Ah, supply-side economics. That oft-discredited relic of the Reagan administration. The failed policy that has done more to create income inequality than anything Sam Walton could dream up. You’d think that if anybody still believed in it, the Sam Brownback crash-and-burn would have convinced them otherwise.
But here we are in the Year of Our Lord 2022, and somebody from the “moderate” Phil Scott administration has the gall to trumpet a policy as “supply-side.” Yikes.
“This is a supply-side proposal to build more homes, literally to subsidize contractors, home developers and builders to build more homes at the price point that working Vermonters can afford,” [Housing Commissioner Josh] Hanford said.
That quote, which didn’t age well from the moment it left Hanford’s mouth, is about Gov. Scott’s proposal to spend $5 million on a pilot program to pay contractors to rehabilitate decrepit housing stock.
At his Tuesday Covid briefing, Gov. Phil Scott was either lying or uninformed when he answered a question about the hotel/motel emergency housing program. Neither is a particularly good look.
Scott was asked about a claim by homeless advocates that the state has more money for emergency housing but isn’t using it. Meanwhile, they say, some people are being turned away. “I just don’t believe that that’s the case,” Scott replied. “We do have a program. We are taking care of those in need… We are protecting those who need our help.”
Sounds good. But a few moments later, Human Services Secretary Mike Smith undercut those bland assurances. Smith was asked about expanded access to emergency housing when the weather gets cold.
“it’s gonna be limited because we still are housing 1500 people,” Smith replied. “The Issue is the availability of hotel and motel rooms as we move forward. We are scouring the state right now for buildings we could use as temporary shelter sites for those individuals.”
And then the kicker:
We’re turning away some people, unfortunately, that do qualify under existing program because we don’t have the hotel and motel space that we would like.
Well now. Scott says we’re helping all those in need. Smith says we’re already turning people away, and that could get worse when cold weather increases demand.
Way, way back in January 2015, I proposed an addition to then-governor Peter Shumlin’s executive team: the post of Shitkicker-In-Chief. “The duties would include pointing out the flaws in administration reasoning, deflating egos when necessary, and the occasional loud guffaw,” I wrote.
Despite his brush with electoral disgrace in the 2014 election, Shummy quickly reverted to the kinds of bad habits that helped derail his once-promising administration: “One of his worst is his almost-complete inability to admit that he was wrong about something — even if it’s something trivial. It makes him appear small-minded, overly defensive, duplicitous, and condescending.”
Gee, that sounds a hell of a lot like his successor, doesn’t it? Phil Scott, the former Nice Guy, is now prone to dismiss any questioning of his Covid policy, make demeaning remarks about those who disagree with him, and make transparently false statements. (His latest: his contention that he hasn’t changed his position on emergency housing when, in fact, he’s shifted considerably from his former demand that the program be ended by a date certain.)
So, it’s time for Scott to hire a shitkicker. He needs someone willing to tell him inconvenient truths such as “You’re wrong” or “That’s stupid” or “Bullshit, Mr. Governor.”
“It hasn’t changed my thinking,” said Gov. Phil Scott at his Tuesday briefing. The subject was the state’s emergency housing program. Immediately after he said that, he went on to make it pretty dang clear that his thinking has changed and is continuing to change.
For that, a lot of credit goes to the intrepid band of advocates (including Tweeters-In-Chief Josh Lisenby and Brenda Siegel) camped out on the portico of the Statehouse. The needle has definitely moved since their protest began almost three weeks ago. The conversation has shifted from “We need to end the program soon” to “We’ll keep it running a while longer” to “We want to avoid throwing anyone out on the street, if only because the optics would be bad.”
(That last bit is the quiet part out loud.)
This isn’t enough for the advocates, who continue their stakeout. But it’s substantial movement nonetheless.
At this point, Scott doesn’t really have a position. Until now, he was dead set on ending the program at a date certain. The date kept shifting backwards, but there was always an end in sight. Now, it’s not clear that there is. The governor sure avoided any talk of a deadline at the Tuesday presser.
