The View From Faraway Farm: Is legalized marijuana the tax solution for Vermont?
The folks around these parts are still fine people, but the cost of living has been quietly escalating at a rate that is too great to sustain. There's always more than one factor in these situations. It's a combination of taxes, low wages, food costs, and housing. Thankfully, energy costs have been holding the line, but don't expect that to remain the same forever. Everyone has an opinion about why our taxes are so high, and here are some of my thoughts.
We are top heavy with state jobs and programs. You don't have to fly over Waterbury to understand; just look at a satellite view to see the full parking lots at all the state buildings. It is no wonder that the Legislature increased a slew of taxable items in 2016 to pay for it all. Have you noticed that there are a number of really good restaurants in Waterbury, of all places? When a one traffic-light-town like Waterbury is suddenly becoming a gastronomic force in our small state, something is going on. Well, those restaurants aren't being totally supported by tourist dollars. State employees gotta eat, too. While it's great that a small Vermont town can experience a renaissance, you have to ask the question "What is supporting this?" Now you know.
Taxes are a tougher issue in Vermont than in most other New England states, and there doesn't appear to be any big movement to change it. Shrinking population, shrinking public school enrollments, but increasing property taxes? That just doesn't add up. But even if it isn't the case in your town, it certainly feels like it in many others. When I look at the staff parking at my old elementary school, I am amazed at how many more cars are jammed into that space since I attended. Walk inside and see all the additional staff that has been added by unfunded government mandates. Now, rather than taking a more surgical approach to our public school costs, we have a whack-a-doodle as Secretary of Education in Washington bent on trashing the entire system. The near-term outlook for rationally dealing with education issues does not look promising.
We have a relatively stagnant economy in Vermont, with bright spots here and there. We're not going to build wages with a hospitality based economy, and I'm not seeing a great state government sponsored push to diversify our economy. This causes a lot of folks to ask the question "What am I doing here?" While I don't have current hard and fast numbers to illustrate it, most of us know that more people are leaving rather than staying.
I wish there were some simple solutions, but I don't see any indications on the horizon.
Colorado solved some tax revenue issues by legalizing marijuana, but Vermont, as liberal as we are, cannot seem to make something like that happen. Maybe it's the fear of the unknown, but states that have legalized marijuana have not turned into a smoke filled Cheech and Chong movie set or places that are now plagued with drug cartels. Here's another angle. Has anyone measured the revenues of the snack industry in Colorado pre-and-post legalization? I'd be willing to bet that there's attributable increased tax revenue in that segment.
Sometimes you have to take a chance, Vermont. Stick your neck out a little, roll the dice. Nothing ventured nothing gained and all that. Yes, I realize that we run the risk of having a few more impaired drivers on the road, but I'd a whole lot rather be confronted by a stoned driver than a drunk driver in the opposite lane on a dark country highway. After all, the rest of the country sort of expects Vermont to legalize marijuana, so why can't we live down to their expectations and raise up our tax revenues? Has anyone thought about revenues from hemp growing? I am 100 percent for seeing a strong and vibrant hemp industry in Vermont. Remember when Howard Dean, Mr. Excitement himself, killed any hope for hemp? Talk about a buzz-kill even when no buzz was anticipated.
I'm the last guy who can come up with solutions to Vermont's high cost of living issues, and I'm probably the last guy who wants to leave my native state, so call me broke and sober but still somewhat glad to be living in the Green Mountain State, such as it is.
Arlo Mudgett's Morning Almanac has been heard over multiple radio stations in Vermont for nearly 30 years, and can be tuned in at 92.7 WKVT Monday through Saturday mornings at 8:35 a.m. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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