Monthly Archives: November 2014

About those rescissions, part 1

On Thanksgiving Eve, the Shumlin Administration took out some trash. And before I go on, may I just say that pre-weekend newsdumps — and especially pre-holiday newsdumps — are a cowardly way to govern? If you guys think you’re smart enough to manage this state, have the courage to own the bad news. A newsdump might help minimize the immediate impact, but you’d be better off to face the bad news head-on. Be honest with the people who elected you.

(There was a similar Administration newsdump the Friday before Labor day. That one was a damning review of the management of Vermont Health Connect’s IT infrastructure. I look forward, not at all, to the news we might get on Christmas Eve.)

This newsdump concerns a second round of budget rescissions, made necessary by shortfalls in income tax revenue. Which were caused by an anemic economic recovery that has left the middle and working classes behind. Stagnant wages, stagnant tax revenue. While the top earners continue to depress their tax bills through loopholes and high deductions.

The Shumlin Administration wants to cut $17 million from this year’s spending. I’ll have more to say about the specifics in a later post. For now, I’m focusing on the Administration’s claim that it can cut $6,7 million without the Legislature’s approval. The Administration has an Attorney General’s opinion that approves its legal argument for doing so.

That doesn’t sit well with top lawmakers:

Legislators on the House and Senate’s Joint Fiscal Committee share the administration’s sense of urgency, but do not believe that the Shumlin administration has the legal authority to make most of the planned cuts. The Legislative Council, which advises lawmakers on legal matters, supports that position.

“The statute does not give them the authority to do this,” said Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, co-chair of the Joint Fiscal Committee.

I guess we can conclude that Governor Shumlin’s post-election period of listening and learning has come to an end. One seemingly obvious result of the razor-thin gubernatorial election was that Shumlin would need to repair relations with the legislature and act in a more cooperative manner.

Seems like a lesson unlearned there. And it’s not exactly a good portent for what’s going to be, at best, a contentious and difficult biennium.

Advertisements

Seven Days puts on the big-boy pants

I was wondering if someone would swoop in and pick up the pieces after the Burlington Free Press abruptly shuttered its Statehouse Bureau. And now, someone has.

As it expands its coverage of Vermont government and politics, Seven Days has hired veteran Statehouse reporters Terri Hallenbeck and Nancy Remsen.

I couldn’t be happier for Hallenbeck and Remsen personally or for news consumers in Vermont. Seven Days has been steadily upping its game in recent years, but this is a solid, decisive leap into the big time. The little alt-weekly now has a larger politics/Statehouse crew than the once-formidable Free Press. And, even more shocking, a more experienced crew.

The Free Press is supposedly hiring a couple new reporters, but you know what they’re likely to get: bottom-of-the-pay-scale twentysomethings who are proficient with multimedia technology but have little background or experience to inform their reporting. But even if the Freeploid does bring on a couple of seasoned reporters, they won’t be able to replace Hallenbeck and Remsen’s knowledge of the politics and governance of Vermont. They’ll be at the low end of the learning curve, whereas Hallenbeck and Remsen are at the peak.

At a time when newspapers and even many alt-weeklies are in full retreat, Seven Days has taken a bold step forward. Best wishes to the newly enhanced crew, especially to former scurrilous scribe Paul Heintz, now serving as Political Editor.

Our favorite country lawyer spins a yarn

Joe Benning, top Republican in the State Senate, has made a decision. And he wants us all to know about it.

In a short essay posted by VTDigger, the good Senator reveals that when the legislature reconvenes in January, he will vote for Scott Milne for Governor.

Gee, “Scott Milne.” There’s a name I haven’t heard in a while.

Benning’s vote, to hear him tell, has nothing to do with partisanship. The fact that he’s backing the #2 vote-getter, who happens to be a fellow Republican, over the top finisher, a Democrat? Nothing about that in his essay.