Note: Second item has a significant update. Press WILL be admitted to Winooski/Enosburg soccer game.
Oh, you thought you were done with this, did you? Yeah, my awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sector have been on sabbatical lately — it’s been harder to see the funny this fall, mostly due to the ongoing pandemic. But here we are again! On the docket: Noblesse oblige at the homelessness protest, barring the media from a soccer match, an especially stupid Covid rationalization from Team Scott, and Bennington Justice rears its ugly head.
We have multiple awardees for the It Was Quite Literally The Least We Could Do Award. The recipients include Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Brenda Siegel and Josh Lisenby, advocates for restoring the full emergency housing program, held what VTDigger helpfully called “a small rally” on Monday at the site of their Statehouse protest/campout. Apparently Siegel and Lisenby have cooties or something, because neither Krowinski nor Ballnt attended in person and Scott continues to resist meeting with them.
The Speaker and Pro Tem did issue a statement for Siegel to read, in which they endorsed full restoration of the program. Which is interesting since, as the governor points out on every occasion, they agreed to the springtime deal restricting the program. Nice of them to belatedly come down on the side of compassion. And while Scott could really use a spark of humanity, he refuses to meet with the advocates. But hey, as VTDigger put it, “they were granted an interview on Monday with Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.” Wow. “Granted an interview.” How noblesse oblige of them.
Brown reportedly said the administration would consider reopening the full program when/if (climate change, y’know) the weather gets really cold. Which tells you the administration sees this first and foremost as a PR problem. They want to be as stingy as possible, but they could do without pictures of freezing protesters or homeless people with hypothermia.
What a stouthearted guy. What a champion of principle.
What a fraud.
All it took was a few days of bad publicity to induce Gov. Phil Scott to execute a complete 180 on the state’s emergency housing program. After days of resolute insistence that the program had to expire as scheduled this Friday, he turned tail and ran — announcing in a written statement (courage!) that he will allow the program to continue until the end of this year. Between now and then, the federal government picks up the entirety of the tab. Which meant that his now-inoperative stubbornness on ending the program was nothing but a bit of fluff, a purely political stance, since ending the program now wouldn’t have saved the state a dime.
And really, the year-end deadline is equally meaningless since, as VTDigger reported, the Legislature has already apportioned $36 million in federal Covid relief money to keep the program running indefinitely into the new year.
It’s not often that Scott gets caught in a purely political act. But that’s exactly what this is. There can be no valor, no respect, in this abject retreat.
And this is the second time he’s pulled this maneuver. He did the same in September: Insisting on an end to the program only to capitulate when things got a little hot.
The real shame is that it would have been simple for him to retake the high ground.
Is this the worst moment in Gov. Phil Scott’s nearly five years in office? I’d have to say yes. Now, there haven’t been that many bad moments. Maybe the time he vetoed not one but two state budgets and nearly triggered a government shutdown. But that turned out to be a blip on the radar.
This? This could be the first time he suffers real political damage. He’s taking simultaneous hits on three fronts: The continuing Covid surge, his administration’s erratic Covid policy in the schools, and yet another retreat on the emergency housing program. In all three cases, he looks less like a compassionate moderate and more like a stubborn conservative.
I’m not saying he’s vulnerable in 2022. He isn’t yet, but the bloom is coming off the rose.
He’s had to abandon his optimism on the Delta variant and admit he doesn’t know what’s happening. Our seven-day rolling average of new cases is still near record highs, and hospitalizations, deaths, and test positivity rate are all distressingly high. Still, Scott continues to signal no change in policy. The longer he does so, the more embarrassing his inevitable comedown will be. Unless he gets lucky and the Delta variant goes away.
The school situation is not getting better anytime soon. The “test to stay” program is still being rolled out more than six weeks into the school year. The administration has touted the program’s success in Massachusetts, but there’s a big difference. In Massachusetts, the program was implemented in late July. There was time for planning and adjustment before the doors opened to students. Up here, Education Secretary Dan French is like an auto mechanic working on a car while it’s being driven.
