Gov. Phil Scott has, in many ways, lived a charmed life in the corner office. There haven’t been any scandals — or at least none that have been uncovered by our anemic press corps. He has, by general acclamation, kept his image as Gov. Nice Guy in spite of his outbreaks of verbal dyspepsia in press conferences and All Those Vetoes. And his greatest challenge has come with an incredible upside.
That would be the Covid-19 pandemic, which caused huge disruptions but was actually a strong net positive for the Vermont economy. A flood tide of federal relief aid meant there was no need for tough budget battles in the Statehouse and there was plenty of capacity for new investments. The money had the usual multiplier effect on disposable income, economic activity, and tax receipts. The latter eliminated any budget pressure that might have been left over from the direct federal infusions.
He had to make some tough calls on controlling the pandemic, for which he got plenty of praise and almost none of the criticism he, at times, deserved. Overall, the pandemic made his job a hell of a lot easier.
This isn’t the first time a crisis has elevated a governor. The high point of Peter Shumlin’s tenure was the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, when he got to look strong and resolute and was able to throw money around and be a hero without anyone asking any inconvenient questions. Given the rest of his record, I wonder what we’d find if somebody did a deep dive on the Irene response, but that’s water under the bridge, pun intended. And Dick Snelling is fondly remembered for accepting tax hikes in order to pull Vermont’s economy out of the gutter, and not so much for being an asshole.
But that tide of federal aid is starting to recede, and budgets are about to get very tight around these parts.Continue reading