Position Papers

  • An open letter to the Vermont Legislature
  • An Alternative to Alternative Energy
  • In Defense of Hunting and Trapping
  • Guns in Vermont
  • Letter to the Editor, Valley News-2018
  • Carbon Tax
  • Vermont’s Drug Problem
  • I am a Republican Because…
  • 30 By 30
  • An “out of the box” solution to Lake Champlain Pollution
  • PMPK, Promises Made, Promises Kept Pension Reform Plan
  • Two Important Points to Pension reform

An open letter to the Vermont Legislature

This is a letter written toward the end of the legislative session in the Spring of 2019. It was published in VT Digger, True North, FYIVT, and the Journal Opinion. While not a true “position paper” it was shared nearly 1000 times from the above listed sites and based on many comments, was well received by many.

There are thousands of Vermonters, and millions more across this country, that are just like me. We are a diverse group, mostly rural, but come from all walks of life, and we are dying the death of a thousand cuts. Vermont legislators don’t understand us, even as they say they represent us. For years now, bill after bill is introduced and passed that erode our rights, restrict our freedoms, oppress our values, and dismiss our heritage. Both economically and ideologically, we don’t matter to a ruling class that doesn’t have a clue, who we are.

Many of us, spend more days than not, with dirt or grease stained fingernails. We, or perhaps our parents or grandparents, grew up on beans and potatoes because they were cheap and filling, not because they are a trendy side dish for the rural come lately. We wear wool because it keeps us warm outdoors, even when we work hard enough to sweat in the Winter. Often, we are persons of Faith. It’s not that we are poor, or uneducated. To the contrary, our lives have been rich with family, friends, culture and a limitless comfort with our surroundings regardless of where we happen to be. The natural world around us is as much our home as the walls and roof that define our houses.

We grew up in the woods, fields, the mountains, and the brooks. Our tools can often be dangerous if handled incorrectly whether it be a scythe, a chainsaw, a tractor, or a firearm. We learned from a very young age to take care of our tools and handle them with respect. A rifle by the barn door, a pistol under the mattress, or a shotgun on the wall are as routine and innocuous to us, as a bag of golf clubs in the closet is to anyone else. We grew up with guns and they are as much a part of us as the noses on our faces. I can understand that our legislators don’t get it. Guns were never a part of their lives and the cumulative experience of many, when it comes to firearms, is what they get from the evening news. What I don’t understand, is the refusal to acknowledge, that our traditions, heritage, and our lives, deserve the same respect, understanding, and accommodations as anyone else’s. We are asked to do the same with every person we encounter regardless of race, religion, color, or sexual identity. Tolerance is a two-way street.

They argue that we should be willing to put up with minor inconveniences. The magazine ban and a waiting period are two that come to mind. We live in a republic, a representative democracy, and compromise is a necessary part of governance. However, our freedoms, and the right to defend our families, are not subject to compromise. We can, and must, compromise for the greater good on policy issues, but we must never think that any right or freedom can be subjugated away without endangering all of our rights. If we compromise our right to keep and bear arms, how far behind is our freedom of speech?

The unintended consequences of both the mag ban and the waiting period are anything but minor and much more than an inconvenience. The mag ban will undoubtedly end competitive shoots in Vermont. Some multi-day shoots bring thousands of dollars of revenue to small local businesses and the Vermont tax coffers. A waiting period will be the end of all gun shows in the state. Weekend competitive shoots and gun shows are as much a part of our lives as Sunday tee times and tennis matches are to others. Two more parts of our lives are gone, two more cuts toward our demise.

The legislative onslaught seems endless of late. One bill after another bludgeon our senses of who we are and what we stand for. You can’t legislate away every problem, nor should they even try. “Freedom and Unity” is the Vermont motto. Limiting one’s freedoms for the sake of another, even though well intentioned, is not right, nor does it foster unity. On the contrary, it widens the cultural gap that divides us and emphasizes the biases we harbor for one another. The Vermont legislature can, and must do better to represent all Vermonters.  

Bill Huff Thetford, VT

An Alternative to Alternative Energy


               The big push for alternative energy is dominated by solar and wind, largely driven by government subsidies. There is a better way.

               The problems with solar and wind power are many. Some disadvantages can be lessened by locating power projects in the most appropriate places. Solar, for instance, is virtually useless as I write this paper. It’s February, the sun is low on the horizon in Vermont, it is overcast, and we’ve had recent snow. Fixed panels produce so little power that it’s not worth the risk to the panels to remove the snow. November through February, a quarter of the year, have very few sunny days.

               It’s not to say Solar doesn’t have its place. If you were to compare two identical solar arrays, with the only difference being location, its easy to understand an array built in the Southwest U.S. would produce far more electricity than one built here in the Northeast. The sun angle is higher (lower latitude) and sunshine prevails nearly year-round. Since labor and material costs are generally less in the Southwestern states compared to the Northeast, the more efficient array could also probably be built for less money. The “biggest bang for the buck” will be realized when solar projects are built in the Southwest U.S..

               The above is an example of how location can affect both efficiency and cost. The West also has the advantage of thousands of square miles of open dessert space ideally suited for solar. Vermont is a small state, with very limited open spaces. Recently enacted laws do prioritize locations for projects so many are being built on brownfields, rooftops, or other sites that otherwise would not be utilized. Initially, solar projects were put in open fields and pasture land, rendering the land unfit for anything but perhaps sheep farming. Vermont’s dairy industry is already under tremendous pressure to survive without removing available land to pasture animals and grow food crops. Additionally, many find the panels as unsightly, especially when located in their backyard. Again, the dessert Southwest is more appropriate for solar arrays.

