Category Archives: Health care reform

Hey kids! It’s time for Uncle Phil’s Funny Math!!!

So far, our political media has seen fit to abdicate its responsibility to fact-check the gubernatorial campaign. Instead, it has simply reported without comment the cornucopia of questionable numbers endlessly repeated by Phil Scott.

I do give ‘em credit for reporting Scott’s frequent non-answers and failures to give specifics on his own damn policy proposals. But they need to go farther. Especially since the Scott campaign has apparently decided not to respond to my own inquiries for substantiation.

Some of Scott’s figgers need a better man than I to assess, me not being a budget expert. But others are so transparently phony that even a muggle like me can see through them.

In this post, I’ll sometimes stand on the shoulders of Vermont’s number-one budget expert, Private Citizen* Doug Hoffer. In the absence of any oversight by the media, Hoffer has begun a projected series of essays examining Phil Scott’s favorite numbers.

*He’s also State Auditor, but he’s writing these pieces outside the auspices of his elected position.

First, let’s take Phil Scott’s constant claim that taxes and fees have risen by $700 million during the past six years of Democratic governance. Team Scott has failed to provide any documentation, but there is a little something in his economic plan.

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On journalism and blogging

If you’re not following me on Twitter, you missed a downright Pharisaical disputation about journalism and blogging and bias, and what exactly it is that I do.

My end of the argument has been severely restricted by Twitter’s character limit, so I thought I’d address the question in greater length here.

The critics are, quelle surprise, Phil Scott fans. In fact, the most persistent was Hayden Dublois, a nice young man who’s a paid staffer on the Scott campaign.

His complaint, echoed by others, is that I’ve been unfair to Scott because I’ve frequently criticized him while never scrutinizing Sue Minter.

Which is, as a matter of fact, not true. I was sharply critical of her campaign in its first several months; I thought she was getting left in the dust by Matt Dunne. I’ve criticized her for too often following Dunne’s lead and for failing to articulate differences between herself and the Shumlin administration. I criticized her performance in the post-primary debate for missing opportunities to confront Scott and for appearing overly programmed.

It is accurate, however, to say that I’ve been far more critical of Phil Scott. So, why is that?

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The race for governor will offer a stark contrast

This year’s election will trigger a turnover at the top perhaps unprecedented in Vermont history. A new governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, and new heads of the House and Senate will all be in place by next January. And heading into the campaign, Vermont’s two major parties are offering completely different visions of the state of our state and the mood of its people.

Republicans see Vermonters as tired of high taxes, government intrusion, and the restless reformism (as they see it) of the Shumlin administration.

You’d expect Democrats to be treading cautiously. They are in the tightrope position of simultaneously defending their tenure in power, and crafting a distinctive profile going forward. Not to mention its persistently strong incrementalist tendencies.

However. Driven by Bernie Sanders’ overwhelming success in our primary, the party is moving leftward. There is a sense that Vermonters are ready for even more decisive change, even more government, a more aggressive push to lift up the downtrodden and blunt the sharp edges of capitalism.

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A bad session for Shumlin, but all was not lost

The media postmortems on Legislature ’16 are rolling in, and they’re not kind to Governor Shumlin.

The Burlington Free Press’ Sunday front page has a big ol’ photo of the Guv looking nonplussed, the bright lights showcasing the furrows on his brow, with a headline reading “BIG REQUESTS FALL SHORT.” The story emphasizes his pushes for legalized marijuana and divestment from some fossil fuel stocks, which both fell short.

Over at VTDigger, the headline slyly referred to Shumlin’s legislative accomplishments as “nothing burgers,” a phrase destined for his headstone. The story, by ol’ buddy Mark Johnson, was just shy of devastating.

While the governor touted numerous accomplishments in his final late-night adjournment address — and some lawmakers did too — many who serve in the Legislature saw something different this session: a once powerful chief executive weakened by a close election, who lost support on the left when he dropped plans for a single-payer health care system, was hurt by ongoing problems with the health care exchange and then saw any remaining leverage dissipate when he announced last year that he would not seek re-election.

