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Successful Communities

06/24/02 12:00AM By John McClaughry
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(Host) Commentator John McClaughry reflects on what it takes for a community to achieve economic success.

(McClaughry) Earlier this year the Dean administration launched a "Successful Communities Initiative" to find ways of improving the economies in the Northeast Kingdom and Springfield. The agency of Commerce and Community Development published its report on April 4, and it's interesting to look at the verbs used in the recommendations.

The report contains 49 specific recommendations. Seven of the items are about Governor Dean and Vermont's Congressional delegation agreeing to support, advocate for, focus on, or work with various projects. Twenty-nine of the items involve the Agency of Commerce and Community Development being designated as, consulting with, taking the lead on, working with, providing, offering, exploring, playing a larger role, proposing, facilitating, and identifying. Eight items involve various federal agencies agreeing to work with, awaiting word about, developing, and serving as a resource for. Five items involve other state agencies which will sponsor, make available, offer, and work with.

This verb analysis produces a picture of lots of well-intentioned government people earnestly pledging to keep on interacting, considering, working with, supporting, and otherwise massaging things in the hope that some good will come of it. The underlying premise of the initiative is, of course, that government is the fount of wisdom, progress and opportunity, and that with government people doing what all those verbs indicate, the Kingdom will soon be on the path to prosperity.

A month after the agency report appeared the Ethan Allen Institute hosted a dinner of influential Kingdom business leaders. Their views in this meeting were quite different from the action items in the government report. In a nutshell, those views were: change government policy to give wealth creators a fighting chance to build the Kingdom's economy. Stop looking for new taxes to raise. Strict regulations to protect the environment are fine, but those regulations must be made fair, swift, and certain. Regulators with a chip on their shoulder about private business should be transferred to some other line of work.

The business people saw how one favored big company Husky, in Milton made it through the permit process without a glitch, thanks to a special "Project Big Dog" personally led by Governor Dean. They didn't want that treatment. They disapproved of having to cozy up to a governor to get through the system. Instead, they favored a regulatory process that, again, is strict, fair, swift, and certain, and applies equally to large business and small, homegrown and imported.

None of their many suggestions appeared in the "Successful Communities" report. No wonder. Government people have a really hard time identifying government as the problem, not the solution. People who invest, build, hire, finance, create and pay taxes see it differently. Maybe it's time that Vermont's political leadership started listening to them for a change.

This is John McClaughry - thanks for listening.

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