               Wind generation, like solar, is disadvantaged here in the Northeast compared to the more suitable Southwest and Midwestern states. The only suitable space for wind generation in the Northeast is along our many ridgelines. The objection for many New Englanders is the destruction of the view. Pristine ridgelines and mountaintops are part of why a lot of us live here and why many consider Vermont to be a desirable tourist destination. Building a wind generation project also requires roads to be built into what is likely unbroken forested areas. Compacted soils found in roads and tower pad sites, can contribute to runoff of silt into small streams affecting some aquatic insects and the ability of many fish species to spawn successfully. Some of the more reclusive animal species such as bear, bobcat, and martin have been found to relocate after wind generation projects have been built. Like solar, wind generation is better suited to the thinly populated dessert Southwest and table top plains of the Midwest. While many soy, wheat, and corn fields of the Midwest are littered with wind towers now, the opportunity for many many more exist. Wind towers seem to be compatible with crop farming in the Midwest. Since labor and material cost are generally lower outside of the Northeast, and access is not up a forested mountain, construction costs are generally lower in the Southwest and Midwest. Wind is better suited outside of Vermont. Wind also has the same disadvantage as solar in that it can not be depended upon 24/7.

                If tax dollars are to be spent in the form of subsidies, I’d much rather see that money spent on an energy source that can be counted on around the clock and still provide pollution free energy. Hence, my alternative to the alternatives, geo thermal and bio diesel.

               Geo thermal plants exist around the world today, some being 100 years old. Both the largest and fifth largest plants in the world are already found here in the U.S.. Most geo thermal plants are generally operated similar to conventional power plants in that super-hot water or steam is allowed to rapidly expand/cool over a turbine. The turbine shaft is connected to a generator that produces electricity. While conventional plants use fossil fuels or nuclear energy to heat the water, geo thermal plants use the hot internal temperatures of the earth to generate hot water and steam. In the simplest systems, isolated pockets of hot earth with sufficient pathways to transfer liquid are identified and drilled into, some as deep as 2 miles. Water is introduced into the “reservoir”, heated as it moves toward another drilled hole that extracts the heated water and supplies it to the turbine. Water cools across the turbine and is reintroduced to the “reservoir” to be reheated and returned to the turbine. Note, this is not fracking. Water is circulated through a closed loop system, isolated from other underground pathways. Groundwater is not impacted as it is found much closer to the surface of the earth. Some systems operate in a similar manner with the only difference being the water never enters the turbines. It is used to heat a separate fluid, that operates in its own closed system, through a heat exchanger. That separate fluid cools over the turbine as before, but both it and the water operate in their own respective closed loops.

               Geo thermal operates around the clock, regardless of weather or wind, and is virtually nonpolluting. The largest facility in the U.S. is located North of San Francisco and is comprised of 18 individual plants covering about one and a half square miles each. As a comparison, the new solar array shared with South Strafford covers about one third to one half a square mile and is supposed to produce about 5 MW of power with a 20-year lifespan. The average plant in the aforementioned geo thermal complex covers three to five times as much ground but produces ten to fifteen times as much power over a projected 30-year lifespan. Most importantly, the geo thermal plant produces consistent power not requiring another energy source as a backup. While the initial costs of geo thermal are more than solar, the higher generating capacity, the longer lifespan, and the consistent power not depending on another source for backup, all make geo thermal a better choice for tax dollars if subsidies are required in order to make geo thermal power competitively priced. Geo thermal plants can be constructed anywhere the opportunity for a closed loop reservoir can be identified. Identifying those opportunities is the only limiting factor constricting greater use of geo thermal plants. Technology improves every year regarding underground suitable geo thermal sites. Money should be diverted from solar and wind to geo thermal plant expansion.

               Most of today’s bio diesel is made from vegetable oils, predominately soybeans, corn, and animal fats. A chemical process will alter the structure of the oils found in soy and corn to readily ignite in a diesel engine. One of the biggest impediments to creating more bio diesel from plants is they are already used in many different applications and bio fuel is a competing use. The answer could be the growing and use of algae as the source of oil. Algae can produce up to 60 times more oil than any land-based plant. Algae can be grown in wastewater as well as salt water. When grown in wastewater, both heavy metals and phosphorous can be removed before being discharged back into surface and groundwater greatly reducing pollution from wastewater treatment plants. When used in conjunction with an algae turf scrubber, both nitrogen and phosphorous can be extracted from waste water including livestock effluent, think the clean-up of Lake Champlain! Since algae is a plant that uses carbon dioxide to grow (remember photosynthesis that we all learned about in high school), algae farms can be pared with power plants and waste water treatment plants. CO2 is removed from a traditional power plant and piped into covered pools of algae floating in wastewater. This nutrient rich environment can produce oil rich algae every 5 to 15 days. While it is true when bio diesel is burned, it does produce CO2, it is considered carbon neutral because it has used CO2 to grow. Further, compared to petroleum products and even other bio fuels, bio diesel made from algae does not produce any sulfur or nitrous oxides and reduced amounts of CO2, unburned hydrocarbons, and other pollutants. Existing distribution systems used to transport gas and oil can transport bio diesels as well. Bio diesels fuels are not without some other problems, it tends to solidify at colder temps, but nothing that can’t be overcome. The only barrier to current use is scale.

               Rather than pour money into solar and wind, both energy sources that depend on favorable weather conditions and use prime real estate, lets fund alternative sources of energy that run 24/7 regardless of the weather, can be situated on land not suitable for any other use, and can even reduce other pollutants from entering our lakes and streams.

In Defense of Hunting and the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department

This is a piece I wrote when a group attacked hunting and trapping specifically, but also the Vermont fish and Wildlife Department. It was authored during the 2018 legislative session.

