Objects In Mirror May Be Larger, Or Smaller, Than They Appear

Speaking in purely political terms, last night’s House vote on the FY2024 budget was a truly remarkable thing. The Democratic majority lost a stunning 17 votes from its own Dem/Progressive caucus and came ten votes short of the two-thirds margin needed to override a likely gubernatorial veto.

Those 17 objected to the budget’s lack of funding for the motel voucher program that currently shelters 80% of Vermont’s homeless, and they stood firm under what I’m sure was heavy pressure from caucus leadership. It’s especially noteworthy that so many of the dissidents were new to the Golden Dome. Eight of the 17 are in their first term in office. They’ve only just entered the kingdom and now they’ve pissed off the royal guard.

Breaking down the tally, 90 voted yes, 53 no, six were absent, and the House Speaker doesn’t vote unless needed. Four of the six absentees were Democrats likely to support the caucus (Brownell, Masland, O’Brien, Pearl), and two were Republicans almost certain to vote “No” (Graham, Wilson). That brings us to a hypothetical count of 94 in favor and 55 against, with Krowinski waiting in the wings. If my math is correct, the majority would have to swing five votes to win an override (with Krowinski casting the 100th vote). That’s assuming every single representative is present and voting and that no vacancies will have occurred in the House between now and the override session in late June.

The outcome of the vote means that caucus leadership will either have to negotiate with the dissidents on a budget amendment or convince at least five to rejoin the Dark Side.

That’s the good news, and it’s far from inconsequential. The bad news? More than 800 households will be evicted from their motel rooms at the end of this month. Nothing can change that now, barring a divine or gubernatorial intervention. Phase One of a preventable humanitarian crisis is definitely going to happen.

That could change if the dissidents negotiate a full restoration of the voucher program. But that wouldn’t happen until late June at best. By then, those 800-plus households will have been without shelter for a full month.

So, it’s a political victory that can’t erase the real, human impact of last night’s budget vote.

The courage of the 17 should not be overlooked. Here’s a list, with first-term lawmakers indicated by a capital F.

Joe Andriano (F), Michelle Bos-Lun, Melanie Carpenter (F), Conor Casey (F), Brian Cina, Mari Cordes, Caleb Elder, Troy Headrick (F), Saudia LaMont (F), Kate Logan (F), Kate McCann (F), Jubilee McGill (F), Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Barbara Rachelson, Taylor Small, Heather Surprenant, and David Templeman (F).

All of those representatives signed a memo urging extension of the voucher program and a solid transition plan to permanent housing. At least 15 others signed, but still voted in favor of the voucher-free budget. Many of them expressed their disappointment, sadness, even despair, at the mass unhousing their votes would trigger — and still they voted yes. The 15 who bowed to leadership pressure:

Peter Anthony, Angela Arsenault, Mollie Burke, Ela Chapin, Esme Cole, Leonora Dodge, Rey Garofano, Edye Graning, Noah Hyman, Emilie Krasnow, Josie Leavitt, Brian Minier, Monique Priestly, Mary Katherine Stone, and Jonathan Williams.

Now here’s a political question burning a hole in my mind. Conventional wisdom tells us that a chamber’s leadership never holds a vote unless they know the outcome. Presumably Krowinski and her team went into last night knowing they were going to win, but were going to fall substantially short of a supermajority.

So why did they take the vote? In purely practical terms they had no choice; they had to pass a budget bill before they could adjourn. The vote did give them a lot of actionable information; they know exactly how short they are, and they know exactly who to target between now and the override session.

(Assuming the governor does, in fact, veto the thing. Seems like a certainty to me.)

There is a more hopeful interpretation: that leadership is looking for a way out of this mess, and falling short of a supermajority gives them a reason to back down. If the dissidents hold firm, leadership will have no choice but to negotiate some kind of face-saving (and, ahem, crisis-averting) compromise that will keep the voucher program alive while more housing stock is brought online.

This would allow Democratic leadership to look like heroes, whether they deserve to or not. Lest we forget, they could have acted months ago. They knew what would happen if they killed the voucher program, and they barged on ahead. But sure, let’s let them act like heroes — if they do the right thing.

On that point, I’m not optimistic. Housing advocates have been consistently surprised by the majority’s dogged determination to kill the voucher program. They believed that if given the right information, the majority would come around.

Instead, the majority persisted. I wouldn’t bet that they’ve had a secret change of heart.

So here’s what we’ve been reduced to. We have to hope the dissidents stick to their principles and force the majority to adopt a more humane housing budget.

In the meantime, a thousand-plus Vermonters are suddenly staring eviction in the face and the already-overtaxed shelter and assistance staff are facing a huge addition to their workload. Even if the dissidents prevail, a whole lot of ugliness is about to happen. People will be hurt. There will be despair, trauma, and death. All preventable.


4 thoughts on “Objects In Mirror May Be Larger, Or Smaller, Than They Appear

  1. Fubarvt

    Let’s hope that the renegade 17 prevail in their fight, even though it will be too late for so many. They have great conviction and courage, more so than the other 15 who signed on, but ultimately went with the budget. They should be held in utter contempt. Maybe the newly-evicted homeless should camp out on the statehouse lawn or in the unoccupied statehouse.

  2. zim

    “.. stick to their principles”.,…HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. There are no principles to stick to other then pure self-interest in bourgeois politics – where tf have you been.

    While there may be some naïfs amongst the ‘dissidents, they will soon be whipped into place if they want to continue swimming in the Vermont sewer of tax payer largesse. The smart, shrewd and cynical ones will simply horse-trade for some bennies to get back on board.

    Vermont is the clever little state of affluent white supremacy – ‘deporting’ the homeless/poor and stacking the electorate with an influx of liberal white wealth keeps dems in power and control. The nice, white and uptight face of the ‘brave little state’.


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