Affordable for whom? The High Cost of Gov. Scott’s “Say No” Agenda

Last month, Governor Phil Scott sent a letter to legislative leaders outlining his opposition to several bills on the basis that these bills would impose new taxes or fees or somehow impose new costs on Vermonters.

In his letter, the governor did not elaborate on what any of these bills would actually do. And based on his response to media inquiries about the letter, it’s possible that he hasn’t even read the bills yet. For instance, when asked about his opposition to a bill (S.260) that would study potential funding options for lake water cleanup, the governor admitted that he didn’t actually know what was in the bill and that he opposed it because he mistakenly assumed it contained some kind of tax or fee.

If the governor is going to rattle his saber in opposition to legislation, the least he could do is familiarize himself with the bills first. If he did, he’d realize that his position stands to benefit wealthy and powerful corporations, at the expense of the health and well-being of working Vermonters.

Take S.197 for instance. This bill (which the governor says he opposes) tries to answer the question of who should pay if some entity (usually some large manufacturer or industry) releases a toxic substance that ends up harming Vermonters. When this happens, there are really three options – the toxic polluter pays, the State pays or the poisoned individuals pay.

S.197 would put the liability on those who released the chemicals into the environment. Gov. Scott opposes this because he claims it would make it too expensive to conduct business in Vermont. One would assume he opposes option two as well, because that would require the state to raise actually taxes and fees. That leaves option three. Apparently, the governor believes that when Vermonters are poisoned by an industrial polluter, it’s up to those Vermonters to foot the bill.

Then there’s H.764 – another bill on the governor’s shall not pass list. This bill would give Vermonters greater insight into who is buying and selling their data by creating a first-in-the-nation registry of data brokers. Data brokers are third-party companies (like Equifax) that collect, aggregate and then sell Vermonters’ personal information. That online registry would let Vermonters know who these data brokers are, what kind of data breaches they have experienced, and what their opt-out policies are.

The “fee” in this bill that Gov. Scott opposes is a $100 annual registration fee paid by the data brokers themselves to operate this registry. That’s it. In fact, this bill actually eliminates the $10 fees that companies like Equifax can currently charge when Vermonters want to place a security freeze on their credit reports. But apparently Gov. Scott believes it’s more important to protect companies like Equifax (who reported $489 million in profits in 2016) from a $100 fee than to ensure Vermonters have access to critical information about who is buying and selling their data.

And then there’s the proposal to put a price on carbon pollution. The governor has long been opposed to any plan that would require the Gas and Oil Giants to pay for the polluting fuels they import into our state and return those revenues to Vermonters. The governor continues to claim that such a plan won’t work – but when pressed for evidence to support that claim he consistently comes up empty. His administration has not investigated the issue and he has offered no information to support his stance.

What’s worse, the governor even rejected his own hand-picked climate action commission’s recommendation that he at least study carbon pricing – to determine exactly what the economic benefits of such a policy might be. Thankfully, the legislature may be moving forward with such a study – but once again, the governor has stated his opposition even to gaining more knowledge on the topic. Could it be that he doesn’t want any information that might challenge his fact-free assertions that pricing pollution doesn’t work?

All that said, we are not about to give up on these important priorities for Vermonters, and we’re not giving up on the governor either. But time is growing short. As the Legislature works to complete action on a wide range of bills, it’s up to Gov. Scott and his staff to roll up their sleeves and get to work too.

Enough with the gimmicks and threats. It’s time to learn what’s best not just for the wealthiest Vermonters and most powerful corporations, but for all those concerned about clean water, safe products, online privacy and so much more. The fact is, we can’t afford not to.

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