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.
I have been pushing for a unified analysis of budget spending and tax expenditures like deductions & loopholes for some time. Does it make sense that high income Vermonters can get a mortgage interest deduction for buying a vacation home in another state? I believe that they can. How does the amount that this deduction for high earners costs in tax revenue compare to what we spend on affordable housing? Do they really need the deduction even for buying a primary residence? In a time of scarce resources?
We need not just reform but structural renewal of the budget and tax systems together in order to ensure that Vermonters are getting the most effective government services for the resources available.
See my bills H.207 and H.353 from the 2014 session for my attempts to move in this direction.
Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington