Agripublicans

Agripublicans are Republicans who offer a specific list of policy priorities that we propose to address for all Vermonters.  We are not a third party — we simply augment the existing Vermont ...

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We are constitutionalists, and we appeal to all Vermonters to affirm those restraints on government. This is also our justification for repeal of various laws — because our predecessors have greatly overstepped their bounds, and used government to enact every whim without the intended restraint of the federal and state constitutions.

As explained in Pensions, Vermont’s current pension and healthcare promises are greatly underfunded, and this poses a serious financial threat to the state. But Vermont also struggles from a declining conventional dairy industry, anemic economic growth, decay in numerous small towns around the state, loss of student populations, the shock of the EB-5 scandal, and the departure of many of our middle-class workers and entrepreneurs.

Act 250 must be repealed and replaced. It has become a bureaucratic intrusion into Vermonters’ efforts to make a living, increasingly impacting farmers and small businesses that were never intended to be burdened.

Proposed carbon taxes, family leave, and minimum wage laws only increase government mandates that expand Montpelier’s budget and power while discouraging businesses from locating in Vermont. Regressive motor vehicle regulations and fees have both increased steadily in recent years, squeezing working Vermonters. Whether or not the overall economy (or Vermonters’ incomes) improves, the number of state employees — and the salaries of all — increase automatically, as do property taxes. (For instance, the Vermont Agency of Agriculture Food and Markets has grown quite rapidly, even as the number of farms decreases predictably. This is not economically “sustainable.”) 

There is widespread abuse in Vermont of welfare and other programs. This is unfair to taxpayers as well as to those who truly need such assistance. Those who receive public assistance fraudulently must be reported, investigated, and stopped from abusing our state. State employees who commit fraud or whose employment is economically unjustified must be similarly rooted out.

Vermonters must be encouraged to grow small businesses, including small farming ventures. There is high demand for Vermont agricultural products: farms preserve our landscape and benefit communities. Tax credits, temporary tax abatement, low-interest loans, market support, and other low-cost incentives must be provided to induce entrepreneurs to invest their energy, money, and hope in successful Vermont businesses. Instead of issuing $10,000 checks to out-of-staters to relocate to Vermont, the Agripublicans propose to enable our own citizens to remain.

Vermont has failed to properly fund the retirement and healthcare systems for its state employees, teachers, and municipal employees.  Current estimates are that the shortfall of these systems, together with unfunded health insurance obligations for state employees and teachers, total more than $4.5 billion. In fact the number is much larger, because this figure is calculated employing unrealistically rosy predictions about future investment performance for those funds which have been set aside.

The financial position Vermont faces is dire — solely by virtue of this unwieldy debt. If market returns fail to achieve these lofty predictions, much more taxpayer money will be required to meet these promises. If the national or local economy declines sharply, our state will be in a vicious cycle as our credit rating is downgraded and borrowing costs escalate.

The “Agripublican” idea is twofold: the frugality of farmers; the leaner government of conservativism — Vermonters must acknowledge the problem, and pledge to fix it.

This is not about blaming any party or past administration, but about realistically correcting the mistakes that have caused Vermont’s pensions to be some of the worst-funded in the nation. The question is not about who created these whopping debts, but who can be trusted now to overcome them and still keep promises made to workers.   

Heroin, fentanyl, methamphetamine, and other drugs continue to pass widely around Vermont: no community has been spared. The drugs are increasingly potent, and decreasingly expensive, which in a poor economy makes for a horrific combination. A leading cause of substance-abuse disorder is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs); a leading cause of ACEs is poverty. Parents addicted to (or killed by) opioids cause extreme ACEs in their children, and the cycle worsens.

Vermonters must eliminate stigma surrounding addiction, increase both prevention and recovery efforts, and involve more private citizens in these efforts. Local schools and communities must be nurtured, and economic prospects improved. Government does have an important role to serve, but citizens must help one another to confront this menace.

The Agripublican policy proposal for opioid addiction is to continue to learn and build upon the growing scientific research regarding addiction, and the existing structures successfully instituted here in Vermont. Additionally, there is desperate need for parent and family support services, and more statewide resources for pregnant women (and their babies) managing substance abuse disorder.

We propose to invest in a modest state-partnered pilot project to employ a group of people in recovery in an operating small farm that contributes to its own funding by selling agricultural products. If this model was effective, it could be replicated and used in other parts of the nation.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we propose to help people who are on long-term Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) to rid themselves of that pharmaceutical dependency if they wish, through increased counseling and recovery support services.

