Last week State Senator Tim Ashe asked Vermonters for suggestions on closing an anticipated $400 million shortfall.
"We often hear when we go back to our constituents, people will rightly say, 'government spends too much,'" Ashe said on VPR. "And we ask the same question — 'tell us the program you want to get rid of.' And that's much harder, because the more you scrutinize the state budget, with the Great Recession and the austerity years, there's not a lot of fat on the state budget."
Clearly Ashe isn't a reader of ours because we've been outlining austerity plans for more time than he's been religiously driving up the cost of government.
But we're glad he asked.
Let's start with a 35,000 foot comparison with our neighbors. New Hampshire has the same annual budget as Vermont with twice the number of residents. Start by doing everything they do on a per-capita basis. (Savings: $3 billion).
Not targeted enough? Well, our human services expenditure is over $2 billion a year. That money doesn't buy us much, according to a comment once made by Brattleboro Retreat CEO Louis Josephson. "There is no mental health system," he told colleagues at a 2018 symposium. "I defy anyone here tell me what our mental health system is and what it looks like." So, Senator Ashe, since the system isn't working anyway, cut it in half. (Savings: $1 billion).
Vermont employs almost 10,000 people. About 1,800 of them earn over $80,000 a year plus benefits that far exceed what's available to their private sector peers. 651 clear six-figures. That's top heavy and we suspect you could get the same output from half the people. (Savings: $112,500,000).
Education is another $2 billion morass and we know that we're paying more than anyone else in the nation for average results and plummeting enrollments. Just get rid of the Education Department, we doubt even they would mind. (Savings: $14 million).
Vermont could save another $50 million a year by reducing student/staff ratios to 5.5-to-1, from the current 5.1-to-1 average. Even at 5.5-to-1 we'd still have (by far), the lowest student/staff ratio in the country. (Savings: $50 million).
Did you know you have 300 people in Environmental Conservation and a hot mess in Lake Champlain? I'd get rid of two-thirds of those people, who average $66,266/in salary. (Savings: $17,080,668).
Your desire to incarcerate fewer people is well-known. But you haven't reduced your corrections staff of 1,000 people, as you've freed more people. First, shut the state prison in St. Johnsbury down, then reduce staff proportional to your goal to imprison fewer dangerous criminals. (Savings: $35 million).
Eighty-five people in Liquor and Lottery are costing you over $5.7 million in salaries and benefits and we bet the house you could live with half of that. (Savings: $2,850,000).
You have 344 people, averaging $76,000/year in the Vermont Digital Services Agency but, based on the performance of the Unemployment Office system in the past month, or HealthCare Connect, or any other digital undertaking in the past two decades, I think we can all agree you'd be fine outsourcing most of your tech to local high school kids. (Savings: $34 million).
Do you really need 25 people in the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living earning over $100,000 a year? Based on all the reports, you're not getting your money's worth. (Savings: $3 million).
Do you know how many attorneys you have on the payroll? By our quick count there are about 300. We move that you streamline to no more than 100. (Savings: $20 million).
Financial Regulation did such a whiz-bang job on the EB-5 stuff we think half of the 100+ employees should enjoy early retirement. (Savings: $5.5 million).
We watch Northwoods Law and love it. But do we really need 156 people in Fish&Wildlife AND 121 people in Forest, Parks and Recreation? Combine those departments. (Savings: $10 million).
You have almost $10 million tied up in Human Resources. With the aforementioned cuts to staff, you will only need half that amount. (Savings: $5 million).
You have 20 people in the Department of Labor clearing over $100,000/year in salary and benefits. Based on their terrible performance of late, we would send them to unemployment line on principle. (Savings: $2 million).
A tax department of 170 people is a bad look. Send "we the people" a message with RIF notices to half. If you're concerned about who will be left to calculate income sensitivity reductions, then just remove them altogether and watch even more savings accrue as 75 percent more Vermonters have to actually pay for the school budgets they blindly keep passing. (Savings: $6.6 million).
Sit down for this one. You have 1,300 workers in Transportation at a cost of over $100 million. We would concede that roads are the one thing we want from government. Since you're a white-collar Chittenden County boy, we know you don't know what we're talking about when we say we aren't getting our money's worth. But give Route 2 a try if you ever want to see Vermont. Then try outsourcing. (Savings: $50 million).
Senator Ashe, your record at growing the size and scope of government is remarkably unblemished. Here in the private sector, we've been forced to contract over the years, proportional to your extraordinary growth. Thanks to you, we know efficiency. Trust us when we say these numbers are solid. There's a good $2 billion in savings here and we've only just scratched the surface. You're welcome, Senator, and thanks for asking.
— Caledonian Record, St. Johnsbury, May 13