               I would like to thank Commissioner Porter for his recent letter to VTDigger and I appreciate the dedicated work of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department as well as the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board. Together, they do an excellent job of managing Vermont’s wildlife resources, in relation to the carrying capacity of the land, for ALL Vermonters. Unfortunately, a handful of uninformed bullies have recently attacked the Department, the Board, and all Vermonters that participate in traditional outdoor activities like hunting and trapping. Rather than a thoughtful discussion of facts, their modus operandi, seems to be one of misinformation, intimidation, and demonizing law-abiding sportsmen and women.

               At the root of the problem is their idea that hunting and trapping are cruel and inhumane. They, the anti’s, would like everybody to believe that sportsmen are “killers” and don’t care about having an animal suffer. Nothing could be further from the truth. “They” do not have a lock on the love for animals. I contend hunters and trappers care more about the animals they pursue, and have done far more to benefit those animals, than any anti ever will. Hunters and trappers are conservationist at heart. We know better than anybody, that in order to have a healthy sustainable animal population, a regulated and ethical set of rules, written and unwritten, must be adhered to. The difference between “us and them” is that sportsmen, in pursuit of game, will harvest some of the animals for use. Ideally, all of the animals taken will be put to good use and in most cases they are. Some furbearers, those that are vegetarian, can be harvested both for the fur and for consumption. Some furbearers are only harvested for the fur because of health and cultural norms. Some of these animals can carry disease that would be harmful to humans and in this country, we generally don’t eat canines and cats. Its not wanton waste. Every hunter and trapper I know will harvest their prey in the most humane way possible and it is because we do care! If there are instances of inhumane treatment or wanton waste, they are the exception not the rule, and there are laws on the books already to address the issue.

               Its difficult to have a rational discussion when many don’t fully understand the issue. Traps have been characterized as bone crushing, saw toothed, and indiscriminate in their catch, all untrue. Foot hold traps, when used by any licensed trapper, are sized, baited and placed in such a manner to catch what is intended, never break any bones, and merely hold the paw. There are no teeth and there are a number of methods used to ensure an unharmed release is possible should an unwanted species accidently be caught. They include modification of manufactured traps to include additional swivels and an attachment point centrally located rather than to a side, offset, and or padded jaws. All would allow a domestic pet or unwanted catch to be released unharmed. Caught animals are dispatched quickly and humanely. Certainly, as humanely and quickly (probably more so) as the millions of chickens, cows, pigs, and sheep that are slaughtered for consumption every day in this country.

               I have heard it said that there is no economic benefit to trapping and even that markets for the fur don’t exist, again all false. I know when I was young, I had several fur checks that amounted to nearly a month’s wages at a regular job. It made an impact on my finances and I know it still does today for many a trapper, young and old. For some, like me, it is not an economic force that impels me to set a few traps any more, it is simply the connection with the outdoors. It forces me to take a walk in the woods every day to check traps. Yes, traps are checked, by law, every day with few exceptions. The exercise and fresh air do me good and I enjoy it. Having a catch is a bonus. My fur, handed off to a local vendor, will eventually make its way to Finland, where it is sold to dealers from around the world. Even though the US market is small compared to what it used to be, Russian, Korean, and Scandinavian companies, to name a few, compete for the fur at auctions that last for several days and are held several times per year. It is a process that has been repeated for hundreds of years and is a large part of our North American heritage. The fur trade is responsible for the beginning of several major metropolitan cities that exist today.

               On a smaller scale, much closer to home, hunting and trapping do families good. Tight family bonds are often nurtured from father and grandfather to sons, daughters, uncles, and close friends through the passing down of hunting and trapping techniques and lure. The Vermont deer camp is legendary for family get togethers. Beyond the antics that may occur the night before opening day, once in the field, younger members often learn ethics, honesty, integrity, and responsibility on a first hand and up-close basis. After all, they are handling a firearm and competing with others in the woods for a chance to help feed their family. No video game will ever compete with the lessons learned from a single trek into the woods to hunt or trap.

               I don’t expect many “from away” to understand a lot of what I’ve written. I do expect however that they respect my traditions and heritage just as they would want me to understand and respect theirs. We are asked to do the same with every person we encounter regardless of race, religion, color, sexual identity, or whatever ritual they partake in. Tolerance and civility is a two-way street.

               Someone much smarter than me recently said, “One does not hunt in order to kill; on the contrary, one kills in order to have hunted. Vermont’s Hunters will understand. Others I know have said, “Those closest to the resource are best suited to protect and care for it.” Those closest to Vermont’s wild animal resources are those that interact with it daily and are responsible for its care and management. That includes Vermont Sportsmen and women, the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife employees, and those on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board. Keep up the good work.

Bill T. Huff

Guns in Vermont

               I write this within days of a school shooting in Florida. The calls “to do something” are once again being shouted from seemingly everywhere, with tears in their eyes and fists raised in the air. This is not the first time. Everyone wants to know, “Why hasn’t anything been done”. The answer is quite simple and the solution nearly so.

               The angry calls are always for more gun control. If effective legislation could have been written, it would have been done so by now. The “poster child” for gun control is of course the “assault rifle”. Described by many, including the media, as a killing machine, it is always the focus of the many calls for some kind of ban. It is understandable why, as most mass murders are committed with one variety of an assault rifle or another. Why? Probably because it is the most familiar weapon used in the many video games that the shooters have practiced with for months. The potential shooter is desensitized to mass murder. We will never change the video game industry because of first amendment rights. Although some of the problem lies here, the solution does not. Neither does it lie in the assault rifle itself. While the popularized rifles are very versatile with interchangeable parts and a multitude of accessories, it is FUNCTIONALLY no different than any semi-automatic hunting rifle. Expanding gas is used to not only push the projectile toward its target, but also used to work the action to load the next shell. Banning the assault rifle would jeopardize hundreds of thousands of legitimate sporting rifles that functionally work the same way and so you will never convince the legislature, the NRA, or hundreds of thousands of law-abiding citizens to outlaw that feature.  You’d be infringing on second amendment rights. Gun Control has never worked and will not work now. That’s why nothing has been done in the past. Calls for gun control after the many past shootings have not succeeded simply because they can’t. It’s a feel-good measure that realistically would do nothing. There is no legitimate solution here. ANY ban would be another feel-good measure only.

