Can’t we find a Democratic budget expert? Please?

The Shumlin administration is a lame-duck affair. Top staffers have begun to leave, and it’s awfully difficult to hire outsiders for openings that will only last a little more than a year. So, people get promoted from within or shuffled around. I imagine by next summer, the administration will look like a last-place baseball team in mid-September: plenty of scrubs trying to act like major leaguers.

The latest departure: budget chief Jim Reardon. His replacement: prison chief Andy Pallito.

Okay, fine, maybe Pallito is the best person for the job. But he, like Reardon, was a prominent holdover from the Douglas administration. Which brings us to the question above: Can’t we find a Democratic budget expert? Please?

This is of a piece with Democrats relying on Neale Lunderville as their number-one fixit man. Hirings like these reinforce the stereotype that Republicans are serious administrators while Democrats are softies. (This stereotype isn’t actually true, at least not at the national level. Since Jimmy Carter left office, Republican Presidents have done far more to increase the national debt than Democrats.)

That’s my general objection to Pallito’s hiring (and Reardon’s, for that matter). Here’s a specific one.

In June, Pallito abruptly terminated a contract with Vermont Works for Women, which was providing education and training for female inmates. He claimed the termination was “a result of cuts to the budget” by the Legislature.

Turned out, that wasn’t true. Six days after the termination, Pallito reversed his decision, saying the contract “had been cut in error.”

His error: he misread the budget. In the final budget bill, lawmakers had restored the cut that would have forced cancellation of the Vermont Works for Women contract.

I can see two explanations for this.

1. Pallito can’t read a budget. That’s not exactly a sterling qualification for a “budget chief.”

2. He deliberately ignored the Legislature’s intent in order to save his department some money. If true, lawmakers had better watch this guy like a hawk.

Again, in the waning months of a lame-duck administration, Pallito might have been the best of a limited selection. But his promotion doesn’t inspire confidence in this observer.

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