Gov. Richard A. Snelling, a fiscally conservative Republican, has proposed a New Deal-type public works program for his state on the grounds that it is both good public policy and good business.
Snelling has asked the legislature to authorize the sale of $5 million in bonds to finance the hiring of 1,000 to 1,200 unemployed people to work in the state's forests and parks and on its roads and public buildings for an 18-week period beginning in the spring.
Vermont is the seventh state to propose a state jobs program as the nationwide recession continues.
What makes Vermont so unusual, however, is that it has an unemployment rate of 6.7 percent, one of the lowest levels in the country.
Snelling said the program would enhance the value of many of the state's capital assets and would provide badly needed jobs for unemployed workers whose benefits have run out and will not be rehired soon in a slowly rising economy.
The governor likened the idea to his practice as president of a manufacturing firm, where he maintained a list of jobs that needed doing, but were not pressing. He used his workers to do them in slow times rather than laying the workers off.
"We fixed our own roof," he said. "Why doesn't the nation do that?"
The governor said his proposal does not alter his belief that the private sector is the only permanent and reliable source of jobs.
But he added that government must step in in times of economic dislocation.
"If you live in Springfield Vt. or Detroit and you learn to do well the jobs they have there and now you're out of a job . . . society has an obligation to make sure you have a reasonable alternative," he said.
"There are an enormous number of unmet social needs that involve capital assets," Snelling said.
"If I were governor of Pennsylvania or any other major state, I'd give serious consideration to seeing how many of the unemployed could be used to tear down slums . . . . I don't think that would be 'make work.' "
Vermont's unemployment figures for November, the latest available, showed that about 16,000 persons were unemployed in a work force totaling 245,450. The national jobless rate as of December was 10.8 percent.
Snelling's initiative backs using a bond issue to finance his program, bypassing the state's fiscal problems, which would have been seriously exacerbated if the program came from operating revenues.
In recent months, Snelling has ordered spending cuts of $6.2 million in the current $326 million budget, and he still expects to face a deficit of from $6 to $10 million at the end of the fiscal period.
There has been no formal legislative reaction to the proposal, but Snelling's advisers are confident it will pass. It is in many ways a traditional liberal program, and should get support from Democratic legislators. Those plus the Republicans in Snelling's power base ought to ensure passage.
Three states have already instituted their own jobs programs: Utah, Minnesota and Missouri. New Jersey, Philadelphia and Colorado have made similar proposals.