The Democrats’ Phil Scott playbook seems to consist of rolling over on their backs and begging for a belly scratch. This all-too-familiar pattern recurred this week, when the governor threatened to veto two very important bills on Tuesday… and then was welcomed as part of the Pat Leahy Statehouse lovefest on Wednesday.
I guess if someone tosses a couple of turds in your punchbowl, the appropriate response is to invite them back for High Tea the following day.
As for the governor, his schedule is arranged far in advance. He had to know before his Tuesday presser that he was going to share the stage on Wednesday with all the top Democrats… but nonetheless, he went ahead and trashed the Legislature’s budget and the hard-fought public sector pension reform plan.
Mr. Civility strikes again. And they let him get away with it. As usual.
Now, I realize that the Leahy Party was a special event, meant to encompass all Vermonters under one shiny happy umbrella, including the governor. But I’m long past done with these lovefests, especially in a campaign year when Democrats will allegedly try to win back the governorship.
You know, beat this guy. (Assuming he runs again.) Which might involve trying to strip off his bipartisan Kevlar and focusing on his weaknesses. Glad-handing at staged events is not one of those.
Scott’s objection to the pension deal was especially ill-timed, not to mention wrong-headed. This plan emerged from (a) a year-long study committee that included Scott’s DFR Commissioner Michael Pieciak, and (b) a delicate and protracted negotiating process with the public sector unions.
And now he wants to step in — shortly before adjournment — and pull the tablecloth out from under the table? Some nerve.
That’s the timing issue. He’s had basically a year to influence this process. He had his own guy in the room for most of that time. If he wanted to weigh in, he should have done it before now.
As for the substance, Scott’s proposed fixes are, in a word, stupid.
Scott wants to offer union members the option of a defined contribution (401k) plan instead of the far more secure defined benefit system now in place. Three little details:
- Only a fool would pass up a defined benefit plan. 401k’s put you at the mercy of the stock market and depend on your investing savvy. Us normal folks can’t compete with the sharks of Wall Street.
- Adding a defined contribution plan would increase the pension funds’ costs. Scott says the pension deal, as it stands, fails to fix “the underlying problems” with the funds. So his solution is to (a) add an option that few workers are likely to take, and (b) add cost and complexity to the pension plans? That’s a hard “no.”
- Every worker who opts into the defined contribution plan shrinks the defined benefit pool, making the system more fragile, not less.
I suspect that Scott’s real goal is to get the camel’s nose of defined benefit under the public sector pension tent. After all, Scott invited David Coates to speak at his presser. Coates is Vermont’s number-one advocate for changing the entire system to defined contribution — offloading all the risk onto the backs of future retirees.
As for why he waited until now, I have no idea. It’s been a frequent pattern of his over the years, and it’s one big reason he already owns the all-time Vermont record for gubernatorial vetoes. But this is an especially egregious instance of belated complaint because this deal was so difficult to negotiate. Getting the unions to buy into a plan that imposes more costs on their members was, not to put too fine a point on it, an absolute triumph of the negotiating art.
The governor didn’t outright threaten to veto the plan, but then he never does. He lets the suspense build and build. He throws rotten fruit at the stage but remains firmly in his seat.
Its not helpful. And it’s certainly not civil.