Indeed, Shumlin’s 2016 agenda was largely jettisoned by lawmakers. But there is another way to look at the just-concluded session. It accomplished quite a few things that went almost unnoticed in Vermont, but would have been big news almost anywhere else.

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Shoot the Messenger

As its final months drag onward, the Shumlin administration is remaining true to one of its core principles: Shoot the messenger. We have two prime examples of this time-tested strategery today: a top state official slams a respected media outlet, a move that has backfired big-time in the past; and the administration puts a big fat price tag on transparency.

First, Lawrence Miller, Vermont Health Connect czar, has beef with VTDigger.

[Miller] testified Wednesday in the House and challenged the veracity of a VTDigger story that said the state has been unhappy with its current Vermont Health Connect contractor and is negotiating with another company.

… [Miller said] that any frustration he expressed in emails was a normal part of negotiations.

Digger’s earlier story had quoted emails from a state official expressing dissatisfaction with VHC contractor Optum. Which would be noteworthy, since Optum was supposedly the savior of Vermont Health Connect. Miller pooh-poohed the story’s assertion, saying that a certain amount of “friction” is a normal part of the process.

Maybe that’s true, but here’s the problem. This is the same “Lawrence Miller” who was in charge of the Agency for Commerce and Community Development when it was happily attempting to both promote and regulate the ill-fated EB-5 program. He headed ACCD from 2011 to 2014, when he was tasked with cleaning up the Vermont Health Connect mess.

In other words, Miller has been hip-deep in two of the Shumlin administration’s signature disasters. Is it possible he negotiated Shumlin’s original land deal with jerry Dodge?

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I gotta say, sometimes it’s just nice to live in Vermont

I have often been critical of Vermonters’ exaggerated perception of their own inherent virtue. We’re far from perfect on race relations; there are subtle forms of sexism here that I haven’t seen elsewhere; and, of course, our vaunted reputation for environmentalism is largely due to forces out of our control: small population, not much industry, and lack of exploitable resources. Based on how we’ve handled Lake Champlain, or the damage done when we HAVE had the opportunity to do so (the Elizabeth Mine, the PFOA contamination around Bennington), I contend that if there was a lot of coal under the Green Mountains, we’d be West Virginia North.

But while I contend that Vermont isn’t as special as we think it is, I readily acknowledge that it definitely has its virtues. We have two examples from recent headlines, where other states are pursuing destructive, hateful paths while we quietly handle our business in a positive manner.

Example #1: the Vermont House passes — with broad bipartisan tripartisan support — a bill that would guarantee women’s access to contraception even if that section of Obamacare is repealed.

Example #2: The Agency of Education issues guidelines for supporting transgender and gender-nonconforming students.

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The Property Tax Rebellion Has Been Postponed Indefinitely

It’s common knowledge that the people of Vermont are mad as hell over the high cost of public schools. And even angrier over the Legislature’s attempt to fix the problem. The situation was so dire that Governor Shumlin and Democratic leaders rushed through a fix to Act 46’s perceived unpopularities at the start of this year’s session.

Then came The VPR Poll, which showed an astounding lack of engagement with the issue. Here’s how I wrote it up:

As for Act 46, the school governance bill seemingly reviled by all — from conservatives who want tougher spending controls, to liberals who want no restrictions — most people are, well, ehh. Only 13 percent are “very familiar” with Act 46; 44 percent are “somewhat familiar”; and a whopping 42 percent are “not at all familiar.”

… Also, despite the Act 46 uproar, a solid 51 percent support Vermont’s efforts to encourage school consolidation. An underwhelming 29 percent oppose. 20 percent say “it depends” or “no opinion.”

One week later came Town Meeting Day, and the results add more credence to the poll. Josh O’Gorman of the Vermont Press Bureau totted up the numbers, and the conclusion may surprise you.

Around the state, voters approved 95 percent of school spending plans, and approved five merger plans by wide margins, according to unofficial data from the Vermont Superintendents Association.

All told, voters approved 231 of the 242 budgets offered Tuesday, creating a three-year trend that has seen fewer budgets defeated each year.

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