Well, not by name. He does, however, depict his vote as an attempt to block the imminent ruin of Vermont at the hands of a certain incumbent governor.

But he begins with a veiled shot at any lawmaker who fails to follow his example in publicly revealing his vote:

 Other legislators may feel differently, but this legislator feels a responsibility to explain his intended vote to his constituents.

Well, yeah, but the choice will be made on a secret ballot. A phrase which conspicuously includes the word “secret.” Feel free to tear back the curtain from your own voting booth, Senator, but don’t imply that those who fail to do so are acting improperly. And yes, that’s what you did.

The next paragraph points to the closeness of the election and Milne’s lopsided majority in Benning’s district, and then creates a false equivalency between the tradition of electing the top vote-getter and the freshly minted “tradition” of voting with one’s district. Uh-huh. One tradition has been unbroken for over 150 years, while the other has never been heard of in Vermont until this month.

Myself, I prefer the weightier term “precedent” in referring to this consistent principle in electing a governor. I can see why Benning does not. But there is wisdom in this precedent; to elect someone other than the top finisher creates the appearance that the legislature is thwarting the will of the people, and sows the seeds of partisan rancor.

Which is exactly what happened the last two times that precedent was flouted, in the 1976 lieutenant governor’s race and in the 1853 contest for governor.

The final cowpat in Benning’s castle is his citation of John F. Kennedy and his self-branding as an embodiment of political courage — a Gandalf staring into the gaping maw of chaos and bravely crying, “You shall not pass!”

Sorry, senator. You’re no hero; you’re just another opportunist.

Gruber contract officially downsized

One argument the Republicans have made in their desperate effort to fan the flickering flames of Grubermania is that, although Gov. Shumlin cut off Jonathan Gruber’s pay, his contract remained intact and would require a formal rewrite.

Well, mission accomplished, per the Mitchell Family Organ:

State officials released an amended contract with MIT economist Jonathan Gruber Tuesday evening, lowering the maximum amount payable to $280,000.

… Some Republicans had maintained that the original contract required official changes, and said Gruber’s “handshake agreement” with Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, was not sufficient.

The amended contract reflects the change in pay for Gruber.

The full contract can be viewed at the link above.

I’m sure the Republicans will come up with fresh rationales for their obsession. But the contract can no longer be cited as an issue. And if they possess a shred of intellectual honesty, they’ll stop referring to the Gruber contract as a $450,000 deal and adopt the true figure, $280,000.

Ball’s in your court, guys.

Bedtime for Bartley

Update: Bartley has gone on Twitter and given a thorough apology for his unfortunate comment. 

The VTGOP’s “victory coordinator” Jeff Bartley had himself a nice relaxing Sunday evening, kickin’ back and watching the Giants and Cowboys face off in hard-hittin’ NFL action. And, being a young, tech-savvy pre-Millennial, he occupied his spare moments by live-Tweeting the events.

Including, sadly, this little number.

In the words of the great philosopher Scoobus Doobus, “Ruh-roh.”

Jeff might be too Vermonty to realize that calling a black man a “monkey” is kinda-sorta askin’ for trouble. And he might be too young to recall that a similar comment played a big role in ending Howard Cosell’s Monday Night Football career.

Your move, Jeff. “I apologize to anyone who may have been offended…”?

Vermont Republicans adopt the Fox News playbook

I don’t know what the hell has happened to Vermont Republicans. With a couple of exceptions (Phil Scott, Kevin Mullin), they seem to have gone batshit crazy.

And crazy in a very particular way. They have taken up the chief weaponry of national Republicans and the Fox News crowd by distilling a complicated issue to a single word.

The issue is health care and the word, of course, is GRUBER!!!!!!

Republicans have not been deterred in the last by Gov. Shumlin’s renegotiation of Gruber’s contract, cutting off further payments to Gruber and thus saving the state $120,000 — some of which will go to independent checking of Gruber’s work.

