by Bruce Lisman Good public policy badly executed is not better than bad public policy executed well. The outcome is often the same for Vermont citizens—bad. And, of course, bad ideas executed badly are a special hell for Vermonters. We’ve just re-elected a government that has made bad ideas, bad management, and bad leadership seem ordinary. No whining here. The people voted to return many of them to office—but protested by withholding support for our Governor and reducing the ruling party’s majorities in the House and Senate.It’s a rebuke and a fair warning to those just elected. The Governor is wrong: we don’t want ‘bold’ leadership; we want competent leadership. We expect them to act as fiduciaries for the public’s money. We want them to take seriously the embedded philosophy of Vermont that would offer a helping hand or a comforting hand to those in need but balanced with those other great Vermont characteristics, frugality and commonsense.My colleague, Tom Pelham has written and spoken often of our government’s unwillingness to restrain their passion to spend money without regard to the state’s constrained resources, its modest economic growth and the obvious uncertainties in the broader economy.The Governor proposed budget increases that averaged 4.8% over the past three years; he and the Legislature reached agreement on budget increases that averaged 4.5%. Of course, those increases far outstripped economic growth and could only be accomplished by using one-time stopgap funds, cost shifts and other budgetary gimmicks. With disappointing tax receipts, the Governor was forced to rescind $20 million of spending and employ yet another $10 million in one-time funds and, 5 years into an economic recovery now faces a more than $100 million deficit. Worse, our government doesn’t have the capacity to invest in the very priorities they’ve outlined. Delusional leadership. Vermonters pay the price.Now, everyone seems to know about the education funding/property tax crisis after thirty-five towns voted down their school budgets in protest, with more protests likely to come next March. We don’t expect our elected leaders to predict the future, but we don’t expect them to create a future crisis, either. That’s exactly what the Governor and the Legislature did in 2011 when they transferred $27 million to the general fund that should have gone to the education fund. It caused the growth rate of property taxes to accelerate, even as they hung more mandates on school budgets. A lack of transparency and short-term thinking gave us long-term problems. The Governor is now proposing consolidation but without data that would support that strategy; and the Speaker of the House has a secret plan. That’s like someone breaking your leg and then offering you a crutch. It’s the people who pay for bad ideas.Vermont Health Connect is a catastrophe of major proportion—its poor execution is already legend; the $100 million spent is astronomical, the loss of credibility is nearly complete. However, those Vermonters who use the system are paying the price – incredible delays, lost information, uncertainty, questionable access to services and medicines, and higher premiums and out-of-pocket costs for many.Campaign for Vermont believes that our government has an obligation to tell taxpayers not only where money is spent, but how well it’s spent. Our government can’t do that. Our leaders don’t have critical information when analyzing current challenges, so they make decisions blindly. They can’t manage our government to serve the people.And, the implications of this are significant. Problems cannot be properly analyzed, the costs of the cure cannot be measured, and the benefit value of real solutions for real people cannot be evaluated. I know of no successful enterprise that operates without data to support decision-making, the capacity to execute policy, and the willingness and ability to measure outcomes. Because of such dysfunction, Vermont leaders and managers in our government are handicapped and Vermonters pay for their failures.Bruce Lisman lives in Shelburne and is a co-founder of Campaign for Vermont Prosperity, Inc.
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