Note: Updated below with comments from Gov. Scott.
Welp, the Scott administration, deliberately or otherwise, pulled a fast one on the Legislature. Remember that painfully-negotiated unemployment insurance deal? The one that obtained a supplemental $25/week in UI benefits in exchange for a great big tax break for businesses?
Yeah, well, you’re not getting the 25 bucks. I’ll assume that the businesses still get their [checks notes] $300 million over 10 years.
Yep, Vermont’s jobless — and the Legislature — took it in the shorts.
The problem, as VTDigger’s Fred Thys reports, is that the federal government has ruled that the extra benefit can’t be paid out of the state’s unemployment trust fund.
Here’s where the frequently embattled Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington comes in. He received word on June 14 that the feds might have a problem with the benefit as written.
He informed the Legislature on… wait for it… August 24.
He said he didn’t take action until he got definitive word from the feds. But the delay also meant the Legislature had no chance to take corrective action, which would have been pretty simple. “Hindsight is always 20-20,” Harrington said, unhelpfully.
Yeah, well, the problem is that Harrington has failed the hindsight test over and over again. He’s exhausted his share of the benefit of the doubt. Back in February I noted that since the pandemic began, Harrington had helmed three significant administrative failures. A fourth followed in May. And now this.
Another Harrington bungle is the charitable explanation. The uncharitable one is that the administration deliberately waited to inform lawmakers until it was too late.
Or, as Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak tweeted this morning: “When elected folks pass a law it is the JOB of state government to implement it and work with us if something goes sideways, not go silent and avoid us.”
Presumably Harrington is getting roasted on a spit today at a hearing of the Unemployment Insurance Task Force, chaired by the indomitable Rep. Emilie Kornheiser*. Beyond that, presumably the Task Force will take a thorough look at how this failure played out in the administration writ large. Because the Legislature deserves answers for how this hard-fought deal was 86’d outside of public view.
*Who wins Comment of the Day. During the hearing, she noted “I don’t think there is a conspiracy because no one in this room is organized enough.”
There may or may not be a dead fish about. But something stinks.
Updated 9/14/21, 1:30 pm. At his regular weekly press briefing, Gov. Scott ducked questions about this mess. “There’s a lot of conspiracy theorists out there,” he said, “but it really is about the federal government saying this is not appropriate.”
A reporter asked about a[n unidentified] lawmaker calling for Harrington’s resignation. Scott’s reply: “If I was to ask a commissioner to resign for following the law, that would be inappropriate.”
He misses the point, deliberately, I think. The point isn’t that Harrington and the administration have to follow the law; it’s that Harrington and the administration didn’t notify the Legislature of the problem in a timely manner. Sure, the June communication wasn’t definitive — but it was a red flag, and the administration chose not to let the Legislature know.
Oh, and by the way, Harrington is often present (in person or virtually) for these briefings. Not today. Hmm.