The black sheep of Vermont’s journalism family, Vermont Watchdog, took a short break from its incessant anti-renewable campaign and pooped out a single-source article alleging that Vermont is a fiscal disaster.
A new report from a government accounting watchdog group finds that Vermont has a debt of $3.9 billion, despite claims of having a balanced budget.
The Financial State of the States 2015 report, released this month by Chicago-based Truth in Accounting, debunks the myth that states balance their budgets.
Okay, first of all, any “accounting” group that doesn’t know the difference between a balanced budget and long-term indebtedness ought to be drummed out of the bean-counter fraternity. Every large entity, government or private sector, carries a certain amount of debt on its books. Routine.
So, who are these incompetent clowns at “Truth in Accounting”?
The new law is know as Act 86, and it requires the Vermont Department of Health to start public outreach within one hour of finding out about a bloom of blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria.
Great idea, right?
Here’s the problem: there’s no mechanism to conduct real-time tracking of algae blooms. The Legislature passed a shiny new PR-friendly law — “Look, we’re doing something to ensure your safety!” — but did nothing about turning its good intention into reality. The monitoring effort is entirely in the hands of volunteers, and there’s a huge amount of ground to cover.
Way back in January 2013, when the earth was young and Peter Shumlin was still popular, the Governor unveiled two online transparency portals aimed “to open access to a litany of information about state government finances and life in the Green Mountains.”
Spotlight provided information on how state funds were being spent. Dashboard offered updates on the progress of Shumlin’s policy initiatives. Shumlin was particularly proud of Dashboard.
“We compiled a list of statistics that’ll show progress, if we’re making progress, or sliding backwards, on issues from crime to school graduation rates,” Shumlin said, referring to the “Governor’s Dashboard” site.
Spotlight is still there. Dashboard, however, appears to have been taken out back and shot.
Sorry to do this to you first thing in the morning, but it’s time for a reading and math comprehension test!
Take a look at this table, and see if any numbers jump out at you.
The abbreviations in the first column are for three departments in state government: Human Resources, Information & Innovation, and Finance & Management. And the answer, or at least the answer I’m looking for, is on the DHR line.
The Department of Human Resources has 25 supervisors and 82 classified employees. That’s a rather stunning ratio of one supervisor for every 3.28 supervisees.
There is no absolute ideal ratio; it depends on many factors. But rarely, if ever, is 1:3 a reasonable figure.
There may be perfectly good explanations for DHR’s ratio. But to the outside eye, it looks like featherbedding.
This table comes to us courtesy of State Auditor Doug Hoffer. It’s included in his latest performance audit, which exposes a dismaying case of administrative sloppiness in state government. In those three departments, administrators routinely failed to conduct annual performance reviews with their staff.
The readership of this blog has been growing rapidly of late. Part of the new crowd, to judge from the Comments and my Twitter feed, is comprised of conservatives who apparently read this stuff as a form of aerobic exercise: Stimulate the heart rate through aggravation.
One brave Tweeter recently responded to my disparaging comments about Phil Scott’s letter touting “concerning reports,” anonymous, that the Shumlin administration was trying to shoehorn political job-holders into regular state positions.
Scott has kept quiet about the letter ever since, so methinks he realized he had no evidence beyond, according to his office, one single inside source.
(Either that, or somebody told him to STFU because Jim Douglas did exactly that during his exit from office.)
This Tweeter referred to a report on Vermont Watchdog about the allegations, and cited it as the kind of quality journalism that I’d failed to produce.
Well, as you already know, Watchdog is a place where they spell “quality” with a “K”, but I thought I’d better take a look at the article.
In the best political tradition of “ready/fire/aim,” Phil Scott and friends sent out a letter this week accusing the Shumlin administration of playing politics with state jobs. Specifically, of shifting political appointees into permanent state positions. It’s a way to reward your loyalists and extend your influence into putatively non-political areas of government.
The letter was addressed to Human Resources Commissioner Maribeth Spellman, but it was released to the media on the same day it was written. (A sure sign of political motivation.) The letter cites “concerning reports” that the administration is either reclassifying exempt (political) positions into classified (nonpolitical) ones, or creating new classified positions that political appointees could slide into.
It would be a minor scandal if true. Unfortunately, Scott has no concrete evidence, no published reports, and not a single example.
I reached out to Rachel Feldman, Scott’s chief of staff, in search of documentation. This is all I got:
The information comes from a reliable whistleblower within State government.
Don’t ever accuse the VTGOP of not being generous. They’ve apparently gifted Auditor Doug Hoffer with a new toy to play with a “serious” challenger for his post. I haven’t seen a news release or anything; all I’ve seen is this Tweet from VTGOP Executive Director Jeff Bartley.