All of these innovations are likely to be effective; all are very low-cost relative to other interventions, and compared to the destructive toll on our state caused by opioid addiction. Combating the opioid crisis is the compassionate path. It is also frugal, because prevention and treatment are less costly than neglect.

Vermont’s rural schools are in decline. Many have already closed. Under Act 46, it is the smallest rural schools that are most threatened. Governor Scott has provided $10,000 payments to out-of-staters to come reside in Vermont, but that is of little use if those people want to raise children in healthy communities with strong schools.

Good schools are vital to maintaining communities. In many cases where small-town schools have been consolidated in Vermont, education taxes continue to increase, and young children are bussed as long as a one-hour drive each way to their “new school” outside their hometown. Young children should not have to spend tiresome hours on busses in order to attend school — and the carbon cost of long-distance diesel transport is decidedly high.

Vermont expends a great deal of money on its students. Ballotpedia records that “In the 2012-2013 school year, Vermont reported one of the highest rates of per pupil spending in the country at $16,377. Only five states had higher per pupil spending.”  But by 2017, Vermont had risen in rank, according to the U.S. census: “Of the 50 states, New York ($23,091), the District of Columbia ($21,974), Connecticut ($19,322), New Jersey ($18,920) and Vermont ($18,290) spent the most per pupil in 2017.”

Vermont thus resides in the company of wealthy urban states that allow runaway government spending. Yet, Vermont ranks 28th in the nation in median income: the District of Columbia ranks 1st, New Jersey ranks 3rd, Massachusetts 5th, Connecticut 6th, and New York 15th. Which is to say, Vermont pays the highest amount of money per student in this top-five group, when calculated as a percentage of median household income.

Proponents of Act 46 seek to close yet more rural schools forever. Gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe opposes school choice vouchers — an effort to mandate that students participate in a shrinking, very costly public school system. At the same time, the legislature has failed to adequately fund Vermont’s school teachers’ pensions and healthcare premium guarantees. Future costs to meet those promises will further hamper Vermonters’ ability to maintain and nurture the local schools that are the foundation of growing, healthy communities.

Vermont must rally past its divisions, turn away from national conflict, and save its local schools, local communities, and local people. Our very landscape is under assault by the loss of dairy farms, middle-class and young Vermonters are leaving the state, and businesses hesitate to invest in declining towns that are shuttering schools. Finding solutions to this problem must be paramount for all Vermonters.

Act 46 is unpopular for good reason, and should be repealed. Vermonters can do better, and we will! Not every school is the same: creative options are being considered, including increased school choice through vouchers, and possibly privatizing some underperforming schools. We must save our local schools, not bus children for hours to distant locations. And we must make this affordable!

We promise to repeal Act 46, and to seek innovative improvements to finance and invigorate our existing small schools. Enough time has been squandered by the legislature with symbolic amendments to the Vermont Constitution and other folly — instead our leaders must prioritize our schools, and practice the fiscal integrity that will ensure those schools remain healthy.

Fetal Personhood in Criminal Cases

Vermont has refused to provide relief for mothers whose children are killed in utero by criminal behaviors. This means that a person who assaults a pregnant woman in Vermont cannot be criminally charged for that baby’s murder even when they clearly or even deliberately cause his or her death. Most Vermonters are aghast at such a failure of the law to protect. And in 1989, in State v Oliver, the Vermont Supreme Court specifically referred this issue to the Vermont legislature as “the proper forum” to accomplish that task.

Federal law recognized the criminality of killing unborn babies after Scott Peterson murdered his pregnant wife Laci. The Unborn Victims of Violence Act of 2004 defines all unborn babies as “members of the species homo sapiens” for purposes of federal criminal law.

In 2009, Patricia Blair of Bennington lost both of her twin babies (six months in utero) when an intoxicated driver struck her car head on. For ten years Mrs. Blair has appealed to the Vermont Legislature to enhance its laws so to hold criminals more accountable, to silence.

To recognize fetal personhood in criminal cases is just, and grants more protection to pregnant women in Vermont.

 

Prohibition of Third-Trimester Abortions in Vermont

In 1972, Roe v Wade recognized not only “a woman’s right to choose” but also “a compelling state interest” to protect the life of the child — that there was a second life arising at some point. That exact point when a fetus becomes a human remains in contention, but in 1972 our United States Supreme Court specifically identified the third trimester as a point where there was clearly a second life which could constitutionally be afforded state government protection.

