Ventriss: Backing Into Things

Jan 12, 2016

One recent, cold winter morning, I was gingerly maneuvering the car out of the driveway when – wham - I backed into and knocked over the too-full recycling container, which I had placed there myself, sending the second half of Christmas all over the street.

I had no choice but to pick up the mess I’d made and proceed to the repair shop to fix the taillight. Five minutes later, my trusted mechanic came back to announce that my car was overdue for inspection, which I authorized him to do. Five minutes after that, he came out to say that he couldn’t issue a new inspection because I needed new tires. Okay. Install new tires. Apparently, backing into things can be very expensive.

Plus, this delay at the car repair shop kept me from attending the Governor’s State of the State address, which I enjoy as much for its ceremony as its content. So, as I waited for my repairs to be finished, I began to think about Vermont’s pattern of budget building over recent history; it’s one that requires planners to first backup and backfill a deficit before we can move forward with our new budget, goals and programs. Regrettably, the process has become an inefficient, costly, systemic, and institutionalized approach that reflects much deeper structural problems. The wide swings between surplus and deficits are evidence of the problems inherent in fiscal policies that are based on the crisis of the moment. And we have a lot of them.

At some point soon, policymakers will be forced to make very unpopular but necessary decisions about ways in which to create a sustainable budget that doesn’t first require us to go backwards. And with a new governor and a legislature that will see a turnover of roughly a third of its membership, perhaps we will have in 2016, an opportunity to consider anew the benefits of a four-year gubernatorial term. Better planning horizons and reductions in those wide swings between surplus and deficits, as well as more efficient “time on task” for executives and their senior staff could be among the most obvious benefits.

Some may find this proposal laughable because of several previous failed attempts. Nevertheless, it seems to me that the merits of such a Constitutional amendment would offer Vermonters the means to move forward, not backward, and into a modern era of greater efficiency and accountability in state government.