Monthly Archives: November 2019

EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

VT Dems assemble for reorg meeting. [Not exactly as illustrated]

The Vermont Democratic Party state committee met Saturday in Stowe, and did their level best to put the Unfortunate Incidents of this year behind them. The elections for party officer positions were uncontested, and every vote but one was unanimous. There was not a single mention of the Brandon Batham embezzlement case until the elections were safely over. At that point, one committee member asked if the party was making efforts to recoup the stolen funds. The answer: Not right away, but maybe after the criminal investigation of Batham concludes.

Otherwise, the two-and-a-half hour meeting was practically a Lego Movie singalong.

There had been some efforts before the meeting to identify other candidates, but nothing eventuated. If state committee members harbored any doubts about the handling of the Batham case, the overly lax management structure that opened the door to his theft, other leadership issues laid bare by the Batham case (including the complete lack of a vetting process for hiring party employees) or the party’s embarrassing fundraising performance over the last three-ish years, they kept those doubts behind zipped lips.

Because… Everything Is Awesome When You’re Part Of A Team!

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Hey, let’s catch up with the VTGOP!

Two weeks ago, the troubled relationship between the Vermont Republican Party and its most successful politician — Gov. Phil Scott — was, for all intents and purposes, formally terminated. At its biannual reorganization, party delegates re-elected chair Deb Billado to a second two-year term. Billado is an earnest soul, but a staunch conservative and devout Donald Trump fan. And she has had zero success with the admittedly tough task of pulling the party out of the doldrums.

She ran without opposition, which is the real point. Two years ago, Scott came up with a nominee of his own: Michael Donohue (not that guy), a very conservative fellow but a realist with a respectable track record of political organizing in other states. Donohue lost narrowly to Billado, in a result that reflected the party’s Trumpward orientation.

This time, Scott didn’t bother. He didn’t even attend the meeting. (He had a good excuse; Vermont was reeling from a weather disaster, and he was visiting affected areas. But I have a feeling he would have found an excuse to stay away. “Had to walk the dog” or somesuch.)

Delegates elected a slate of far-right Trumpers to top posts. Former attorney general candidate Deb Bucknam is the new vice chair; she replaces Brady Toensing, who resigned last spring to take a position in the Trump Justice Department. (He’s the son of Victoria Toensing, frequent promoter of right-wing conspiracy theories on Fox News along with her husband Joe DiGenova. Brady was a longtime member of the family law firm.)

Other officers include Deb Bucknam’s hubby Charlie as party treasurer and Deb Ricker, re-elected as secretary. Two at-large spots on the executive committee went to onetime state representative Paul Dame, who periodically shows up in my mailbox touting “retirement seminars” with a free dinner at the Steakhouse in Berlin*, and Zachary Hampl (not that guy), a Castleton University student and founder of the local chapter of the Young Americans for Liberty. (Young Zach also endorsed Bruce Lisman over Scott in the 2016 primary battle.)

*If that doesn’t work out for him, maybe he can try hawking timeshares.

None of those worthies is on the same ideological continent as Our Governor. Who, again, didn’t even try to offer alternative candidates more suited to his politics and style.

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BREAKING: Jim Condos puts his pants on one leg at a time

Ah, Vermont’s esteemed Secretary of State… champion of transparency, guardian against election tampering, epitome of the principled politician…

Turns out, he can fall for an Internet scam just like the rest of us.

You may have heard about the Facebook ad for discount chain Costco, which offered customers a $75 coupon if they reposted the ad and provided some personal information.

Err… problem is, it was a fake. The real Costco wasn’t involved, and there was no $75 offer. But a lot of people fell for it, despite the fact that this same offer (or a very similar one) has been posted — and debunked — multiple times in the past.

One of those suckers: Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos.

Yeah, sorry about that, Jim. No coupon for you!

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The definition of insanity

Doug Hoffer is at it again, pissing in the cornflakes of conventional wisdom. His latest report offers a detailed picture of something we already knew: The value of Vermont’s Remote Worker Grant Program is essentially unquantifiable.

The program offers up to $10,000 to people who relocate to Vermont and work remotely for employers elsewhere. It has generated a ton of publicity and very little in the way of actual returns. Scott administration apparatchiks boast of attracting new residents — a grand total of, um, 110 grantees and 290 new residents.

To quote my favorite comics character, Big Nate: “Whoop-de-dang-do.” That’s basically a rounding error in Vermont’s demographics.

