By Larry Floersch
Over the years we’ve tried a number of tactics to keep young Vermonters, especially college graduates, from leaving the state. In 2014, for example, Gov. Peter Shumlin offered to reimburse graduates for a full year of tuition if they would stay and work in areas of the state that needed them.
That apparently didn’t work, and the state’s population continues to age. Now, Gov. Phil Scott is trying to import younger workers from other states by offering them $10,000 to move here. I don’t know if the governor thought of this, but if I were a young Vermonter, and he offered me that much to STAY in Vermont, I’d take it in a minute. But I am an older Vermonter, so I suspect he would rather I move south to St. Petersburg, known in Florida as “God’s waiting room,” and thereby provide a slight downtick to the average age of Vermont’s population.
But the loss of young people is obviously a situation of crisis proportions as thousands of youthful emigrants head for the state lines seeking a better life. How can we reverse this trend? Here’s what we need to do.
First, we need legislation making it illegal to leave Vermont if you graduate from a Vermont school. That’s right. Let’s label them for what they are—illegal emigrants.
Second, the legislature should authorize the governor to establish a “reverse” visa system that would allow young people who feel they absolutely must attend a college outside of Vermont to live outside the state for four years only. Then they must come home. The legislature should also authorize the governor to negotiate agreements with other states that would allow Vermont to extradite Vermonters who overstay those reverse visas.
Of course, simply labeling these young people as illegal emigrants will have little effect. Graduates will still try sneaking across the western border to places such as Lake George and Albany, stowing away on the Grand Isle ferry to Plattsburgh, or attempting to swim the Connecticut River for golden opportunities in West Lebanon, Hanover, or Lancaster. (You’ll notice I did not mention North Adams in Massachusetts or Stanstead in Quebec. That’s because I’ve been to those places, and nothing there would attract anyone.)
If bolder steps are needed, we should raise tariffs on products from New York, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Quebec if those states or that province continue to accept these illegal emigrants and allow them to blend in and disappear amongst their populations.
We should deploy the Vermont National Guard to turn back potential border jumpers. In addition to stationing themselves along the borders, the Guard should be authorized to set up roadblocks 50 miles or more from border crossings and stop and question anyone between the ages of 18 and 40. If any of those Vermonters being questioned develops a wistful look in their eyes when New York City or Boston is mentioned, they should be handcuffed immediately because they are ready to bolt.
Now I know what you’re thinking, “These are all good ideas, but the border would still be too porous. Many young people would still be able to make their way into neighboring states and find gainful employment.”
That is why I am also proposing a border wall. The wall will be built along all the borders of the state, including the Vermont bank of the Connecticut River, because, as we all know, New Hampshire claims the Connecticut River, so once someone is in the water of the Connecticut, they are technically in New Hampshire.
I have seen other border walls, such as ones built with tall steel slats or from concrete, but those designs are costly and do not seem to fit the Vermont esthetic. Because Vermont has millions of trees at its disposal, what I propose is a palisade log wall, similar to the Army forts in old western movies. Such a wall would look less intimidating, perhaps even quaint, to the folks on tour buses in the autumn, especially if the entry portals are designed to look like covered bridges. And, it should be emphasized, this is a wall to keep people in, not out, so tourists are welcome, except for maybe all those Massholes who drive up I-89 and I-91 at more than 90 mph.
Although such a wall could be scaled with some effort, I propose that the wall be topped with electric fencing acquired from the many dairy farms in Vermont that have ceased operation in the past decades. I am sure the farmers would be willing to let it go at bargain prices to help with this effort to make Vermont one big happy family again. After all, many of them are already grandparents and would like to keep their families close by.