Sometimes I wonder how Doug Hoffer keeps going. He issues report after report, audit after audit, only to see them routinely dismissed by state officials and ignored by the Legislature. This is especially bad when it comes to state business incentive programs, which appear unkillable in spite of a complete lack of evidence that they accomplish anything. And, as Hoffer points out, the programs don’t even require evidence. Decisions are often unreviewable by anyone else, and crucial information is kept private as a statutory deference to business interests.
But now, as a new biennium dawns, there are signs that Hoffer is finally having an impact.
First, there’s H.10, a bill that would require much more transparency in the Vermont Economic Growth Incentive program, which may or may not produce any actual, you know, economic growth. A similar bill got nowhere in the last biennium, but this time its sponsor, Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, is the newly-minted chair of the House Ways & Means Committee. Which is to say, she’s got some freshly acquired heft. And H.10 is co-sponsored by Rep. Michael Marcotte, the Republican chair of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development, which is where the bill will be heading.
Bipartisanship, it’s a beautiful thing. But if you listen closely, you can hear Gov. Phil Scott’s legal counsel Jaye Pershing Johnson furiously leafing through the books, searching for a constitutional pretext to oppose the bill. If H.10 does get through the House and Senate, a gubernatorial veto seems likely. After all, the governor is a devoted friend to the business community and he absolutely looooooves him some business incentive programs.
If H.10 gets through the House, it will land in the Senate Economic Development Committee. Former chair Michael Sirotkin was a staunch believer in incentive programs, and it’s easy to imagine him dropping the bill into the circular file. It should be a different story under his successor, Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale.
Second, there’s H.24, which would give the auditor’s office greater access to information about entities that get state contracts. The bill is meant to counteract a Vermont Supreme Court decision that denied Hoffer access to payroll information at OneCare Vermont.
Hoffer had rightly complained that the decision effectively blocked him from doing his job when it comes to OneCare, one of the biggest and most consequential private contractors in Vermont. The bill would require that state contracts include language allowing the auditor “to examine the records, accounts, books, papers, reports and returns in all formats of any contractor that provides services to the State.”
And the bill, mirabile dictu, is co-sponsored by two Republicans, Woodman Page and Larry Labor. ““We really believe in responsible monitoring of expenses submitted by contractors,” Labor told VTDigger.
How about that. Republicans with an actual interest in good government. It’s a far cry from the noxious clouds arising from the U.S. House.
This points out something that’s kinda been lost between partisan labeling and the Scott administration’s ambivalence regarding accountability. Hoffer may be a Democrat/Progressive, but he understands that the job is about government oversight, not policymaking. He should find natural alliances with Republicans honestly interested in making sure every taxpayer dollar is spent wisely. Which often doesn’t include our governor.
Hoffer has been doing yeoman’s work since he first took office in 2013. It’s about time that his work started having greater impact.