We’re two weeks away from the unhousing of more than 1,000 Vermonters when tighter eligibility standards take effect on the motel voucher program, and six weeks away from unhousing another 1,500 or so. On Monday night, the Burlington City Council considered a resolution to study the city’s existing camping policy. In the end, they approved a watered-down version.
Of a study.
Of an issue that’s about to become a humanitarian crisis.
And on that textbook definition of legislative timidity, they barely managed to act.
The blame goes to the nominal Democratic majority. They feared the resolution might send a message that more city lands could be open to encampments of the unhoused.
Do I need to make that clearer? They were more concerned about a perception than they were about preparing for an explosion of homelessness.
It’s just the latest chapter in the Democrats’ complete mishandling of the voucher program and their seeming obliviousness to the scale of tragedy that’s about to unfold.
In fairness to legislative Democrats, at least for a moment, they did accomplish quite a lot this session. They went much farther than they have before in standing up to Gov. Phil Scott and daring him to [obligatory journalism phrase] wield his veto pen over and over again. In that sense, they lived up to the promise made to voters that, if given a bigger supermajority, they would enact a progressive agenda over the governor’s objections.
Too bad they pulled up short on the most urgent humanitarian imperative of 2023. And too bad that their many legitimate accomplishments will be overshadowed by their willingness to unshelter some 2,500 Vermonters.
It’s as though they got a custom-tailored tuxedo and got all spiffed up and then, just as they were heading out the door, they shit their pants.
And then went to the prom anyway, thinking that no one would notice the stink and the stain.
But wait, this post was supposed to be “in fairness to legislative Democrats.” Okay, then. Let’s look at what they accomplished.
The timing was juuuuust a bit unfortunate. Unseemly, you might say.
At the same hour that the House Democratic caucus was shooting down a last-ditch effort to restore the motel voucher program to the new state budget, the Vermont Democratic Party was celebrating itself at the annual Curtis-Hoff Awards event.
Celebrating itself as a beacon of “hope.”
Not for the 2,500-plus Vermonters about to be unhoused thanks to Democratic officeholders who couldn’t be bothered to find the money to keep the program going. Forgive those voucher clients for failing to appreciate the “better and brighter Vermont” that cannot make provision for its most vulnerable.
The contrast is sickening. What happened under the Golden Dome was an absolute betrayal of the values celebrated at Curtis-Hoff. For shame, Vermont Democratic Party.
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.
The House and Senate steamed ahead with their motel voucher-free budget, but they fell critically short at the very last hurdle. Thanks to a group of Democrats and Progressives unwilling to evict thousands of Vermonters because “it’s time” or “we just couldn’t find the money,” the House came short of the margin needed to override a gubernatorial veto.
The final tally: 90 votes for the budget, 53 against. House leadership will have to persuade at least three members to abandon their principled stand in order to win an override vote. And Gov. Phil Scott appears bound and determined to deliver a veto.
Update! The official roll call shows that 17 Democratic/Progressive lawmakers voted “No” on the budget. That means leadership will have to flip at least six votes to override a veto, not three. Working on a fresh post about this.
So what happens now? The Legislature is adjourned until June 20, when a three-day override session is scheduled. If Scott does veto the budget, leadership will face a choice: Convince three or more dissidents to join the Dark Side, or craft a compromise on housing that will meet their demands. Looming ahead of it all: The requirement that the state must have a budget in place when the new fiscal year begins on July 1.
One big fly in the ointment: Nearly half of the 1,800 households in the motel voucher program will have already been evicted by then. The program’s eligibility standards tighten at the end of this month, so a last-ditch fight to save the program will come too late for more than 1,000 people facing unsheltered homelessness in less than three weeks.
This was the happy scene yesterday as Senate Appropriations Committee chair Jane Kitchel peremptorily ended discussion on the housing portion of the FY2024 budget, which makes no provision for extending the motel voucher program that currently shelters 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. Kitchel herself seems excited; the rest of them look like they’d rather be anywhere else.
