Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Budget cuts should start with what’s not working

Budget cuts should start with what’s not working

One criticism of the budget-cutting Vermont has done in recent years is that money and personnel have been reduced, but the mission has remained largely the same. There are fewer state employees, who have less money to spend, but they’re expected to do the same job.

That’s not good management. You can’t give people 75 percent of the resources they need and expect them to get all of their work done. It’s unfair to the employees, a disservice to the people they’re serving, and often a waste of the money you do spend.

If we had been having an honest conversation about the state budget, everyone would know what the choices were. If we cut the budget, these are the services we might want to eliminate. If we decide we want the services and need additional revenue, these are the options for generating more money. That discussion also should include an objective assessment of what’s working and what’s not.

Challenges for Change, the government reform program passed by the Legislature this year, holds out the promise of getting better services for less money. But while the main focus of Challenges has been doing more for less, the latest progress report on the new efficiency program points to one area where Vermont may be able to do less and save more. The report doesn’t come right out and suggest we eliminate the Department of Economic Development, but it certainly raises the question.

Challenges’ first economic development goal is achieving “a sustainable annual increase in nonpublic sector employment and in median household income.” That really goes without saying; more jobs and higher wages is the essence of economic development. But look at the administration’s take on the government’s role in achieving this goal:

“We do not believe that the State spends anywhere near enough to actually affect median income. Other much more influential factors will affect medium[sic] income much more than any program or group of programs we could afford to implement. Factors such as cost of fuels, the weather, interest rates, inflation, etc will affect medium [sic] incomes far more than anything this Agency can do. We believe net new, nonpublic jobs are also more dependent on national and international forces more than our programs.”

If these programs really don’t work, why does the administration keep pushing tax credits and claiming that they’re creating jobs and boosting wages. And if we’re trying to reduce state spending, shouldn’t we start with programs we know are ineffective before we cut services that are going to diminish the lives of some Vermonters?

Posted by Jack Hoffman on August 3, 2010 at 9:43 am

5 Responses to “Budget cuts should start with what’s not working”

  1. Bill Mathis says:

    Nicely said!

  2. rebecca says:

    Jack: Bravo! You’ve ripped open the administration’s double speak. Thanks, Rebecca

  3. Deb Healey says:

    Could you provide a list of programs widely held to be ineffective and so we can initiate a discussion and get some verification of their ineffectivness?

  4. Marjorie Power says:

    Assessments of the effectiveness of state economic development programs has been woefully inadequate. One Auditor candidate Doug Hoffer has noted this lack and promised performance audits of these programs.

    This is information we could actually use to make sure our tax dollars are used efficiently.

  5. David Usher says:

    Perhaps we need to question the fundamental expectations of what government in Vermont should do. Over time we have built a costly web of programs and services with the expectation that they will ‘do good’ for the originally intended purpose.

    It’s past time to examine what government should truly be doing and at what cost. Challenges was a baby step in that direction, but efficiencies can only move the ball so far. It’s time to change the game.