After months of dire warnings from housing advocates, after several weeks of repeated posts on This Here Blog (starting on March 26), a handful of lawmakers has finally stood up and taken notice.
With a single week left until scheduled adjournment, six members of the House Democratic caucus announced they would not vote to override a gubernatorial veto of the FY24 budget unless there was funding for a transition strategy from the motel voucher program to a replenished supply of permanent housing.
This takes real guts. They’re taking a public stand in opposition to Legislative leadership, which has been 100% committed to ending the voucher program by the end of June despite the fact that two thousand-plus Vermonters would be kicked out on the streets. The budget has sailed through the House and Senate, and is now before a conference committee tasked with crafting a consensus spending plan.
And now comes a squadron from the Rebel Alliance with Rep. Mari Cordes playing the part of Luke Skywalker, determined to drop a proton torpedo down the hatch of the budgetary Death Star. It’s inspiring, but it also leaves me wondering why it took this long.
I can’t explain why it didn’t happen sooner, but I have a very good idea why it’s happening now. Former gubernatorial candidate Brenda Siegel has been traveling around the state gathering personal accounts from motel residents about how the program is helping them keep body and soul together and move toward sustainable lives. Those accounts have been entered into legislative testimony, and have formed the basis for some damning news coverage by our biggest news outlets
Siegel put a human face, or should I say hundreds of human faces, on the issue. It became increasingly difficult for lawmakers to ignore the situation. Within a few days, the Rebel Alliance struck. The timing suggests that Siegel’s work turned the tide.
I don’t know if they’ll succeed, but they’ve got a ton of leverage. Six votes is a lot to lose in an override fight, and it’s likely that more will sign on. The Progressive caucus, after being eerily silent about the issue throughout the session, finally issued a statement on Friday, May 5 that they “cannot support a budget that will cause a humanitarian crisis in our state.”
That caucus includes people who were directly involved in devising the housing section of the House budget — which would have allowed the voucher program to expire this summer. They included Prog/Dem Reps. Taylor Small and Elizabeth Burrows and former Progressive caucus chair Robin Chesnut-Tangerman, who now sits as a Democratic lawmaker.
Small is now promising to block any budget that doesn’t include an effective transition plan to keep people housed. What she thought she was doing before — when she described the voucher-free housing budget as “all-encompassing” — I have no idea.
Many other lawmakers are now asking pointed questions. At a May 5 hearing, House General got a statistical rundown of exactly how dire the situation promises to be, and many lawmakers expressed dismay and were desperately seeking solutions. Which, again, housing advocates have presented solid, practical, proven plans that wouldn’t break the bank. Hopefully, lawmakers will pay them some attention.
It should be an interesting next few days, politically speaking. Real world speaking, voucher clients will be holding their breath and praying for a last-ditch solution that will prevent a mass eviction in good old liberal old Vermont.
Proton torpedos were launched from the Starship Enterprise by Capt. Kirk and Mr. Sulu, not Luke’s ship. But given the gravity of this issue, you are forgiven!!!!
Sorry, Kevin, you’re wrong. The Enterprise carried PHOTON torpedoes. Proton torpedoes were a Star Wars thing. But the confusion is understandable.