               Many have called it a mental illness problem. Like the video games influence, mental illness may play a part. Certainly, anybody that commits to killing as many innocent people as possible is not totally sane, but we run into another right that interferes with this path being the solution. There is doctor patient confidentiality and the right to privacy that won’t allow some important information to be shared where it may thwart a potential shooter. There is a direct link however between patients who have been prescribed anti-depressants and the propensity to kill that should be investigated, but again, the solution is not entirely here either.

               The solution that will work, was first implemented almost 17 years ago and has been 100% effective. It only needs to be adapted to our current problem.  September 11, 2001, airliners became a target to be used for mass destruction. Thousands died. Something had to be done and was done. Both an offensive and defensive strategy was born and implemented over the following year or so and has been 100% effective since. Let me be clear. There has never been another serious attempt at a cockpit breach and takeover where the aircraft could be used as a weapon.

               I’m a retired airline pilot and I know what it feels like to be a target. Our schools and churches are now a target from a different source with the same intent, mass murder. No body likes to be a target, nobody asks to be a target. Legislators, administrators, parents, teachers and students, have to understand they are a target whether they like it or not. We don’t get to choose, it’s the shooters choice. We do get to decide what we are going to do about it, however.

               First the perimeter needs to be fortified. Start well beyond the brick and motor of any building. In this latest attack, the FBI failed to act upon a number of clues. The FBI is tasked with a lot in this country and can’t be relied upon to follow through with every threat, but they could pass it off to a dedicated team that would follow through. Start by creating the Vermont Safe School Task Force. It would be a five-member team whose sole job would be to gather intel from all sources and ACT UPON IT. Gather info from the FBI, a hotline to report suspicious activity, from computer programs that search social media for key phrases, local law enforcement, teachers, parents, and students. If front line personnel (students and teachers) feel threatened, call the Vermont Task Force, the only entity whose sole responsibility it is to follow through with an investigation into any reported threat.

               Second, ensure the background check system we have in place now works the way it is supposed to work. We have recently seen where not all required information has been reported to the system.

               After 911, the TSA was formed to provide uniform passenger screening at all U.S. airports and at all international airports where flights were U.S. bound. It is the primary security that controls movement by everybody in and out of an area. Schools, and any other organization or group that is a target, should do the same. Doors locked and secured by a security system (could be with personnel or electronic) with access controlled through a single point. What made the TSA successful regardless of all the jokes and problems they have endured, is the uniformity. No one location could be identified as being a weak link because the system was the same throughout. Everybody participates.

               I mentioned earlier the Vermont Safe School Task Force should be a five-member group. In my opinion that allows for 2 to 3 officers to always man a phone and 2 to 3 officers to work the field wherever the greatest potential threat exists. The Government implemented the Federal Air Marshall system. The Task Force could also operate a similar system on a much smaller scale. Where there are hundreds of FAMs, the Task Force would always have 2 to 3 officers deployed somewhere in the system. Where they were deployed would be dependent upon the latest intel into the Task Force. FAMs travelled so as to blend in with the travelling public but Task Force members could blend in as substitutes or contractors or be completely conspicuous and act a deterrent.

               Training, it has to be done. You have to know what to do in an active shooter situation. Train teachers, students, administrators, and local law enforcement. Every incident only lasts a few minutes. The outcome is directly affected by the actions and reactions of everybody in that building over the first 3 to 4 minutes. Nobody will like this and implementing it will be difficult. Believe me, I was a pilot and the last thing I wanted to do at recurrent training was learn and practice close quarters hand to hand combat, but we did, every year since 911. I was a target, as was every crewmember, and we had to be prepared to defend ourselves, like it or not. Teachers will need to come to the same realization, like it or not.

               Finally, part of the workforce (pilots) became trained, credentialed, armed, mobile, law enforcement officers. It is on a strictly volunteer basis and at the pilot’s own time and expense. It is completely random as to scheduling. It is a small program but could be an effective last resort. Importantly, everything else I’ve mentioned has worked so well that it has never been utilized. Each component works as a single layer of security but taken together have provided an effective deterrent to another attack. Shooters aren’t looking for a firefight and will go elsewhere if we will “just do something”. Something that is proven to be effective that is.

Bill Huff

Letter to the Editor of the Valley News 8-20-18

This November will bring a choice for Orange Senate District voters.  A vote for change will not only replace long term Senator Mark MacDonald with me, a political newcomer of Thetford, it will also bring a revitalized willingness to serve the Orange District constituents. It will bring new ideas and solutions for fiscal responsibility, school safety, the opioid epidemic, and school consolidation just to name a few.

As a lifelong outdoorsman, I expect a clean environment, respect our traditions and our heritage, and bring a first-hand knowledge of our natural resources, balancing the need to both use and protect them, for every Vermonter.

Please join me in calling for a return to political civility. I feel it is imperative that each of us be willing to listen, converse, and work toward common goals, regardless of party affiliation.

I look forward to serving each of you, as best I can, come the new year. Your vote in November will be very much appreciated. Please visit HuffForVTStateSenate.com for specifics on some of the topics mentioned above and more.

