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Activists Urge Residents to Spend Federal Windfall in Vermont

Local Matters


Published April 16, 2008 at 9:57 a.m.

Rob Williams has never liked nation states. In fact, the newspaper he edits, Vermont Commons, has asked Vermonters to consider "peaceably seceding from the United States Empire."

So when Williams receives his "economic stimulus" check from the federal treasury this spring, he won't spend it at a corporate chain or, as George W. Bush has suggested, make a mortgage payment.

He will put it toward his new yak farm.

Not every resident has space for Himalayan mammals, but Williams is hoping that the quarter-million Vermonters receiving stimulus checks this spring will put their money toward something - anything - in Vermont. He estimates that if every Vermonter who receives a check spends it locally, the state would realize about $150 million in added economic activity. To drum up enthusiasm, he and Waitsfield resident Robin McDermott have created a website,, where mindful Vermonters can share their homegrown spending plans.

The campaign's goal was 500 pledges by Tax Day, April 15. Most of those who did pledge - 152 people whose contributions will total approximately $128,007 - promised to spend their windfalls on goods and services produced by local stores, farms and nonprofits. A smaller number say they will use the money to pay off bills or add to their savings.

Dave Hartshorn said he'd put his check back into his business, Hartshorn Farm. So will 10 other Vermonters, who Hartshorn says have pledged to purchase CSA shares from him. That investment would, in turn, help another Vermont entrepreneur, Rob Williams, who plans to partner with Hartshorn Farm in his new yak-raising operation.

Can all this give-and-take add up to $150 million? That's an "unreasonable assumption," says Susan Mesner, an economist at the Vermont Department of Taxes. After all, following the 2001 economic stimulus, only one in five respondents to a nationwide survey said they would spend their check on consumer goods; the majority opted to save it or pay off debt.

Last week, a Williston economist told the Associated Press that the "Keep It In Vermont" campaign should be balanced with a respect for "consumers' right to the lowest price." But Williams, a professor of history and media studies at Champlain College, says that argument is plagued by "classic economic double-speak."

"I can go to the McDonald's in Barre and pay 99 cents for a Big Mac, or I can walk down to my neighbor's farm and pay $4 a pound for local organic beef," Williams argues. "Now, which is the more viable transaction?"