Daily Archives: December 19, 2014

Single payer: a third party is heard from

I’ve been wondering when this would come. A statement, with the title in ALL CAPS, from the Progressive Party:

SHUMLIN’S DECISION TO SCRAP SINGLE PAYER A BETRAYAL OF VERMONT’S WORKING FAMILIES

And no, the Progs don’t usually go ALL CAPS.

The reaction is understandable; the Progs had put their statewide ambitions largely on hold for the sake of single payer.

The Vermont Progressive Party dis not run Progressive challenges against Governor Shumlin in the last three cycles, in large part because of his unwavering promise to lead on single payer.

If the Progs had run a candidate this year, no matter how perfunctory, we’d almost certainly be talking Governor-elect Milne right now.

The anger continues:

While we are outraged by Shumlin’s broken promises, we are not terribly surprised. … rather than work through [the] issues or scale back the project, Shumlin decided to scrap it entirely (and with it, many Vermonters’ hopes of a just and accessible healthcare system).

Indeed, it’s easy to conclude that the Governor put his thumb on the single payer scale in order to make it seem more unattainable than it already was. He opted for a top-level plan (94 Actuarial Value) instead of more modest coverage (80 AV), which increased costs. He insisted on a three-year phase-in of the payroll tax for small businesses, which slashed revenues. (His team also suddenly realized that those long-touted “administrative savings” weren’t going to happen.) Those may have been reasonable policy choices, but when you have Shumlin’s reputation for slickness and hippie-kicking, it’s not hard to assign the worst possible motive: the Governor wanted to squirm out of his promises, so he stacked the deck against single payer.

Governor Shumlin only seems concerned about the projected future economic burden to businesses, not the burden that working people are bearing right now.

Yup. His announcement was chock-full of references to financial realities and business concerns — and reminders of his own personal pain, awww — while conspicuous by their absence were any mentions of equity, accessibility, or the burdensome nature of the current system. And he sure as hell didn’t call health care a “human right.”

The Progs’ release includes a not-so-veiled threat of a Progressive candidate for Governor in 2016. Imagine, if you will, this scenario:

Shumlin has spent his third term tamping down expectations, cutting programs to balance the budget, pursuing incremental rather than transformational progress. The Republicans nominate Phil Scott, who doesn’t look much different ideologically than Shumlin, has a much more attractive personality, and can win back the business donors who’ve been backing Shumlin.  And the Progs challenge from the left.

In that scenario, Shumlin is well and truly screwed.

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The gang that couldn’t dig straight

That was quite a heapin’ helpin’ o’ bad news served up by Vermont Gas this morning. It announced yet another big cost increase for Phase 1 of its pipeline project, and asked state regulators to put the case on hold.

Which is, if nothing else, a sign that they realize how bad their situation is. How bad?

Yeeeesh. Company officials insist the pipeline is still economically viable, but it’s a lot less viable than originally thought. That changes the cost/benefit equation — which should include the environmental questions — quite a bit. In other late-breaking realizations…

Mm-hmm, I’ll bet. As I wrote in early September, Vermont Gas has been its own worst enemy, coming across as bullies with landowners, and as questionable managers with state regulators.

Whether its bumblefuckery is enough to shelve the project remains to be seen. Today’s announcement is the beginning of a new phase in the history of this proposal. Up till now, the economic arguments in favor of the pipeline had been strong enough to overcome resistance from the environmental community and a small number of landowners.

Those arguments are a lot less strong today. Vermont Gas has given the state a big fat excuse to kill the project — at a time when Governor Shumlin (to be entirely political about it) desperately needs a high-profile issue on which he can pander to the left. Well, if he wants one, he’s got one.

Update. The Governor has released a statement, and yes, he sees an open door in front of him.

Although I am pleased that the new leadership at Vermont Gas is taking the time to reevaluate the proposed projects, this further cost increase is very troubling. In the coming weeks my administration will be evaluating all of this new information and looking at these projects as a whole to ensure that they remain in the best interest of Vermont. Meanwhile, I expect Vermont Gas to also reevaluate its communications and negotiations with affected landowners to help improve relations. I trust those steps will continue.

Bureaucracy to the rescue

It’s a story languishing in the shade of Governor Shumlin’s single-payer surrender, but on Thursday the Department for Children and Families released a third report on its effectiveness. This report pretty much echoed the first two, as VTDigger’s Laura Krantz reports:

The new report grouped its findings into five categories. The key items include better training, more social workers, more transparency and a stronger focus on opiate addiction’s impact on family dynamics.

DCF head Ken Schatz said the similar conclusions of the three reports was an affirmation that “We have a good road map now to go forward.”

Well, that’s nice, but is that sufficient justification for three separate reports plus a legislative review that’s still pending? How much money did we spend on all this investigation? Why didn’t we just commission one really good and thorough report instead of a bunch? Were DCF investigations on sale at Costco?

Beyond that, two things in Krantz’ account jumped out at me. First was the fact that the DCF news conference was “attended by only three reporters.”

That’s sad, and bad. DCF was one of the year’s highest-profile issues in state government. And, to be callous about it, the story was more clickbaity than most because it involved the deaths of two toddlers. Also, the presser was held not in Montpelier, but in Williston — a hop and a skip away for Burlington-based media outlets. Like the Free Press, which I’ve been told was not in attendance. (So far, its website does not provide any coverage of the event.)

If true, that’s pretty shameful, especially for a media outlet that has beaten the drum for greater transparency at DCF. They want transparency, but they’re not going to advance the cause by, oh, sending a reporter to a significant event. Nice.

The other thing that jumped out at me was this. The “road map” that Schatz referred to included a call for “more front-line workers [and] lower case loads.”

In response, Schatz and his boss, interim Human Services Secretary Harry Chen announced that DCF would hire ten more staffers.

Social workers, right? New troops to bring down the case loads, yes?

Er, no.

They include five management positions in the economic services division, two assistant attorneys general to help district offices with child protection cases and the family services division: an assistant district director in St. Albans, a assistant for the centralized call intake unit and a policy specialist.

By my count, that’s six middle management types, two prosecutors to help with cases that have gotten so far out of hand they’re headed for the courts, and two other functionaries, neither of which are on the front lines.

Bureaucracy to the rescue! Our troops are having trouble in the trenches, but never fear — we’re beefing up the staff at headquarters.

Maybe there are excellent reasons for these particular hires, but at a time when AHS is under heavy pressure to make deep cuts, it kinda leaves me scratching my head a little.

Speaking of tight budgets, you might wonder where they’re getting the money for these positions. The not entirely convincing answer is “through anticipated savings from the state’s Reach Up program, which helps poor families.”

Hmm. At the presser, DCF officials released some downright scary numbers on how their case loads have increased over the past year. And we’ve all been told over and over again that the sluggish economic recovery, with almost all its bounty going to the top one percent, is putting the squeeze on working Vermonters. But they’re confident they can save money on Reach Up?

They’re certainly more knowledgeable than me, but I have trouble seeing it.