Thank you,

Bill T Huff    Candidate, Orange District Senate

Carbon Tax-VT Digger, 12-20-17

               Everyday Vermonters realize that a tax on gas and heating oil will leave us all with less money in our pockets. The carbon tax is meant to be punitive. It’s supposed to force consumers to swap to electric vehicles. Most people that are inclined to buy an electric vehicle, probably already have them. Any change in the ratio of electric vehicles to gas-powered vehicles, prompted by a carbon tax, would be minimal and the resulting effect on the rate of temperature change, infinitesimal. Make no mistake however, the financial drain on every Vermonter would be real, immediate, and substantial. If your business uses a large truck, bulldozer, or any piece of heavy equipment, it can’t be replaced with an equivalent electric vehicle.  These businesses would be forced to pay thousands of dollars more in taxes and have no choice but to pass on those costs to consumers. Further, they would be unable to compete with any business from a surrounding state that wouldn’t be subject to the tax. Vermont stores that sell gasoline all along the CT river valley would be hurt with the double whammy of a sales tax and a carbon tax compared to neighbors. The latest proposal would rebate some of your electric bill to make up for money paid out in a carbon tax. For most Vermonters, and most every business, a smaller electric bill wouldn’t nearly make up for the additional carbon tax paid.

               Vermont has a lot of challenges ahead, the least of which is that we are not taxed enough already. The mandated cleanup of Lake Champlain, funding education, ending the opioid crisis, and countless other problems will all demand more tax money from Vermonters.  We consistently have a budget gap of 30 to 70 million dollars a year. For the last decade, that shortfall has been made up from increases in taxes and fees. Enough already. I fully support Governor Scott’s ideas to make Vermont more affordable. I applaud his reluctance to accept a carbon tax as a means to that end.

               There is plenty that can be done to help conserve energy and actually save money without doing harm to our economy. Local energy committees have done a lot to weatherize homes already and should continue to do so. It helps Vermonters pay less in energy costs and stay more comfortable in their homes. The Warm Home Bond Initiative is an idea that should be explored. Rather than trying to pick winners and losers in the energy sector and pitting Vermonters against one another, we could accomplish more, faster, if we worked together on a few common sense, doable, local, projects.

Bill Huff

Vermont has a Drug Problem that can be Fixed

               Cheap, lethal, and plentiful drugs are taking their toll on the Vermont citizenry. A Vermonter dies every three and a half days on average, a rate that exceeds the national average by nearly 140 percent. Far more than that nearly die and are saved every day by our local first responders. To date, no comprehensive strategic plan has been brought forward to combat the problem. Until such a plan is formulated and implemented, our drug problem will not get any better. That’s why I’d like to outline a plan here, that if elected, I would hope to implement in the near future.

               My solution is a three-pronged approach consisting of education, enforcement, and rehabilitation. Our current government, has failed on all three approaches even though a good sum of money has been thrown at rehabilitation.

               Our youth need to be educated about the harm drugs can do to them, to their families and friends, and to our society as a whole, since the consequences of wide spread drug use will affect us all in one way or another. That is why I have partnered with the Orange County Sheriff’s Department to help spread the word about the LEADs program (Law Enforcement Against Drugs) and hopefully see it in every Vermont school. It is geared toward 3rd through 8th grade, is a 50-minute class, once a week for 10 weeks. It teaches kids the hard truths about drug use and also talks about self-esteem, bullies, and being bullied. Young students have responded well to the classes and so far, LEADs is proving to be effective in keeping kids off drugs and alcohol to start with.

               Enforcement is a critical component of keeping Vermont drug free. I’m not talking about busting an individual with drugs for personal use. I’m talking about cutting the supply train off at its roots. There are several well known corridors that drugs travel into Vermont. The major interstate systems that generally run from South to North is one. Both personal vehicles and cheap public transportation are used on these routes to deliver drugs deep into Vermont. Up until recently, Vermont had a Drug Task Force that worked with the State Police Highway Patrol to stop large quantities of drugs before they ever made it to their intended dealers. Apparently that department lost its funding and no longer exists. The funding for the task force was Federal money and has disappeared because the Feds consider Vermont to be a sanctuary state, or at least that is what I have been told. Regardless of the source of funds, the Vermont Drug Enforcement Task Force has to reinstated to slow the flow of drugs into the state. If not funded with Fed dollars, then prioritize our own tax dollars to fund this important department.

               More Vermont tax dollars have been used to rehabilitate drug users than either of the other two prongs. Methadone is a temporary fix that simply replaces a lethal drug with another addictive non-lethal drug. I was told by one parent that his daughter made regular trips to White River Junction to get her free allotment of Methadone for the last five years. That is not a permanent fix and neither is a visit to a hospital to be saved from dying only to return to the same place, circle of friends, and circumstances that led to the drug use in the first place. Opioids have one of the highest recidivism rates of any on the street today.

               Rehabilitation has to break the cycle and circumstances for drug use to be effective and current practices fall short. A friend, John Klar, recently wrote in the Vermont Digger about an idea to treat drug users much like some PTSD sufferers have been treated. It is well documented that farming, a return to working with the soil to produce an edible and sustaining crop, has therapeutic benefits for many that suffer from a number of conditions. John reasons that drug users could be better rehabilitated in a similar fashion because first and foremost, living and working on the farm removes the individual from the circle of friends and surroundings that lead to a continued use of drugs. Daily life would be filled with people in the same situations and the same goals to be drug free. That change in surroundings coupled with the satisfaction of working the land to produce a crop, have proven to be an effective rehabilitation treatment. Thus far, John’s plea for a farm to be donated to the state or another organization that could take on such a project, have gone unanswered. I hope as word spreads about John’s idea that it will happen and become the important third prong to minimizing our drug use problem in Vermont.