There are other problems with the program’s performance, in addition to the paltry numbers. Almost half the grantees have settled in Chittenden County, which doesn’t need the boost. And the Commerce Agency’s own figures shows that most grantees would have moved here anyway. At best, the grant was only one factor in their decisions, and there’s no way to tell how many of those new residents would have decided against Vermont if the program didn’t exist.

Hoffer also points to the deliberately lax standards for awarding grants, established by the legislature on the principle of “keep it simple and get the money out the door.”

See, we must expect rigorous documentation and enforcement in social service programs, but Heaven forbid we should bother well-educated, white-collar recipients of economic development initiatives. Or businesses that draw on incentives for job training or expansion.

Because pretty much all of Commerce’s highly-touted programs are basically emperors with no clothes. Or, as Hoffer put it, “there is little reliable performance data about some of the State’s largest economic development programs.”

He closes the introduction to his new report with the destined-to-be-ignored clarion call: “When considering funding for Vermont’s economic development programs, we strongly encourage decision makers to take an evidence-based approach.”

Yeah, right. When pigs fly.

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OneCare: “Please make us too big to fail”

As VTDigger reported a few days ago, Vermont’s public sector unions are feeling a little dubious about turning over their health care benefits to OneCare Vermont, the accountable care organization that’s beginning to develop a record of scoring own goals. For instance, OneCare seems to be (inadvertently, one would hope) doing its best to validate the unions’ concerns.

OneCare is in the process of seeking a dominant position in Vermont’s health care marketplace, by signing up as many groups and individuals as possible to its model of paying providers for outcomes instead of services performed. It’s the current hot idea in health care, and many smart people see great promise in it.

Of course, go back eight years and a lot of smart people saw great promise in then-governor Shumlin’s single-payer idea. And we know how well that went.

A little more than a month ago, OneCare went before the Green Mountain Care Board with a request for a $1.36 billion budget — a whopping 33 percent increase over last year’s. See, it’s been losing money and failing to produce the cost savings it promised.

OneCare’s explanation: It’s not big enough. Digger:

“We can’t measure success without scale,” [OneCare] CEO Vicki Loner told the Green Mountain Care Board at its budget hearing last month. The more people who participate, the more effective the system will be, she said.

Yeah, well, that may be true. But it’s also an invitation to pour more money down what might turn out to be a rathole. Loner is essentially saying that OneCare has to become too big to fail, merely in order to adequately test its health care model.

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U Mad, Bro?

So I hear that some Vermont Democrats are upset with me for… um… telling the truth?

The party’s executive committee met this week, and from what I hear, there was some grumbling about my recent posts concerning the Brandon Batham embezzlement case and the management issues revealed thereby.

If true, my response: Quit whining and get your house in order.

Or, if you’re going to complain, summon up your courage and tell me how I’m wrong. Because until proven otherwise, I stand by what I’ve written.

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Phil Scott draws a line in the sand

Of course, “a line in the sand” is the easiest thing to erase.

Last Friday on VPR’s “Vermont Edition,” Gov. Phil Scott asserted that Vermont faces a $70-80 million budget shortfall.

Err, well, not quite.

What he actually said was, Vermont “maybe” faces what “could” be a gap of $70-80 million between revenue and spending. And those weren’t the only qualifiers. In fact, if you read a transcript of his remarks, you might wonder what he actually meant to say. (Part of Scott’s charm, and his political appeal, is that if you listen to him long enough you’re almost certain to hear something you can agree with.)

As far as I can recall, this is the first time Scott has made this claim, which seems to be a gauntlet thrown at the legislature’s feet. It’s familiar and politically attractive ground for the Republican governor, who has to deal with a restless base (and a conservative challenger) in the 2020 primary. Being tough on the budget is Scott’s best tactic for shoring up the base — and for drawing a distinction between himself and those evil, big-spending Democrats and their endless appetite for raising taxes.

That’s a joke, by the way. The Dems may be fiscally looser than the Repubs, but they are about as far as you can get from Tax-And-Spend Libertines as you can get. Just ask any of the four money committee chairs.

But let’s get back to the governor’s remarks. (NOTE: All transcripts are mine, and are as accurate as I could get. I left out the stammers and false starts, which were quite numerous. The gov wasn’t on his A-Game.) Start with this… um… not-a-sentence.

We’re seeing a lot of pressures, maybe even creating a $70-80 million gap between what we’re taking in and, if all remains the same, that we would feel.

I listened to this passage several times, and that’s what I heard. Let’s leave aside the disconnect between the beginning and the ending, and focus on the “maybe even creating” part. He’s not claiming an actual $70-80M gap; he’s saying that budgetary pressures could, at worst, create such a gap.

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