But it doesn’t matter, at least not to Republicans. They’ve decided “Gruber” is an all-purpose cudgel to attack Shumlin, the Democrats, and the cause of health care reform. Their entire health care focus is on Gruber.

It was only a couple weeks ago that the VTGOP had a big post-election news conference to call for repeal of Vermont Health Connect. We don’t hear that anymore; it’s all Gruber, all the time.

It’s the first time I can remember that virtually every notable Republican and conservative activist seems to be singing from the same hymnal. Kurt Wright sounds just like Rob Roper, and Heidi Scheuermann’s doing her best Darcie Johnston.

This fact hit home for me while reading Rep. Wright’s opinion piece in the Sunday Freeploid. Wright asserts that Gruber’s work on single-payer “will undermine the entire process and debate going forward.” When there’s no evidence that Gruber has done anything more than provide top-flight economic modeling. No matter; as ACORN allegedly poisoned the electoral process and Lois Lerner allegedly proved an Obama conspiracy against the right, the mere presence of Gruber fundamentally undercuts everything about single-payer.

So I guess, by Wright’s logic, we have to throw out all the work that’s been done on single-payer over the last three years and start over? Or is he arguing that by axing Gruber now, when the work is virtually complete, the entire process will be purified as if by cleansing flame?

Wright’s words are identical in meaning to Rob Roper’s. Over at his Koch-funded nonprofit, the Ethan Allen Institute, he claims that Gruber’s entire body of work is useless and cannot be used at all. And Darcie “Hack” Johnston, Tweeting out her policy stances, pronounes Gruber’s work is “tainted” and…

Just watch him, Darcie.

Meanwhile, Sen. Joe Benning is clearly intoxicated by his sudden Fox News fame, referring on his Facebook page to Gruber as “the gift that keeps on giving.” Which sounds disconcertingly like naked political opportunism. He goes on to brag that “FOX wants me back!”

Of course they want you back, Joe: you fit right in with their agenda. And I don’t mean that as a compliment.

On another front, House Republicans have filed a public-records request for Gruber’s work for the state and for communications between Gruber and the Shumlin Administration, I’d applaud them for trying to learn the truth, but given all their public remarks, it seems more like a Darrell Issa-type fishing expedition. What they’re really hoping for is more Gruberisms.

And then there’s the proto-Republicans at Campaign for Vermont, still flogging their online petition calling for Gruber’s firing. Too bad that since Shumlin’s termination of payment, CFV’s petition has pretty much stalled out. As of this writing, it’s at 233 signatures, and it’s been in the low 200s for several days now.

This isn’t about the truth. It’s about using a handful of remarks by Jonathan Gruber to try to undermine the push for single-payer health care.

The weird thing about this is, we just went through an election that provided two object lessons (Phil Scott and Scott Milne) in how Republicans can win in Vermont: by presenting a moderate, inclusive image. Now they’re all foaming at the mouth as though the election never happened and “Angry Jack” Lindley is still running the joint.

They would be well advised to rein in their inflammatory rhetoric lest they alienate the very voters they just managed to attract.

Mikey Pom-Poms gets pwned

Really, I wasn’t planning on today being Bag On The Freeploid Day, but here comes Michael Townsend, Executive Editor and Chief Gannett Cheerleader of the Burlington Free Press, spending another sad Friday night drunk-Tweeting.

Or just being extra gullible.

Now, I love a good Sarah Palin malaprop as much as the next liberal, but this story is from The Daily Currant, a satirical website.

This story is a fake. Just like the other ones on The Daily Currant, such as…

Marijuana Overdoses Kill 37 in Colorado On First Day of Legalization

California approves $587 Billion High-Speed Rail Link to Hawaii

Pope Benedict Comes Out as Gay

Aw, Mikey, Mikey. Are you gonna unTweet that, let it lie quietly, or try to claim you knew it was funny all along?

Which, the latter, bullshit.