“It’s Not Fair!” Maybe, But It Doesn’t Matter

The player on the left is the Vermont Legislature. The player on the right is Gov. Phil Scott. The potato in question is the emergency motel voucher program for the unhoused.

When last we met, I was castigating House leadership for proceeding, full speed ahead, toward the cliff at the end of the voucher program. I take none of that back. It’s a disaster, morally, politically and economically.

However, in fairness, it must be said that the real failure here is the governor’s. His administration has had two-plus years to devise an offramp from vouchers to adequate shelter/housing. It has not done so.

The Legislature gets to intervene in such things at budget time. It can try to craft policy and implementation and as badly as the House Human Services Committee has failed to address the end of the program, it has at least tried to build an offramp on the far side of the canyon in front of us. That’s more than the Scott administration has done.

That said, it doesn’t matter. The Legislature has the hot potato, and will get more than its share of the blame if they let the program expire without an adequate substitute. It’s not fair, but who said life is fair?

The administration has spent federal Covid dollars on motel vouchers, and didn’t invest in a plan to improve shelter and housing access. Maybe the administration believed the homelessness crisis was a product of the pandemic and would resolve itself as the federal aid ran dry.

If so, it was dead wrong. The housing crisis has gotten progressively worse. Housing of all kinds is in short supply. Rental stock is desperately scarce, and affordable housing is the scarcest of all. Vermont has the second highest rate of homelessness in the country. That has happened on Phil Scott’s watch.

The calling card of moderate Republicanism is managerial efficacy. In theory, moderate Republicans would maintain a healthy public sector while keeping costs to a minimum through effective administration. Scott has that reputation, but there’s no evidence he’s actually earned it — and mounting evidence that he hasn’t.

Still, it doesn’t matter. The hot potato is in the Legislature’s hands, and whether it’s fair or not, they will feel the burn. Making the calculation on political grounds alone, the Legislature’s only way forward is to approve a robust housing transition program along the lines of “Bridges to Housing” and let the governor veto it. I doubt that he would. He’d probably let it go without his signature. Because the last thing he wants is to get stuck with the hot potato at the end of the game.


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