Thursday, August 4, 2016

Opinion: Lisman demonstrates thoughtful conservatism

Bruce Lisman’s candidacy in this year’s Republican primary for governor seems, to me, to be a rare chance for us as Vermonters to help ourselves.

Video:  Bruce Lisman: Made in Vermont

I introduced myself to Lisman after hearing him speak at a candidate forum last October. I found his thoughtfulness and engagement to be head and shoulders above the others, all of whom spoke well, but the others showed ambition for the job, while Lisman demonstrated a passionate desire to help. This seemed to be the most notable difference to me.

Since then, I have listened to his thoughts about government and its role and abilities and I believe his insightful, but common sense, approach will do us well, as a people and as a state.

Lisman, who is characterized negatively by some for his success as a businessman, is also a compassionate, thoughtful, engaged person raised in modest circumstances in Vermont. Lisman is fighting an uphill battle against the establishment candidate, Phil Scott, and I am grateful to him for doing so as I believe he has a chance to be the best leader this state has seen for a number of years.

I think Lisman fits the model of successful homegrown former businessman, and the mold of Governor Deane Davis, in that he comes from a business background and is fresh into politics with a fiscally conservative and socially liberal ethos and a sense of caring and of practicality that remind me not only of Davis but also of Richard Snelling in his terms of office.

I am grateful to political parties and the role they play for us but have always been a person who thinks the person and the thought is more important than the party. I am a party-switcher, mostly voting for Democrats and sometimes thinking well of Republicans. In this case, though I am quite liberal myself, I feel that Bruce Lisman’s thoughtful conservatism is well founded and won’t strain my principles and I will be voting for him in the Republican primary and I encourage you to do the same.

Robert Bernstein, Bristol

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Creating a Dynamic Economy for Vermont 

By: Bruce Lisman

A strong economy is the foundation for building a more prosperous Vermont and improving our overall quality of life.

A dynamic economy that generates new jobs and better careers will raise living standards and make Vermont attractive to young families looking to put down roots. A growing economy will also generate more tax revenue, so we can offer a world-class education to our children, improve our roads and bridges, and provide vital support to the most vulnerable among us.

For too long, our politicians have watched companies and families leave Vermont due to high costs and lack of opportunity. Every year they compound that problem by increasing taxes to pay for budgets that grow much faster than our economy.

It’s time for a new and better direction. It’s time for a leader that understands the economy, knows how to help businesses grow, and is committed to ensuring that all Vermonters can be economically secure and prosperous. As governor, I will make economic growth a top priority.

I will work tirelessly to create the conditions that will enable employers to grow jobs, but I understand it will not be easy. It took us a long time to get into the difficult situation we are in now, much of it the product of avoidable mistakes.

Here’s my plan to lead Vermont in a new and better direction:

