WCAX-TV rolled out the carpet for a gubernatorial debate last Thursday, and peppered the two major party candidates with questions that were I think prepared by a Republican consultant somewhere. The theme of the night was “How are you going to pay for ________?”
Housing? Brenda Siegel’s plans “cost money, how does that make Vermont a more affordable place to live?”
Emergency housing? Brenda Siegel, “how will you pay for [your emergency housing plans]?”
Universal primary care? Brenda Siegel, how would you pay for it?
Child care assistance? Brenda Siegel, how would you pay for it?
Do you sense a theme here? Well, I’ve got a couple more.
There was a question about Sen. Patrick Leahy’s retirement and the potential loss of federal funds because his seniority won’t be in play. The question was phrased, “How will Vermont afford pet projects without Senator Leahy on the Appropriations Committee?”
“Pet projects,” eh? Why don’t you just come right out and accuse Leahy of stuffing appropriations bills with pork?
In addition to the theme of how we’re going to pay for every little thing, we also got the inevitable Republican-friendly question about allegedly rampant crime in Burlington, which gave Scott the opening to repeat his L-I-E about Burlington defunding the police.
Siegel, to her credit, stood her ground. Her answer to the barrage of cost questions amounted to “We never count the cost of not addressing these crises.” The cost of homelessness, health insecurity, the opioid epidemic, unaffordable child care, the failure to build in-state renewable energy. She spoke of making “strategic investments” that would improve the quality of life and boost the economy.
Scott, unsurprisingly, had nothing much to offer. The old familiar bromides were on full display. If you took a drink each time he said “workforce,” you were dead before the end of the debate. He trotted out “6-3-1” again, the pet barometer of Vermont’s demographic problems from the 2016 campaign. Has it remained completely unchanged since?
If so, isn’t that an indictment against his own administration?
Well, his excuse is that his policies would have worked by now if not for the pandemic. Sure, that’s true to some extent. But as Siegel pointed out, the problems we face existed before Covid-19 and are still there today. I would add that our economy also benefited from the tsunami of federal Covid relief dollars, which allowed us to keep things afloat and make historic investments that Scott consistently takes credit for. Those funds also circulated through the economy, which actually increased our tax revenues. So I don’t buy Scott’s explanation.
He’s got nothing except the hope that his six-year-old policies will suddenly bear fruit. In fact, if you re-elect him, you’re going to get a heavy dose of fiscal conservatism over the next two years. Brace yourself for fierce budget battles between administration and Legislature.
He said so himself. “We are headed towards tougher times. We have to live within our means,” he said, and warned of a “looming recession.”
But anytime now, his paid-for-by-the-feds “historic investments” will begin to pay off and Vermont will become an affordable Xanadu. Just wait and see.