               Regardless if John’s farm becomes a reality or not, the three-pronged approach I have outlined here, has to be implemented to help solve the problem for all Vermonter’s and should be implemented as soon as possible. With your help on election day, I hope to do just that.

Bill Huff

I Am A Republican Because…

While I did not write this piece, it does go a long ways toward describing the many reasons I am a Republican.

I BELIEVE the strength of our nation lies with the individual and that each person’s dignity, freedom, ability and responsibility must be honored.
I BELIEVE in equal rights, equal justice and equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, creed, sex, age or disability.
I BELIEVE free enterprise and encouraging individual initiative have brought this nation opportunity, economic growth and prosperity.
I BELIEVE government must practice fiscal responsibility and allow individuals to keep more of the money they earn.
I BELIEVE the proper role of government is to provide for the people only those critical functions that cannot be performed by individuals or private organizations and that the best government is that which governs least.
I BELIEVE the most effective, responsible and responsive government is government closest to the people.
I BELIEVE Americans must retain the principles that have made us strong while developing new and innovative ideas to meet the challenges of changing times.
I BELIEVE Americans value and should preserve our national strength and pride while working to extend peace, freedom and human rights throughout the world.
FINALLY, I believe the Republican Party is the best vehicle for translating these ideals into positive and successful principles of government.

30 by 30

How is it possible that lettuce can be grown in California, flown 3000 miles to the east coast and trucked all over New England at a profit. The same goes for any number of vegetables, pork produced in Arkansas, or beef from Nebraska. The answer is, economies of scale and cheap labor. Food is expensive by the time it reaches us. Transported for miles, packaged for transport, handled a number of times through several middlemen and distributors of all kinds each adding to the total cost. But does it have to be this way?

What if Vermont farmers found a way to compete and sell products locally. A lot of product! Think of the potential benefits. Farms become economically viable and grow in numbers again. That in turn would provide jobs and an incentive to move to or stay in Vermont. Food produced locally would make it to market in hours, not in days or weeks, and would be fresher, healthier, and delivered without chemicals that prevent spoilage. Better food means healthier residents and potentially fewer health issues. The shortened food supply chain would benefit the environment with fewer flights, trucks, or rail delivering product. Our food would travel a few miles to market rather than thousands of miles from the west coast, or from a foreign country. Less dependence on an out of state, or out of country food supply chain, makes us more secure and better able to fend for ourselves the next time a new virus disrupts our delivery systems.

My initiative, 30 by 30 (later to become 40 by 40 and so on…) sets a goal of Vermont producing 30% of our total food consumed by 2030. There is no reason that Vermont farms can’t produce a large percentage of the vegetables, some fruits, meats, cheeses, and milk, and more, that fellow Vermonter’s consume. When you walk into a Vermont Grocery store, rather than see a section labelled “organic”, wouldn’t it nice to see an even larger section labeled, “Produced by your Vermont neighbors”. The same would go for the dairy case and even the butcher counter. All showcasing locally produced food. Fresh, organic, chemical free, and at a price competitive with everything else for sale. Of course, merely setting a goal is one thing. A comprehensive plan to meet those goals is another. The key is Regional Agricultural Centers, RACs.

There are several CSA’s in my hometown area. Each represents a farm trying to get their product into the hands of consumers. They of course compete with each other for that same clientele that are likely to shop from a CSA. Two things need to happen to make each of these farmers, and every other farmer in Vermont, more successful. First, they need to get their products in front of many more shoppers. In other words, into a grocery store where thousands come and shop every day. And second, rather than compete against each other, they need to work together to be able to supply the amount of product a grocery store would need to stock the shelves every day, or at least 30% of what they sell daily by 2030. This is the role of the Regional Agricultural Centers.

A RAC is a central processing plant, marketing coordinator, and distribution center.  RACs would be located within close proximity to the regions’ major shopping centers. RAC management would coordinate the needs of the local store with the region’s ability to fulfill that need. Farmers would now coordinate similar plantings over a set schedule in order to fulfil the grocers need over time. Some plant early, some later, and some after that. In order to stretch the seasons so food can be supplied year-round, green houses would need to be built, some on existing farmland, some at the RAC itself. A tomato grower right here in Thetford ships about 10 months out of the year. Once a year the green house is shut down for a thorough cleaning and replanting. If 3 to 4 tomato growers duplicated the set up here in Thetford, they could easily supply tomatoes year-round for the entire region covered by the RAC. The same goes for every other crop. Crops, as harvested, would be delivered to the RAC. There they would be processed and packaged for sale at the local store. Even at the States’ extremities, farm to table would be less than 48 hours in many cases and would never travel more than 100 miles. The RAC would be the only middleman eliminating mark ups and drastically reducing transportation costs.

RACs coordinate, package, and distribute produce. But to serve all of Vermont Ag, it should be more. Farmers grow chickens, pigs, beef cattle, goats and more. A coordinated effort, as with produce, would allow the needs of the grocer to be met by the ability of the farmer to produce. Livestock would be raised, slaughtered, processed, and packaged for consumption on a schedule, coordinated through the RAC. Dairy would be handled in a similar fashion.

Add a solar array and batteries to the RAC to reduce energy costs. Since the array is on site, there is no need to build expensive infrastructure to transport the electricity. Use it on site to meet the energy needs of the greenhouses and production facilities.

Coordination between RACs and farmers invite any number of opportunities for synergistic business, reducing costs, waste, and energy needs while increasing productivity and profit. Leftover whey from dairy processing would be returned to the farmer to feed his livestock or manufactured into organic fertilizers. Out dated produce and dairy are returned to feed pigs and chickens rather than ending up in a landfill or dumped down a drain. A pet food manufacturer could even be a byproduct of your local RAC. This is how Vermont farms are able to compete. By working together to supply Vermonters needs, the market is increased dramatically for Vermont farmers. Many small farms join together to meet the increased demand for product and thereby enjoy similar economies of scale much larger farms out west use today.