1.  Partner with Job Creators - I will roll up my sleeves and personally lead the effort of building relationships with our employers. We want to know their challenges, goals, aspirations and how we can help them thrive. We are a small state and we can build strong relationships with companies. We will create an environment where companies will want to stay and succeed. Here are a few steps I would take to support all Vermont businesses.
  • Streamline the regulatory system so entrepreneurs can get up and running as quickly as possible. A clear, predictable and expeditious permitting process will help give new businesses confidence that their plans can rapidly move forward, and that Vermont is a great place to do business. And we should limit licensing requirements to those professions and functions that directly impact public health and safety.
  • Institute a systematic outreach program so that we get to know all of the key businesses in Vermont. We want to hear about issues important to them before it is too late to make a difference. We will build mutually beneficial partnerships. 
  • Bring specific attention to our small businesses which comprise 96% of the State’s employer base. Rather than burden them with more regulations and fees, we should approach them as a partner – helping them access the resources they need to thrive, and removing obstacles to growth. Our goal is to create an environment in which the next great entrepreneurial success story will be born, and will grow into a large company that sees Vermont as a great place to stay and do business.
  • Roll out the University of Vermont’s research commercialization program to hospitals and colleges throughout our State, so we can leverage research and commercial ideas wherever innovators and entrepreneurs are in Vermont.
2.  Attract and Retain a Productive Workforce - We have 42,000 young adults in our colleges, most of whom come from out of state and many from overseas. We should create a structured program for connecting them with Vermont employers so they choose to stay here. Here are specific strategies to do that. 
  • Develop a structured entrepreneurship coaching program that matches college students and recent graduates with local professionals who have experience operating and/or financing startup companies. Champlain College and several other colleges provide great models for what can be done.
  • Establish a Global Entrepreneur in Residence Program so that foreign entrepreneurs start their businesses in Vermont. The program would help qualified foreign entrepreneurs acquire an H-1B visa by matching them up with part-time work opportunities at colleges and universities which are exempt from H-1B quota limits.
  • Establish an apprenticeship program. Vermont has a good system of technical centers for high school students interested in technical trades. I will establish an apprenticeship program that connects graduates with Vermont employers in manufacturing and other industries that are looking for young workers with technical skills.
3.  Reform the Tax Code - There are a select number of targeted tax code changes that will encourage people and businesses to stay and prosper in Vermont.
  • Expand the capital gains tax relief on long-term holdings of real property. Right now, there is a 40% exclusion for real property owned for more than three years. I propose a 100% exclusion for those who are over the age of 65 and have resided in Vermont for at least ten consecutive years. This would allow retiring small business owners to sell their stakes and stay in Vermont without a tax penalty. Capital gains taxes on personal financial assets and primary residences would remain in place. While there is the short-term opportunity cost of not collecting tax on the sale of a business, over the long term it would provide a powerful incentive for small businesses formation in our state, which would create more jobs and broaden the tax base. It would also help many of our family farms manage generational transition, thus helping to preserve our agricultural heritage.
  • Eliminate the tax on veterans’ retirement benefits. Vermont should join the majority of states that offer full or partial exemption from taxation of these retirement benefits. It’s the right thing to do and it would make Vermont a more welcome home for the men and women who have served our country.
  • Begin phasing out the tax on Social Security benefits. Vermont is one of only 13 states that tax social security and other pension income, but we are the second oldest state in the country. Let’s make Vermont attractive to seniors.
4.  Fix the Benefits Cliff - Many of our state’s programs to help working families have income thresholds that create a disincentive for people to earn more money. In other words, a $1,000 increase in income can trigger a loss of benefits worth many thousand dollars, so people forego better jobs. Clearly it is in nobody’s interest to keep working men and women from climbing the job ladder. It hurts families, makes Vermont’s economy less productive, and diminishes the State’s potential income tax revenue.
I would solve the problem by consolidating all the benefit programs under one roof and giving caseworkers the discretion to build benefit packages that offer the client a combination of benefits best suited to their income level. As a client’s earned income increases, the mix of benefits can be adjusted to mitigate the impact of “cliffs”. I will also request federal waivers that would give us greater freedom with those programs that rely on federal funds.

5.  Improve our Economic Development Programs - Our state government’s economic and workforce development efforts are ineffective and disorganized, scattered across numerous state agencies. We have limited resources, and in order to get the most out of them we must coordinate them under one agency, and focus them like a laser on the programs that best support our workers and businesses.

6.  Manage the State Budget Responsibly - Vermont can’t continue to grow spending faster than its economy grows. I will hold spending increases to a rate of 2% per year. Slowing the overall rate of spending growth won’t constrain our ability to provide high quality services to Vermonters, because we will implement a performance based budgeting and management process that directs our limited resources to those programs that work best. Measuring outcomes and holding ourselves accountable for results is the only way to ensure taxpayer money is well spent, and beneficiaries are being well-served.  One of the first steps includes; shutting down Vermont Health Connect (annual cost savings of $56M) , stabilizing health files, transitioning to the federal exchange, auditing Medicaid to cut waste, and offering more affordable health insurance choices and options.
I will bring accountability, transparency and predictability back to our budget process. A strategic budget that looks out over a three-year horizon will give agencies the stability they need. And great leaders who like to manage and will create a collaborative and transparent work environment to re-energize our State workforce.

For more information about Bruce Lisman’s public policy ideas, please visit:


  1. Bob Lombard8/5/16, 2:19 PM

    To me, Lisman's candidacy presents an opportunity to sail on the other tack from the one the state has been on recently - IF - the legislature shifts to Republican majorities in both houses as well. Hand the complainers the reins for a couple years, see if they can amount to something.

    Just coincidentally, the gun grabbers might back off a foot or two.

  2. Some of his ideas SOUND good, but the devil is always in the details. One thing that stood out to me was his plan to relax licensing requirements for those who "impact public health and safety". So, does that mean our health and safety will be in the hands of people who are LESS qualified? Doesn't sound good. And the capital gains cuts; would "non-profits" now be tax exempt at sale? This would be a boon to those who have been milking the system already; build a "business" at taxpayer expense, then walk away with all the money! Nearly every "reform" he has come up with has the potential to negatively impact the average Vermonter, while enriching the few, depending on how they are implemented. Compassionate Conservatism? We've all heard that one before!


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