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This commentary is by state Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, who has served on the House Education and Ways & Means Committees.
At a recent town meeting I attended, a very loyal, capable and loved town official retired. Many had complimentary words to describe her work and humanity. One comment struck me because it was profound, and I had never heard it used — this person doesn’t have common sense; they have Uncommon Sense.
There are three issues before the Legislature that on the surface appear to be common-sense ideas pursuing worthy goals. But they have fundamental flaws that can be repaired if the Legislature applies some Uncommon Sense.
Universal school meals
Not all students suffer from food insecurity. For those who do, food insecurity isn’t a phenomenon experienced only while attending school; it also occurs on evenings, weekends, and school breaks.
Vermont shouldn’t spend precious dollars feeding students who don’t suffer from food insecurity while sending those that do home hungry. H.165 should be modified to increase the numbers of students eligible for school meals, but not everyone. Saved dollars should be used to build more robust out-of-school programs for students suffering from food insecurity.
Not only would Vermont alleviate food insecurity, but these students would be more ready to learn in school.
Paid family and medical leave insurance
This insurance is supported by many Vermonters and the governor. H.66 is working its way through the House and proposes to have Vermont administer an insurance program by adding 47 employees in the Treasurer’s Office and 15 at the Tax Department, and purchasing the IT infrastructure to operate it.
Virginia and Washington respectively spent $45 million and $89 million (before the pandemic) to build IT networks that will require additional spending over time. Alas, there is no IT savings for states with small populations.
Vermont could more quickly provide insurance benefits to all Vermonters if it partnered with the same private insurer that will soon be providing insurance benefits to state employees, and forgo the employment costs and expensive uncertainty of developing its own IT system.
If Vermont finds out it doesn’t like the services provided by insurance professionals from a company with 213 years of experience, we could always bring the program in-house, hire state employees, and acquire an IT network. If we hire 62 employees and pay for an IT network, and then aren’t happy with the final product, it would be nearly impossible to shift to a private insurer.
Vermont was the second state to adopt a bottle deposit system in 1973; 10 states currently have a bottle deposit system. H.158 seeks to update this program by increasing the number of types of bottles requiring a deposit.
H.158 is a classic win-lose proposal. By pulling bottles out of recycling and making them deposit-eligible, Vermont will be starving our recyclers of valuable commodities that hold down the cost of recycling for Vermont residents and businesses.
Assuming a Vermont consumer returns every deposit bottle that they purchase, this program is revenue-neutral to consumers. If Vermont increases the number of bottles eligible for deposit, it is still revenue-neutral.
What does change is the increased cost to recycle everything else. These increased costs would be disproportionately felt (regressive) by low- and middle-income Vermonters.
Also, higher recycling costs don’t make people more likely to recycle. The authors of H.158 need to go back to the drawing board and contemplate why 40 states don’t have a bottle bill. There is room for a win-win if we admit the folly that passing a nickel around is the best way to make Vermont litter-free.