Thousands of jobs would be created. Not only one-time construction jobs but permanent jobs to operate, manage, and market the RAC, supply the need for more farm hands, and operate any of the ancillary businesses mentioned above.  Vermont’s economy would grow, farmers would prosper, Vermonters would eat healthier and reduce health issues. Nobody is taxed more, penalized, or ostracized for non-conformity. Everybody involved wins.

Let’s put Vermont first. Elect individuals with the vision and plans to make Vermont a better place to live and raise kids. A political ideology, left or right, never fed anybody.

An “out of the box” Solution for Lake Champlain Pollution

One of the largest pollutants in Lake Champlain is phosphorus. It comes from runoff of all kinds including agriculture, storm drains, and waste water treatment plants. The runoff is from all over the state, finding its way into streams, rivers and eventually into the lake. Current practices try to limit the amount of phosphorus that enters the lake but nothing is actually being done to reduce the phosphorus once there. It contributes to toxic algae blooms that render the lake and shoreline unusable for good parts of every Summer. Not only is there a Federal mandate to clean up the lake but a substantial economic loss from having large parts of the lake unusable.

One way to reduce phosphorus levels, would be to grow a plant you can use that would utilize the nutrients for growth thereby extracting them from the water. Many vegetables, herbs, and flowers are well suited to growing hydroponically and would do well in a phosphorus rich environment. Other animal feeds or even beneficial algae might be grown and harvested in the lake, reducing the phosphorus levels that grow the toxic algae.

The hydroponic grow facility would be a floating facility, constructed from a number of smaller units, each outfitted with a grow medium and tubing and pumps that would take lake water and move it through the facility. Pumps could be powered by solar and backed up by small generators. The small individual units would be constructed so that they could be brought to shore for easier harvesting as crops mature and then chained together and rafted back into the larger floating facility. A floating facility would have the benefit of being able to move to the most nutrient rich areas of the lake, towed by a large scow or small tug. Years ago, a small tug was used on the Kennebec River in Maine, to move large (3-5 acre) booms of cord wood from one end of Wyman lake to the other. This way, the facility is able to move to where it would do the most good, both from the standpoint of removing phosphorus from the lake and growing the desired crops. Some facilities would probably do well anchored near the outlet of larger river systems.

By some estimates, the Champlain Lake cleanup will cost a billion dollars. Even now, millions are spent each year. A facility, or several of them, as I have described would not be cheap to construct and operate but probably well within the confines of what is being spent today and more than likely, with much better results.

The concept could be tested and proven on one of the smaller lakes in Vermont that has a similar problem with fewer of the issues that would arise from being on a larger lake.


(Promises Made, Promises Kept)

Bill Huff, former Certified Financial Planner, former pilot of two major airlines that went bankrupt and terminated pension plans

A-No changes for those state pensioners that are already retired.

B-Implement a “soft freeze” for all current participants (not retired) in the State Defined Benefit Plan (DB).

               1-The DB plan would be closed to new entrants while those participants already in the plan continue to accrue benefits (commonly called a soft freeze).

                              (The promised benefits to current plan participants would continue “as is”. No      changes proposed from the “Initial Pension Proposal” would be enacted further solidifying the          idea that “promises made are promises kept.”)


               1(a)-The DB Plan can stop benefit accruals for all active participants but allow benefits to increase with the growth in participants’ wages (also sometimes called a soft-freeze).

                              (This type of freeze would keep the promise to pay participants the plan benefit    that     has accrued to date and maintain the current AFC formulas to calculate larger monthly pension benefits at retirement. No changes proposed from the “Initial Pension Proposal” would be enacted further solidifying the idea that “promises made are promises kept.”)

            2-In both cases, investment management would continue “as is” in order to provide the earned benefit at retirement. Since no new participants are allowed into the DB, the plan would cease to exist when the last beneficiary covered under the plan dies.

C-Implement a Concurrent Defined Contribution Plan (DC) with a 4 1/2% match contributed by the State.

               1-Utilize any of the large mutual fund companies to facilitate implementation of the new DC plan. That same company would be responsible for all future recordkeeping and employee   reporting producing significant savings to the State.

               2-Current DB plan participants will be allowed to transfer the actuarially calculated “present value” of their DB into the new DC.

               3-The DC plan will offer an annuity option. Any new plan participant, or an allowed exchange from the DB plan, can create in essence, a personal DB plan if desired with guaranteed lifetime payouts.

               4-The DC plan will offer age-appropriate safe harbor investments such as target date funds, and a diversified selection of mutual funds. No individual brokerage accounts will be available.

Benefits for State Legislators and Taxpayers

Freezing the DB plan will lessen the ambiguity of actuarial assumptions when calculating ADEC as the number of participants will begin to decline and ages increase. Unfunded liabilities and ADEC are lowered with time and disappear as the plan eventually terminates.

Every time a DB plan participant transfers their actuarially calculated “present value” into the new DC Plan, a significantly higher value of unfunded liability disappears. The unfunded liability includes an actuarily determined future benefit that would no longer exist.

Legislators will have kept their promise to pay accrued benefits and would avoid implementing changes to plan rules. Annual budgetary needs are reduced with a sustainable and predictable DC Plan match rather than an actuarial calculated ADEC.

Taxpayers will benefit from the much lower administrative cost of the DC Plan, lower annual contributions, and lower borrowing costs are restored as State credit ratings improve.

Periodic contentious negotiations are drastically reduced or even eliminated with plan participants.

Benefits for Plan Participants

Plan participants feel as though promises made were kept by legislators.

