Legislative wish list

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(Host) Commentator John McClaughry has an eight-point wish list for the new Vermont Legislature.

(McClaughry) Given the composition of the 2003 legislature, there probably won’t be a majority in either House or Senate for doing anything dramatic. Nonetheless some modest advances may be possible. Here’s my eight-point wish list for the coming two years:

1. The one issue where a bipartisan majority seems to find common ground is the urgent need for improving Vermont’s investment-repelling, job-killing, development permit process. One step is to stop allowing anti-growth lawyers to drag out the Act 250 process through endless appeals. Another step is to make state agency permits non-reviewable under Act 250 unless they are clearly based on wrong information.

2. Governor Dean’s health care policy was to drive out insurance companies, make ever more people dependent on government health care, and finance the expanded coverage by underpaying the providers. The new legislature should repeal Dean’s community rating law, legalize premium discounts for healthy lifestyle choices, create a high risk pool for the uninsurable, and promote the use of medical savings accounts for state employees and the chronic Medicaid population.

3. Governor Douglas has promised to reinstitute something like Governor Snelling’s “cost control council” of 1977. This is long overdue, but the mandate ought to be much broader. The new body should be assigned to go through state government with a fine-tooth comb, asking, “Should this activity be retained, eliminated, modified, or privatized?” As Texas showed under governors of both parties, the performance review process can make government effective, efficient, user friendly, and taxpayer-accountable.

4. Then some friend of the taxpayer ought to introduce a clone of Colorado’s Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights constitutional amendment. That highly successful provision limits state spending to the rate of population growth. If the state collects more than that amount, the surplus is refunded to the taxpayers.

5. The time is ripe for a constitutional amendment to give voters one big meaningful choice at every election: whom do they prefer for governor and lieutenant governor? The other four statewide officials should go off the ballot and be chosen in some other way.

6. The new Legislature should pass a Regulatory Accountability Act, allowing one-fifth of the membership of House or Senate to demand that their chamber vote up or down on any proposed agency rules before those rules could be imposed on the hapless citizenry.

7. It’s time to give parental choice, at least to special education classified kids. In Florida this option, called McKay Scholarships, has become a political no-brainer.

8. Finally, the new legislature will thrash about trying to “eliminate the Act 60 sharing pool,” but the 1997 Brigham mandate of the Five Supreme Legislators won’t let them eliminate sharing. Eventually legislators will see that the only way of escaping the evils of One Big School System is to collect the education dollars state wide and distribute them to parents to buy what is best for their children in a competitive educational marketplace. This won’t happen in 2003, but its time will come.

This is John McClaughry – thanks for listening.

John McClaughry is president of the Ethan Allen Institute, a Vermont policy research and education organization.

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