There are few Franklin County legislators, past or present, that curry our respect more than Carolyn Branagan, who served as the Republican representative from Georgia for seven terms and a single term in the State Senate representing Franklin County. It’s Ms. Branagan who writes consistently about the state’s budget and what to consider when the taxpayer’s dollar is being spent. She comes by her Republican values honestly, the daughter of Georgia dairy farmer John Whitney, who was also a local and statewide force in the Republican Party.

In a letter elsewhere on this page, Ms. Branagan expresses her opposition to the Tax Increment Finance [TIF] program, noting the money for the TIF program comes from the education fund. She believes any dollar in the education fund should remain in the fund and be obligated to what goes on in the classroom. As she writes, education is education, economic development is economic development.  They are mutually exclusive circles.

“They [legislators] need to find another source to fund this economic development tool, and stop dipping into the Ed Fund.,” she says.

Ms. Branagan’s concern raises legitimate questions. TIFs are not meant as an indiscriminate economic development tool. They are places they work, and places they do not.  It would be a misuse of Ed Fund dollars to apply them to projects where the chance of success was nil.

But it also does not work to say another fund should be used for the same economic development purposes when we [and Ms. Branagan] know that “another fund” does not exist. It also works to the disadvantage of both education and economic development to ignore the potential of the TIF program when it does exist.

In St. Albans, the city has generated over $70 million in the value of the city’s grand list. With a little luck, that could top out at over $100 million in a little over a year from now. What that means is that when things are complete, the city will have added that much additional value to the grand list. Property taxes are assessed according to what the grand list shows. At the end of the day, the City of St. Albans will have made the Ed Fund stronger. Much stronger.

If the city's TIF program did not exist, the education fund would be the weaker for it.

For anyone interested in the strength of the ed fund, and having enough money to educate our children, the city’s experience with the TIF is a good thing. Where it can be replicated, it should be.

But the reason for that endorsement is that Vermont does not have an economic development fund that is the TIF's equivalent. Should it? Of course. But we do not and, as a state, we give economic development short shrift. We get caught up in the “but for” contention that growth will happen when it happens, that the public sector has no role.

That, of course, is ridiculous. Hotel chains were falling all over themselves trying to find a spot in downtown St. Albans? CCV would have moved to Congress and Main? If the city had not used the TIF to reach where it is today, little of what we see would be here. Would it have come? Well, we waited for pretty much a half-century, how much longer should we have waited?

Or, do you just figure out how to get things done, knowing there will always be those who find fault?

The challenge in Vermont is that we continually whine about the decline in the number of students going to school and we whine about a stagnant population, and we whine about how hard it is to attract industries to our bucolic countryside, but we never do anything about it, and when we do [as with the city’s TIF] then it is suggested we find a different path. This one is flawed.

Criticism has its strengths, and we should be open to it. Dealing with criticism makes us better. But criticism has its obligations; if you are not part of the answer, you are part of the problem. Work as hard to say what will work, as what will not. And then be relentless in showing how.

Will mistakes be made? They will. But better to be pulled forward than to be pushed back. 

We look forward to Ms. Branagan's thoughts, as always. 

By Emerson Lynn


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