In 2019, progressives waged a harsh partisan battle in Vermont to pass H 57, which they argued “preserved existing Vermont abortion law.” This was and is true — existing Vermont abortion law does not acknowledge anything “compelling” about a fetus nearing birth, and third-trimester abortions are legal in Vermont.

To prohibit third-trimester abortions does not deny a woman the right to terminate her pregnancy — it requires her to do so before there is a “compelling interest” to protect that child as a baby.

All Vermonters desire clean natural resources of air, water and soil. As with farming, these attributes of our state are part of the “Vermont brand.” Recent revelations of groundwater contamination at several industrial sites around the state highlight the value of agricultural businesses, particularly the current explosion of organic, grass-fed, and other niche farming ventures that are proving themselves to be profitable as well as eco-friendly.

Lake Champlain’s clean-up and stewardship is a long-term challenge. Vermont has created partnerships with federal regulators, state agencies, and businesses to identify causes of water pollution in our state, especially in Lake Champlain. This is an important task for our economic as well as physical health, and is a measure of our worthiness to reside in the Green Mountains.

Many regulatory measures have focused on agricultural ventures as sources of groundwater pollution, without sufficiently curtailing the water contamination and run-off caused by development in urban and suburban areas. In 2019 the legislature diverted funds from road maintenance to construct more bike paths — but bike paths increase run-off, and are largely of only recreational value. Sewage plant leaks, lawn fertilizers and pesticides, and many other “urban” pollution sources are largely ignored by legislators who compel tiny farms to fence their cows away from streams.

Similarly, the carbon tax will expand government taxation without benefiting Vermont’s ecosystem one bit. More effective would be a complete ban on lawn fertilizers and herbicides, household pesticides, fireworks displays (dangerous, toxic, recreational-only, and imported entirely from China), lawn mowers and lawns (millions of gallons of gas saved!), swimming pools and associated chemicals, and snow-making machines. Representatives impose financial burdens on working people through costly “environmental” regulations, while ignoring recreational pollution that is easier to identify and reduce. This is an unconstitutional and unfair manipulation of government power, and it must stop.

The Agripublicans will continue Lake Champlain clean-up efforts, and increase efforts to reduce pollution across our beautiful state in sensible ways that do not expand the police state in the name of “the planet.” We are constitutionalists, and will respect those constitutional limits on government designed to preserve fairness and order.

Farming is central to the very culture of this state. Farming shapes our hillsides, provides fresh food, and is the Vermont brand name. The focus of the “Agripublican” policy list is to bring the integrity and determination of a farming work ethic to the legislature. But also, it is to nurture and revive Vermont’s ailing small-farm economy, and in so doing benefit all Vermonters and all small Vermont businesses.

Vermont has supported conventional dairy farms for decades, but much more can be done to entice start-up farming ventures, and improve distribution, marketing, and profitability. Farming is not exclusive, it is inclusive. Vermont is reportedly the #1 localvore economy in the country — let’s build on that! When we help small farmers, we help their customers, communities, and schools.

There are numerous economic incentives that promote small farms at no public cost, such as initial tax waivers for start-ups; low-interest loans where applicants hold land or other security; tax credits for targeted markets or products. Property tax relief for small farmers and actual homesteaders is not cost-free, but might prove a wise and equitable tax policy.

As Vermont enters 2020, the legislature seeks to expand Act 250’s requirements to burden small farmers who are currently exempt. More and more regulations, many of them unconstitutional, are crafted annually that hinder small farms. But farms are not alone — most all of Vermont’s small businesses have been similarly stifled by a steady increase in regulations, fees, forms, and related expenses. Act 250 has been extended into every sort of local venture, often at great economic hardship with little if any measurable return. This is an abuse of a well-intentioned law. Act 250 must be repealed and replaced.

Businesses do not wish to invest in Vermont, for evident reasons. But Vermont’s economy must not be dependent upon (carbon-burning) tourists through ski resorts, art exhibits, or leaf peepers staying at inns. Vermont must preserve its historic agricultural roots just as it must preserve its schools and its economic health. In so doing it preserves its scenic views, its food security, and its local communities. Vermont’s future remains in its past — food, agriculture, and a rural “way of life.”

