Tag Archives: Act 46

Weenie Exceptionalism

Ah, Vermont. Hewn of granite and marble. Majestic mountains, vast forests. A stout and hearty people, hardworking and honest. A land of enduring values.

Or…

An incredibly fragile place that could be knocked out of kilter by the gentlest breeze. A state whose very future might be imperiled by the slightest misstep, no matter where or when.

Myself, I live in the first state. A lot of us seem to have taken up permanent residence in the nightmarish second, at least to judge by their Chicken Little rhetoric.

I see it from all parts of the political spectrum. Conservatives and liberals, business types, environmental activists, townies, country folk, etc., etc.

Let’s take Rutland, a city that’s had its share of hard knocks. The manufacturing boom times, the long steady decline, the scourge of drug addiction. It’s lived through all that, and retained a sense of identity and pride.

But add 100 Syrian refugees, and the whole place will go kerblooey. So say the fearmongers and nativists at Rutland First, anyway. City Treasurer Wendy Wilton claims she’d be fine with 25 Syrians — but 100 is simply too many. Others say the Syrians would be doomed to unemployment or underemployment because there aren’t enough jobs to go around.

Oh ye Rutlanders of little faith.
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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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The VPR Poll: Everything You Know Is Wrong

Previously in this space, I looked at The VPR Poll’s reading of the race for governor. To encapsulate: Phil Scott has a huge early lead, Bruce Lisman’s in the crapper, and the two Democratic candidates are still trying to build identities with a largely uninvolved electorate.

The poll is an important snapshot of the race — really, our first since last fall, when the field was still a work in progress. But even more interesting are the issues results, which campaign builders ought to be examining closely. Because the message, as Firesign Theater once put it, is

Everything You Know Is Wrong

Well, maybe not everything, but a whole lot of things.

Issues that are supposed to be driving forces in 2016? Eh, the voters don’t much care.

Positions that could make or break a campaign? Over and over again, The People fail to conform to conventional wisdom.

Darn people!

Generally, the poll depicts a populace that’s more or less okay with how things are going and not especially engaged in politics. This, despite an ongoing barrage of doom-and-glooming by Republicans and certain interest groups.

Examples: A broad desire to stay the course or go even further on health care reform; widespread acceptance of large-scale renewables; strong endorsement of Vermont’s efforts on climate change; healthy support for the state’s school consolidation efforts; and huge majorities in favor of modest gun-control measures.

After the jump: the details.

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The unintended consequences of law

Conceptual rendering of the Act 46 debate. Dave Sharpe's in there somewhere.

Conceptual rendering of the Act 46 debate. Dave Sharpe’s in there somewhere.

This Act 46 thing is turning into a giant-sized tangle of no-win, isn’t it?

The House and Senate are at odds, with the Senate voting to repeal limits on school budgets and the House considering a range of tweaks. The Senate is also throwing the House under the bus, disavowing any responsibility for the spending limits. The Governor is hounding the Legislature to repeal without thinking about it too much. On top of all that, we discover that the Agency of Education misinterpreted a key passage of Act 46 in a way that changes the actual limits for many a district.

Meanwhile, the Republicans can just sit in the balcony, laughing and throwing Jujubes. As VTDigger’s Anne Galloway notes, unless the House gets buffaloed into changing course, the Republicans will get exactly what they want: the limits will remain in place and the Democrats will look like disorganized idiots who don’t care about rising property taxes. And if the limits are repealed, the Republicans will get something just about as juicy: the Democrats repealing a measure designed to provide some tax relief, and looking like idiots in the process.

Meanwhile, school districts are closing in on Town Meeting time with no idea how to plan their budgets.

Yeah, nice. This lame-duck session is off to a rip-roaring start.

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State of the State: Tough sledding

Governor Shumlin’s State of the State address wasn’t quite the nothing-burger you might expect from a lame duck. But if early returns are anything to go by, the actual impact of his address may be a lot closer to a nothing-burger.

There were a few notable initiatives and ideas, but most of them got slapped around almost as soon as he left the podium. And I’m not talking about the predictable Republican naysaying; I’m talking about Democratic criticism. In past years, Shumlin has had a very hard time rescuing high-profile initiatives that get off to a rocky start at the Statehouse, and that’s likely to be even more true in his lame-duck year.

Other ideas are sure to garner opposition on January 21, when the Governor delivers his final budget address. That’s when he’ll have to explain how he wants to pay for new or expanded programs that cost money. (As opposed to, say, paid sick leave, which won’t cost the government a dime.) In the past, the Legislature hasn’t reacted kindly to Shumlin’s budget-cutting suggestions (see: Earned Income Tax Credit, 2013), and he hasn’t reacted well to legislative alternatives.

We can break down the new stuff into two categories: items that will cost money, and those that won’t. At least they won’t cost the state any money.

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