Investment results and contributions are within the control of the participant. Therefore, eventual retirement benefits are determined by plan participants. The opportunity exists to fully fund a replacement retirement income rather than just 50% to 60% of AFC as DB Plan participants’ current benefits allow.

Account balances at retirement are the sole property of the plan participant. Payout amounts and frequency are at the discretion of the retiree allowing for maximum flexibility.

Plan participants can tailor a portfolio to their own risk tolerance, age, and goals with a range of investment choices.

Having an annuity investment option provides payout options in retirement that are the same as the Defined Benefit Plan.

Plan participants can create a family financial legacy by listing beneficiaries beyond the plan participant and a spousal (or other) beneficiary.  Under the current DB, payouts cease when the participant and a listed beneficiary die. (unless a period certain payout is selected but for a limited time only)

If plan participants contributed at a rate consistent with the new proposals, were able to earn as much as the State suggests is prudent now, and the State matched 4- and one-half percent, a participant is likely to earn enough money to prudently pay out a lifetime income that matches the current DB pension plan benefits. 

Periodic contentious negotiations are drastically reduced or even eliminated with the plan sponsor.

The Two Most Important Things to Do for Pension Reform

Another legislative session is about to close and for thousands of Vermont Pension Plan Participants, little has changed. The unions gave up more contract provisions to maintain the promised benefit, millions of dollars have been thrown at the problem accounts amounting to another band aid on a hemorrhaging artery, and the problem has once again been punted down the road for someone else to fix. Stakeholders, including plan participants, taxpayers, and the Administration, all deserve better!

Samantha LeFebvre, a freshman legislator from the town of Orange, presented a plan to the House Government Ops Committee that would solve the Pension Plan problem once and for all but was summarily dismissed by more senior fellow committee members, the Governor’s office, and the Vermont Treasurer’s Office, assuming they took the time to read it at all. Because I had a large hand in authoring the proposal, I want to explain for all, two key provisions that are being overlooked by those involved but are necessary to successfully solve this crisis.

First, a Defined Benefit Plan freeze must be implemented. This means, no more plan participants will be admitted into the plan. The DB does NOT immediately go away and will remain a benefit for participants and a liability for the State until such time the plan no longer exists. Because new participants are frozen from the plan, it will cease to exist when the last plan participant and their beneficiary dies, decades from now. Every State, municipal employee, or teacher that wants to stay a DB Plan participant will have the option to do so. Every union member covered by the plan now, can continue to be covered by the DB Plan through the remainder of employment and through retirement. Either a soft or hard freeze could be negotiated and either would fulfill the State’s obligation to plan participants but eventually free the State from endless liability. Make no mistake however, until the plan ceases to exist, the State would remain on the hook for the plan and its unfunded liability. It is the second key provision of this plan that will have the greatest impact and actually reduce the unfunded liability.

Concurrent with the DB Plan freeze, a Defined Contribution Plan would be offered to not only new hires, but also to existing DB Plan participants. This is where most proposals stop and I think to a very large extent was where the Scott Administration’s proposal also stopped. The Governor had proposed a risk sharing scheme but that also falls short of correcting serious plan flaws and puts the funding burden more on the participants shoulders. Did anybody seriously think the unions would agree to that?

My most important plan provision, the mechanism to reduce unfunded liability, is this: All Plan Participants would be given the option to exchange the “present value” of their DB into a new DC Plan account. Why would anybody do this and most importantly, what effect would it have?

There currently exists, in a very small branch of Vermont government, a choice of participating in the DB Plan or a DC Plan when initially hired. Approximately 30% have opted for the DC Plan for several reasons that are explained in a moment. It is the exchange of “present value” DB assets however, for a one-time lump sum contribution to the DC plan that will lower the unfunded liability and what needs to be understood by everybody involved. Let me explain.

Unfunded liability is an actuarially calculated number based on a participants’ age, years of service, etc., (the benefit formula) and the expected benefit payout over the lifetimes of the plan participant and their designated beneficiary. If a plan participant opts to take the “present value” of that benefit, (imagine the actuary working the problem backwards from expected estimated benefit, back to a sum of money now that would grow to support that payout) and remove it from the DB plan, the unfunded liability calculation is no longer done for that participant and is no longer part of the total unfunded liability calculation. Now imagine if 30% or more opted for the exchange. Billions of dollars would be removed from the unfunded liability total! And why would plan participants voluntarily do this?

 The DC Plan has advantages such as; investment choice with you in control of where your money is invested. Risk tolerance is up to you. Your retirement benefit will be defined by you, the money you put in, and the money your investments earn, not by a contract with the State. This is a great time to mention that the overwhelming majority of DB plan participants are working their entire careers for a retirement benefit that is only 50% of their average final compensation! The DB plan guarantee is that you will probably retire and struggle forever financially if you are relying solely on the State Pension Plan. Lastly, the money you contribute to a DC plan, its earnings, and the money from a matching State contribution, (after vesting requirements are met), would be yours to do with as you wish. Annuitize it yourself, buy a commercial annuity, or cash part of it out, it’s your choice. Most importantly, assets that exist beyond the life of the participant and their named beneficiary, typically a spouse, can help create a family financial legacy for years to come. The DB benefit expires with the lives of the participant and their beneficiary and cannot be passed on to heirs.

Representative Lefebvre did everything she could to get stakeholders and legislators to listen and understand P.M.P.K. (Promises Made, Promises Kept). Because it was formally presented in Committee, it is a matter of public record and can be viewed in its entirety on the legislative website. It is too late for this session but hopefully explaining the two key tenants of this proposal will resonate with key stakeholders and legislative candidates so that a serious problem for the State and Plan Participants can eventually be put permanently behind us.

Bill Huff

Former CFP, twice an employee that went through bankruptcies and pension reforms with different companies

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