Vermont economy.
Over the next ten years, this will grow into 30,000 new jobs for Vermont, establishing us as by far the highest per-capita hub of technology excellence anywhere in the world.
All these new technology workers are going to need to be fed. Rather than trucking-in low quality food from out-of-state, let's support and incentivize our farmers to grow what we need. We will provide property tax and income tax credits to small farms on the gross receipts of locally-grown food. This will bring 2,000 new farming jobs to Vermont within four years. A thriving farming industry also directly feeds Vermont's tourism industy, so this is another win-win scenario for the Vermont taxpayer. Fresh, local food is healthy, nutritious and ecologically sustainable and it is preventive healthcare at its finest.
Within ten years, we should aspire to grow a full 50% of Vermonters' produce consumption right here in Vermont, and expand our exports of high quality Vermont-grown fresh foods and durable goods to New England and beyond.
In ten short years, if Vermont's economic and demographic crises continue along their current trajectory, our once-productive Green Mountain State will be reduced to an economic wasteland — perhaps littered with shells of electric cars, long-since-defunct solar panels and non-recyclable wind turbine blades. If we continue with the current best-laid boondoggles, our taxes will keep going up, our healthcare and education costs will keep rising out of control, and our kids will keep leaving. And unless you're among Vermont's 1% elite, you'll be forced to leave too.
Or, we can embark on a new direction for Vermont. One that embraces sustainable growth by working with businesses that will help power us back to prosperity.
Fellow Vermonters - there has never been a better time to act. Our COVID-19 repsonse has been the envy of the world. Big Tech wants a piece of us, and we can leverage our current position to our benefit. Let's get to the negotiating table and cut a deal that will help us build a brighter future for Vermont.