This morning saw a much more celebratory occasion, as the House quickly dispatched Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of S.5, the Affordable Heat Act. And much as I hate to rain on the majority Democrats’ victory parade, I have to wonder why they couldn’t spare just a tiny bit of their abundant political capital to avoid the imminently avoidable humanitarian crisis that will unfold if the voucher program ends on schedule.
The 107-42 override vote in the House was an impressive display of political power. The Democrats easily walked over a governor who, at last check, enjoyed a 78% approval rating among the voters.
And yet, on the voucher issue, legislative Democrats made common cause with the Scott administration and threw 1,800 of our most vulnerable households under the bus. It’s a point of comparison that cannot be ignored.
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.
Hey, remember that group of six lawmakers who said they wouldn’t support a veto override on any FY24 budget that didn’t provide funding for the motel voucher program and a transition to more permanent housing?
Well, their number has grown to 32, which is far more than enough to doom any override vote. And they seem determined. In a memo released today, they laid out the parameters of an acceptable plan, and it’s a solid piece of work.
CORRECTION. 32, now 33, have signed on to the memo. All agree on the plan, but most have NOT promised to block a veto override. This will all depend on what comes out of budget negotiations.
Their plan would include 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.
UPDATE.The House-Senate conference committee has reaffirmed its commitment to end the voucher program in a quick and discussion-free session. It was condescension at its finest. What’s worse is just as this was happening, I got a fundraising text from the Vermont Democratic Party asking me to help them fight “Phil Scott and extremist Republicans.” Well, I’m sorry, but on the voucher issue, the Democrats are not one whit better than the governor. In fact, the committee made it clear that they’d worked with the administration — not with housing advocates — on finalizing its housing budget plan. So remind me again, if I give to the VDP, what exactly can I expect to get?
The memo is attached below. In addition to the 30 signatories, Reps. Noah Lyman and Peter Anthony are also on board. The budget conference committee is meeting this afternoon and is likely to consider its own housing plan. We’ll see whether it fulfills the conditions laid out by the Rebel Alliance.
As the Legislature steams toward adjournment in, what, 48 hours from now?, efforts continue to find a way of solving the homelessness crisis staring us in the face. Or at least a face-saving way of putting a Band-Aid on that brain tumor.
There may have been an outcome by the time you read this. The House-Senate conference committee on the FY2024 budget has held multiple meetings this week. Each time they’ve skipped over the housing issue; at the close of yesterday’s meeting, Senate Appropriations chair Jane Kitchel alluded to negotiations on an unspecified issue holding up the completion of the compromise budget. One has to assume she’s talking about housing. It’s the only issue that’s sparked a last-ditch revolt by lawmakers who’d rather not be responsible for mass evictions from the motel voucher program. At least, they’d rather not be perceived as responsible.
But no matter which way this goes, it’s already a policymaking failure of epic proportions. We’re approaching mid-May. Eligibility standards for the voucher program will tighten in three weeks, and the program will virtually disappear one month after that. Decisions should have been made long ago. If the budget includes reasonable funding for vouchers, there will be a mad scramble to implement the extension. If it doesn’t, well, it’s all hands on deck, five alarm fire, Defcon One, and the little dog saying “It’s Fine” in the middle of a conflagration.
After months of dire warnings from housing advocates, after several weeks of repeated posts on This Here Blog (starting on March 26), a handful of lawmakers has finally stood up and taken notice.
With a single week left until scheduled adjournment, six members of the House Democratic caucus announced they would not vote to override a gubernatorial veto of the FY24 budget unless there was funding for a transition strategy from the motel voucher program to a replenished supply of permanent housing.
This takes real guts. They’re taking a public stand in opposition to Legislative leadership, which has been 100% committed to ending the voucher program by the end of June despite the fact that two thousand-plus Vermonters would be kicked out on the streets. The budget has sailed through the House and Senate, and is now before a conference committee tasked with crafting a consensus spending plan.
And now comes a squadron from the Rebel Alliance with Rep. Mari Cordes playing the part of Luke Skywalker, determined to drop a proton torpedo down the hatch of the budgetary Death Star. It’s inspiring, but it also leaves me wondering why it took this long.