Actually, since he hasn’t offered any resources to schools, it’s more like he’s in the passenger seat telling the driver to work on the engine while the car is in motion.
When last we met, I castigated Gov. Phil Scott for his needlessly cruel posture on the emergency housing program, which he insists on shutting down next Friday when it won’t save the state a damn dime.
This time I’d like to widen the frame, and point out that there ain’t nobody making a public stink about this craven retreat from basic humanity. Well, that’s not entirely true; some people, including tireless advocate and two-time statewide candidate Brenda Siegel, have been bangingthedrum. Otherwise…
Media? An occasional story on VTDigger, and that’s about it. No questions on the subject at Scott’s Tuesday presser.
Legislative leadership? I haven’t heard a peep*. Maybe that’s because they agreed to the original plan to kill the program last spring, so they feel an uneasy sense of complicity. Or maybe it’s because the unhoused aren’t a core constituency.
Update: Two legislative commitees are holding hearings on the program next week. House General Etc. is on Monday morning at 9:00, Statehouse Room 11 or streamed online. The Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules will meet next Thursday at 10:00 in Statehouse Room 24 and streamed online. Hopefully these hearings will prompt some kind of action, and produce some media attention to the issue.
Vermont Democratic Party? Not as far as I can tell. Nothing on its website. The VDP has issued a measly three press releases (according to my inbox) in the last month-plus, and emergency housing was not mentioned at all.
Vermont Progressive Party? You’d think so, but (again, as far as I can tell and I’m open to correction*) no. No press releases, no public statements.
*Correction: I’ve learned that the Progressive Party issued a press release in favor of continuing the emergency housing program in July, when it was first scheduled to end. Since then, Prog lawmakers have continued to speak out in support of the program.
Why the silence? Because we treat the unhoused as if they’re a separate and inferior species, living among us but not really of us. They are The Ignorables.
We are, once again, approaching a deadline to kick hundreds of unhoused people out of their temporary lodgings in hopes that they will (a) find permanent housing in a terribly tight rental market or (b) just go away, please. As of next Friday 10/22, more than 500 households are set to lose their housing. The original deadline was in June, and more than half of those housed in motels were kicked out at that time. State officials agreed to extend it for the neediest clients to September. Then, just before it was to expire, Gov. Phil Scott allowed a 30-day “pause” in terminating the program. He didn’t want to label it an extension because that might seem, I don’t know, too capitulative?
Now we’re waiting to see if another extens — sorry, pause — might be in the works. Meanwhile, anxiety levels must be going through the roof for those hundreds of clients.
But hey, don’t worry; pretty soon they won’t have a roof for their anxiety to go through. See, it all works out.
This is bad and heartless enough. (There’s also an element of blackmail, but more on that later.) But what makes it a moral calamity is that there is no goddamn reason to end this program right now. It’s not costing the state a dime because the feds are paying the freight through the end of this year. Plus, Vermont is swimming in federal Covid relief funds so there’s no excuse for kicking people out onto the street. Or campground, since that’s one resource being offered to the dispossessed.
Remind me again how the governor is devoted to protecting the most vulnerable. Or is that nothing but eyewash?
We’ll get to the regular edition of The Veepies (awarding those who commit acts of stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) in a day or two. But right now, it’s time for A Very Special Veepie that deserves the solo spotlight.
The honoree is none other than Governor Nice Guy Phil Scott, for adding yet another veto to his all-time record. On Friday he vetoed S.79, a bill that would have established a rental housing registry and enforcement of safety standards. That, in and of itself, is sadly par for the course. But his fractured attempts at explaining the veto? That elevates this one into a class of its own.
The governor argued that the bill would “reduce the number of housing options for Vermonters.” Well, that would be true if some rental units would fail a safety inspection and get pulled from the market, right? And that’s kind of exactly why we need a registry and inspections, right? Because the current “system” of relying on town health inspectors clearly isn’t doing the job.
I mean, the Vermont Chamber of freakin’ Commerce supported the bill and was ““surprised and disappointed” at Scott’s veto. How intrusive could it have been?