One of the consistent themes running through recent Legislatures is Democratic majorities retreating in the face of the slightest pressure — sometimes, even before they feel any pressure at all.
The latest dispiritng entry in this Chronicle of FAIL is a House/Senate task force on public sector pensions. Despite a Democratic majority on the panel, the task force seems determined to rule out possible new revenue sources for the pension funds. If the panel has its way, employees and retirees would absorb the bulk of the pain in a pension reform plan.
As a reminder, both pension plans were massively underfunded from the early 90s to the mid 2000s. In recent years, pension managers issued overly rosy projections on investment returns. That combo platter of ineptitude has resulted in a massive shortfall in both pensions. The Task Force was created by the Legislature last spring, after a reform plan to from House leadership capsized upon launch.
That plan emphasized benefit cuts and higher payments by employees. Leadership abandoned it after furious blowback from the unions. Well, it now seems that the Task Force is bent on following the same course. Members are not even considering measures that Gov. Phil Scott might veto.
Remind me, what’s the difference between legislative Democrats and the Republican administration? Precious little in this case.
This might be acceptable in the springtime if lawmakers came up with their best plan, watched the governor veto it, and then failed to override his veto. That’s when they’d have to give some ground. Not now.
But here we are. At a Wednesday meeting, task force co-chair Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas said that, given a Republican governor, “it is not realistic for us” to consider a wealth tax or any other revenue enhancements. This, despite the fact that wealthy Vermonters made out like bandits from the 2017 Trump tax cuts.
Sure, there’s zero chance the governor would sign off on anything he defines as a tax increase. But I hate to see the Democrats giving up without a fight, especially when the direct interests of so many of the party faithful are on the line.
A representative of the teachers’ union pointed out to Copeland Hanzas that the legislation creating the task force said it should consider “permanent and temporary revenue streams” as well as benefit cuts and increased employee contributions. Apparently in Copeland Hanzas’ view, that part of the legislation ought to be ignored.
Meanwhile the other co-chair, Sen. Jeanette White, issued one of her trademark head-scratchers:
White… added that she could see the state committing to some form of additional, ongoing support. But she said she did not like the idea of saying where exactly this money should come from.
“I’m uncomfortable about saying where a dedicated revenue source could be because there are so many pressures on everybody,” she said.
She’d consider new revenue but she won’t commit to a source? Well, I’m sorry to inform her that that’s part of the job. If she feels “uncomfortable” with it, perhaps she ought to retire.
The unions’ stance remains unchanged. They want a big one-time payment into the funds (since we’re awash in federal aid right now) and some dedicated funding source/s for the pensions. They’ve suggested a wealth tax, a tax on marijuana or on sports betting.
Copeland Hanzas topped off her stand with a threat. Last spring the Legislature set aside $150 million in one-time money for the pension funds — but only after adoption of a reform plan. Now, Copeland Hanzas is saying that, golly, it’d be an awful shame if something happened to that money.
Nice. Threatening a core consituency.
A distinctly unedifying scenario looms: Democrats in an all-out battle with their union allies throughout the session, while the governor munches popcorn and enjoys the show.
This, during an election year. This, when the Dems should be drawing distinctions between themselves and a governor they theoretically want to defeat. Instead, they are positioning themselves as second-hand Phil Scott impersonators.