Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie unveiled his long-awaited jobs plan at a wind turbine manufacturer in Barre this morning, calling for lower taxes and less government regulation to jump-start Vermont's economy.
In response, three Democrats who fought for the right to challenge Dubie in the November gubernatorial election summoned the press to Dealer.com in Burlington, where they unleashed a blistering (at least by this election's subdued standards) attack on the GOP lieutenant governor. The Dems called it a "George Bush-style" plan based on fantasy numbers.
Dubie's vision for growing jobs in Vermont — which includes dramatic cuts in state spending — was presented at Northern Power Systems, where industrial wind turbines are manufactured and shipped all over the world. A crowd of reporters and business leaders attended.
"Pure Vermont: Blueprint for Job Growth and Economic Expansion" proposes holding the state budget to 2 percent inflationary growth after fiscal year 2012. Based on projected tax revenue for the next five years, that would produce a $240 million savings to taxpayers, Dubie estimates, which he wants to give back to Vermonters in form of income tax cuts, corporate tax cuts and lower property taxes.
Dubie said Howard Dean held the line on spending in the 1990s — proposing three level-funded state budgets — and said Vermont must cut back on spending again.Dubie's 10 points are as follows. Click here to read the full plan.
1) Hold Spending to Affordable Levels
2) Provide Tax Relief for Families and Employers
3) Laser Focus on Job Creation
4) Market Vermont's Strengths
5) Streamline Permitting and Regulation
6) Lower Health Care Costs
7) Steady Leadership for Long-Term Challenges
8) Build Next-Generation Business Infrastructure
9) Strengthen Education and Training
10) Power Up Our Energy Future
Afterward, Dubie huddled with reporters, who pressed him for specifics. What would he cut to achieve only 2 percent growth in state government? What kind of income tax cut would the middle class see? By calling for permitting reform, was he admitting that Gov. Jim Douglas was a failure?
Specifics were in short supply.
"Working with the General Assembly, we'll establish priorities, making sure that commitments are honored, the most vulnerable are protected in our society, and we'll just have to do what working families are doing," Dubie said. "Families are doing it, small businesses are doing it — government can do it."
Dubie was asked: To hold spending at 2 percent increases, isn't it inevitable that the big expenses — Medicaid, benefits, etc. — will get whacked?
"What I know is, we in state government cannot grow state government more than the underlying economy," Dubie replied. "Governor Howard Dean said that in the ’90s. He proposed something much more difficult — level funding. I'm proposing to grow state government, but at a disciplined rate."
The same reporter followed up: Don't you have an obligation to tell Vermont voters what Vermont government is no longer going to be doing at the end of the day?
Dubie: "The conversation about specific programs will be an ongoing conversation. We're making investments in IT. We're learning to do things more efficiently and more effectively. And that will be an ongoing conversation."
Dubie's plan calls for cutting income taxes for all brackets. He specifies wanting to lower the tax rate for the wealthiest Vermonters from 9 percent to 6 or 7 percent, but doesn't specify what tax cut he'd propose for middle-class Vermonters.
After a quick reading of Dubie's plan, the Democrats called a press conference and revealed their soundbite: "Dubie Equals Deficits."
"He's got a very simple view of things when we're facing really complex problems," said Secretary of State Deb Markowitz, who came in third among five Democrats running for governor. "The plan in its simplicity is a George Bush-style plan of cutting taxes. And that plan, understand, led us into the deficit problems we have today."
Doug Racine, who lost to Democrat Peter Shumlin by 197 votes and has initiated a recount that will drag the primary out another two weeks, laid into Dubie, too.
"This is make-believe, the numbers don't add up, and it shows a real lack of understanding of how state government operates," Racine said.
And Shumlin, apparently trying to hammer home the Bush parallel: "It shouldn't surprise us that after Brian flew across the lake to have dinner with George W. Bush, he comes out with an economic plan that's very similar to the plan that bankrupted America: deficits, unending deficits, tax cuts for the wealthiest Vermonters and budgets that don't balance."
Asked specifically what about Dubie's plan doesn't add up, Racine said, "You can take a look at the plan. He talks about supporting existing Vermont companies, promoting and expanding the EB-5 visa program, greater support for the technology lending program, bolstering VEDA successful job-creation programs, more tourism promotion. Those are just a few of the examples. Not bad ideas, any of them. But how do you do this and cut people's taxes at the same time? That's where the numbers don't add up ... I just don't think Brian's had the experience of dealing with real-world state budgets, and that shows in this plan."
Not to be undone, the Dubie campaign responded to the Democrats' charges later today. From campaign manager Corry Bliss:
“After five proposals, including a combined 100 pages of higher taxes, new government programs, and other gimmicks that hit like a lead balloon, they are desperate to run away from their records. Peter Shumlin never lets the truth get in the way of his political agenda. Hearing the person who led the charge to raise $26 million in taxes during the recession and then call it a ‘fluke’ claim that he supports job creators is laughable. I guess the National Federation of Independent Business/Vermont hadn’t heard about his plan when they gave him a 0% rating on their newest legislative scorecard.”