Vermont’s grim economic outlook

Editor of the Reformer:

There’s an interesting article posted in the Dec. 27 issue of the Washington Post that provides a comparison of state economic outcomes for 2013 and is based on data from gold standard sources.

Here’s now Vermont did in 2013:

Average hourly earnings: 1.08 percent

Average weekly earnings: 1.38 percent

State tax collections: 2.9 percent

State reserve fund growth: $5 million

Single family building permits: 6 percent

Vermont’s population continues to decline in the cohort most important to long term economic health: working aged couples with education, skills and experience and school aged children. These people are not relocating to Vermont, where our wages are below the national average and our cost of living is about 20 percent higher than the national average.

For a benchmark, look no further than school closings and consolidations. In Windham County, we have closed and consolidated three schools in the last 2-plus years. Projecting the current enrollment trend to around 2020, there is a good chance Leland & Gray in Townshend will have to consider closing as well.

Now add Vernon and surrounding town schools to the mix, as more than 100 students leave in the next couple of years as their parents find jobs elsewhere when Vermont Yankee ceases power generation operations.

VY employs about 650 people at an average salary/wage of $100,000, which is a $65 million annual payroll. Assuming Entergy reduces the workforce by 2/3 by December 2014, Windham County loses about $43 million in annual payroll.

Entergy has agreed to make mostly one-time payments to Vermont of about $45 million. When that money is gone, it’s gone.

Even if VY is decommissioned at the end of 2014, and the site decontaminated by 2025 -- a highly unlikely scenario -- Windham Country will have lost more than half a billion dollars in Vermont Yankee payroll.

That’s a lot of housing starts.

So where are our elected state representatives in all this, and why isn’t job one in Montpelier to drive private sector growth the way Massachusetts and other states do?

Sustained, year-on-year economic growth of at least 3 percent GDP is the one sure-fire way to realize substantive gains in the standard of living. It is the tide that lifts all boats. The benefits are immediate: higher employment, higher wages and salaries, higher corporate and personal tax revenue, fewer hungry children, more families who can afford decent housing, better public health outcomes, more intact families, etc. Every one of the above outcomes improves state finances.

Regrettably, Vermont is not even close to that 3 percent growth benchmark. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Vermont’s economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.2 percent in 2012 and about the same in 2013.

Which of these two headlines is more likely to appear on the front page of your local newspaper?

"ABC Engineering Company to Expand - 60 New Jobs Coming to [name of your town]."

"ABC Community Group Receives $25K Grant to Study Economic Development."

Peter T. Novick,

South Newfane, Dec. 31

More concern over
I-91 construction area

Editor of the Reformer:

I am in much appreciation of Linda Grout’s warning ("Letter Box," Jan. 22) of the perilous night-blindness drivers experience on I-91 in the work zone over the Route 30 bridge. The oncoming lights, both going south or coming north, even in fair weather conditions, creates an unnecessary public risk. Please, DOT, or whomever is responsible, alter this dodgy and dangerous design a.s.a.p.!

Penelope Simpson,

Putney, Jan. 23