The Empire Strikes Back

Apologies for the mixed metaphors, but I’m so mad I can’t write straight.

The House-Senate budget conference committee has yet again refused to extend the motel voucher program that’s currently sheltering 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. In so doing, they ignored the pleadings of a small group of determined small- and capital-P progressives who say they won’t vote to override a gubernatorial veto of any budget that fails to address our crisis of homelessness.

And in so doing, they worked hand-in-glove with the Scott administration. I can say so because conference committee member and, God help us all, chair of the House Human Services Committee, Theresa Wood, said so: “This has been a collaborative process with the Agency of Human Services and the governor’s office.”

Great. No collaboration with housing advocates, then? No contact with the lawmakers threatening to withhold support for a budget plan that manages to combine the cruelty of Ebenezer Scrooge with the unctuousness of Uriah Heep? Nope, they confined themselves to working with an administration that has been adamant about its intent to kill the voucher program and damn the consequences.

And at almost the precise moment when this “collaborative process” came to fruition in the discussion-free approval of the new housing budget, I got a fundraising text from Vermont Democratic Party chair David Glidden urging me to support their fight against “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans [who] ae determined to sabotage us at every turn.”

Well, at every turn except when the Democrats eagerly collaborate with “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans.” If I harbored any notion of opening up my wallet to the VDP, it vanished instantly. I hope anyone else who was thinking about a donation will instead make a gift to their local homeless shelter. Fuck the Democrats.

Rep. Wood’s presentation was, I think, meant to calm the passions. But what emerged from her mouth was another display of ham-fisted condescension and tone-deaf whistling past the graveyard.

She began by enumerating all the wonderful ways the budget will address housing issues. She offered a total figure of $220 million “on this journey in the next year in direct housing and in supportive services.” In emitting this listicle, Wood was trying to obscure the fact that nothing more would be offered to the 1,800 households currently living in motels.

Well, there was a token offering of new money: $10 million for unspecified support services, which was essentially a bone tossed to all the people who work at shelters and helping charities, who are already overwhelmed and will be hit by a fresh tidal wave of demand if the voucher program expires. There was also $2.5 million for the Housing Opportunities Program, which is a fine program but two and a half mill is like bailing a boat with a thimble.

That’s it.

Wood contended, as usual, that there simply was no more money to be had. “The continuation of the motel-hotel program for any amount of time takes resources away from permanent solutions,” she said, repeating the absurd claim that it’s impossible — in a state with a $200 million surplus heading into the new fiscal year — to allocate any additional money to the housing pot.

The dissident lawmakers had issued a memo earlier in the day, reproduced in my previous blogpost, which included a comprehensive and quite affordable plan:

…a $32 million appropriation to keep the voucher program going, mandate a transition plan to move people steadily from motels to longer-term housing, instruct the Scott administration to negotiate lower rates for the vouchers (something they should have done long ago), expand the list of “vulnerable populations” eligible for vouchers, and expand the Adverse Weather Conditions policy beyond wintertime to include late fall and early spring.

I’m sorry, but if they can’t find $32 million to prevent a humanitarian crisis, then they’re not fit to write a budget or hold public office as Democrats, for that matter. Truth is, they just don’t want to. At this point I think it’s become a point of pride; if they gave in to the pressure now, they’d effectively be admitting they were wrong.

We can’t let that happen to Jane Kitchel and company, can we? Far better to just let the homeless go hang.

There is still hope. It’s likely that none of the override-withholders will have been convinced by this nonsense. And I have to think that more lawmakers will join them. It wouldn’t take very many to render an override impossible. If we proceed down this path and the governor vetoes the FY24 budget, and majority Democrats hold their override session on schedule in late June, they’ll be playing a high-stakes game of chicken with a bit more than a week left before the beginning of the fiscal year, by which time the state is legally mandated to have a balanced budget in place.

But hey, again, small price to pay to preserve the sensitive egos of Kitchel and friends.

This is madness. I continue to be baffled by the politics of it all. What do the Democrats think they are gaining? If the voucher program ends and 2,500 or so Vermonters are left to fend for themselves, this is going to overshadow the other issues the Dems have worked so hard to advance. This will be the story of the summer, far more than the Affordable Heat Act or the expanded bottle bill or the outlawing of militia camps.

This was supposed to be the Democrats’ victory lap. Buoyed by their newly-expanded supermajorities, they were poised to run roughshod over the governor and enact meaningful legislation on an array of issues. Are they willing to risk having it all fall apart because they needlessly shortchanged Vermont’s most vulnerable?


7 thoughts on “The Empire Strikes Back

    1. P.

      To be clear and a reply to Fubar, I have never and will never vote republican. If my only choice is a republican candidate I feel writing “none of the above” is a legitimate effort & protest. Voting for a group of crazed amoral blankity blanks who would throw a party to celebrate 2000 newly homeless is the worse of two evils. It will not improve anything.
      What I will do in the future is become a single issue voter. Play games with people having a roof over their head and I help your next primary opponent. If its you versus a republican candidate “None of the above”.
      With Democrats like this who needs republicans?

  1. P.

    “I’m sorry, but if they can’t find $32 million to prevent a humanitarian crisis, then they’re not fit to write a budget or hold public office as Democrats, for that matter. Truth is, they just don’t want to”
    You have nothing to be sorry about, you are speaking the truth. Again thank you for your efforts.
    “They just don’t want to” That is the summation of these people and the Scott administration. Shitty people make shitty politicians.
    Unfortunately, far too many Vermonters don’t care either. Either they working crazy hours to survive or it’s “Fuck you, I got mine”, so I am not hopeful about public input.
    Thank the gods for the 33 signees. Them I will support as best I can.

  2. Zim

    Fuck the Dems? If it’s taken you this long to fig out the game, shame on you. It’s not like there isn’t mountains of shit out there about the mendacity and duplicity – if not outright evil – of your class peers. Where the hell have you been for the last fucking 30 years.

    If I was a betting man, I’d bet the next election cycle you’ll be back out sheep dogging for the party….you know…the old good cop/bad cop routine of gringo politics. I mean, who else’s ass are libs/progressives going to lick.

  3. Peter Kelman

    What do you do with a super majority? Throw people out on the streets—families with children; people in recovery; people suffering from a range of mental illnesses; people with illnesses who need to refrigerate their medications or electricity to run their CPAP machines; people with disabilities; seniors who are too old to be sleeping in tents and too poor to afford to pay for a motel; oh and by the way, there are NO apartments available for people to use their Section 8 vouchers.

  4. Fubarvt

    “To be clear and a reply to Fubar, I have never and will never vote republican. ”

    Thanks, P. In my fifty or so years of voting, I have not voted for a republican once and I never will either. Yet, after this with the vouchers, I just cannot vote for the dems anymore. Year-after-year, they just sell out to the dollar and leave us to keep getting screwed harder and harder. I do have some hope with what John called the “Rebel Alliance.” I hadn’t thought of your strategy, though, and maybe I’ll give it a try.


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