Numerous low-cost opportunities exist for Vermont to build upon its farming “brand” by encouraging small farms. There is growing demand for Vermont agricultural products, and farming builds soils, preserves landscapes, and increases food security. There is great economic opportunity in small-scale farming, which also nurtures Vermont’s traditional culture and small communities. Regulatory impediments to farming must be sensibly reduced, as with other small local businesses.

Vermont’s legislature was once filled with intelligent, honest farmers. It is time to return farmers, craftsmen, tradesmen, and other common-sense Vermonters to the statehouse. They will get results despite the rough terrain and harsh conditions. But certainly, continuing the way the state has been going will destroy the remaining farms and take all else with them, and “old Vermont” will become a faint memory. That’s why the Agripublican policy promise list was created — to restore common sense and integrity in our runaway government!

Prohibition of cannabis has failed.  It is inconsistent with Libertarian and Republican values to expand government regulation in a failed policy area. Heroin, fentanyl and methamphetamine are rampant: Vermont’s interdiction efforts must be focused there.

A Vermont political party that seeks to impose prohibition lacks credibility with the citizenry.  How is government to be trusted to fund its promises to teachers, or clean up Lake Champlain, if it is so out of touch with people regarding the issue of cannabis legalization? Progressive efforts to tax cannabis at 16% or more reflect an out-of-touch government that seeks revenue at the expense of personal liberty — a government that cannot be trusted to fund the pensions that it has left underfunded for decades.

Cannabis is now legal, with only an unregulated black market in Vermont (though users can travel to neighboring states to get all they want) — this is WORSE than previous prohibition because the supply is increasing with no filter to protect the young. A majority of Vermonters favor legalization; fentanyl-laced heroin is rampant despite prohibition efforts; progressives wish to tax cannabis at such high rates that the illegal market will continue to thrive.

Yet, with a low (6%) tax on cannabis, the black market will be undermined instead of nurtured. In California and other states, efforts to reap high tax revenues from weed have pushed the entire market underground, where it is less regulated than under prohibition. With low taxes but strict penalties for selling to minors or otherwise selling illegally, Vermont has a chance of regulating cannabis in a way that could actually reduce use among the young. The other options — a return to prohibition or a sky-high tax rate — are both proven failures.

In recent years, Vermont has enacted sweeping, broad restrictions on gun ownership.  Always such changes are immediately followed by yet more calls for “more common sense gun control laws.” Enough is enough. The compromise proposed is “No new Gun Laws.” The anti-gun lobby in Vermont has had their day, but now wishes to impose mandatory waiting periods on gun purchases, and some are calling to prohibit companies in Vermont from manufacturing some weapons, at the expense of hundreds of jobs. “Safe storage” laws make criminals of tens of thousands of law-abiding Vermonters, and yet progressive lawmakers have proposed implementing them in 2020.

The United States Constitution requires all government action to be at least “rationally related” to a legitimate governmental interest. There is little evidence that waiting periods on gun purchases will actually save lives, yet many anti-gun people respond by saying “Even if it might save one life…” This falls short of constitutional muster — the government has the burden to show that a law will reasonably work, not that it might. In the interim, this law would damage many Vermont businesses by essentially destroying the longstanding Vermont tradition of gun shows. It might cost women victims of domestic abuse their lives if they are killed by their partner while waiting to buy a gun for protection. It is unconstitutional, because there is so little evidence in its favor, and so much to show the damage it will cause.

For Vermont to prohibit the manufacture of firearms in the state because of the criminal actions of an individual using one of them, would be another unconstitutional infringement. The same rational relationship problem arises — would banning their manufacture prevent a person from committing a crime with a gun? But further, there is an intervening cause which is deliberately ignored — the human being with malice aforethought. It is blatantly unconstitutional for a legislature to close a lawful business due to the criminal actions of another. Perhaps car manufacturers will be forced to close due to drunk drivers?

What is proposed here is “No new gun laws.” The agripublicans do not propose to repeal recent gun-law changes at this time; but strongly oppose further restrictions, which will hurt Vermont’s traditions and economy.

Vermont faces urgent fiscal threats, its local schools are in decline, and opioids continue to spread — Vermonters must set aside various social issues that have diverted attention and resources from higher priorities. As to gun laws, that compromise is current law. No new gun laws. No waiting periods for gun purchases, or restrictions against Vermont manufacturers of firearms. No restrictions on where Vermonters can carry their guns, especially if those restrictions compromise First Amendment Free Speech rights (such as recent efforts to prohibit attendees of political events from carrying their firearms). No intrusions into citizens’ homes to command how they will store their self-defense weapons.