Tag Archives: Challenges for Change

Phil Scott finds his beau ideal

Huh boy.

Vermont’s Prince In Waiting, Phil Scott, has revealed his choice for President. And it nicely encapsulates my cynical vision of his prospective governorship. VTDigger’s Mark Johnson:

Scott, who declared he would not vote for Trump, revealed later Thursday he has decided to write in former Republican Gov. Jim Douglas as his presidential choice in the November election.

“He’d make a great president,” Scott said about the four-term governor.

Ah. Jim Douglas. How… predictable.

Men of good will may disagree about the qualities of the former four-term governor. But it takes an awfully limited definition of greatness to see him as potentially a “great president.”

If you disagree, please tell me: Jim Douglas was governor for eight years. What is his legacy? His signature accomplishments? Where did he leave his stamp?

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Further reform initiatives for Vermont Republicans

On Monday, a diverse group of seven white male Republicans in blue suitcoats convened a news conference to announce their alternative budget plan, as previously discussed in this space.

Beyond their immediate, largely unworkable ideas for budget-cutting, they also promised a longer-term reform effort dubbed the “Plan for Prosperity,” in which working groups would come up with ways to lower the cost of government without reducing programs or services.

Isn’t that always the way. And yet somehow, when Republicans do get their hands on the levers of power, they never manage to identify those evanescent efficiencies.  They usually resort to meat cleaver tactics like the ever-popular across-the-board cut.

Indeed, the “Plan for Prosperity” is strongly reminiscent of the last Republican Governor’s big idea — Challenges for Change. Which ended in abject failure, with elected officials from both parties concluding that it wouldn’t generate much in the way of savings.

Yeah, “Plan for Prosperity”… “Challenges for Change.” Meet the new plan, same as the old plan?

Well, assuming that sooner or later the Republicans will abandon — or quietly deep-six — their new initiative, I have some suggestions for future iterations of the Same Old Song.

— Action for Achievement

— Surge for Success

— Effort for Efficacy

— Crusade for Cornucopia

Okay, let’s think outside the box a little bit.

— Mission for Milk and Honey

Too wimpy? How about…

— Blueprint for BOOM

Yeah, that’s the stuff. But my favorite, which manages to capture both the spirit and caliber of Republican reform efforts:

— Kwest for Kwality.

There you go, guys. That oughta hold you through the year 2030 or so. Maybe by then you’ll be able to scare up a woman or two for your news conferences.

So it was a push, not a jump

Media reports posted after my initial VPO piece on Doug Racine’s departure make it clear that Racine was fired as Human Services Secretary; he did not resign. And he was fired in a sudden and coldblooded way. The best reporting comes from Paul “The Huntsman” Heintz, who got the skinny from the firee himself.

In a phone interview, he said he was summoned to the 5th floor of the Pavilion State Office building at 4 p.m. Monday for a meeting with Shumlin chief of staff Liz Miller and Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding.

“I went in and sat down. They said, ‘The governor wants to make a change at your agency.’ I said, ‘Who would that be?’ Jeb looked at me and said, ‘You,’” Racine recalled. “We talked about it for a few minutes and then I went to the office and cleaned out my desk.”

So now we know who wields the hatchet in the corner office. Shumlin did give Racine a call about an hour after the meeting, and it was relatively cordial; but hell, couldn’t he do the actual deed himself? Especially since Racine had handled the hardest and most thankless job in state government for three and a half years?

There was also a Profiles In Courage moment Tuesday afternoon, when Shumlin went kinda wishy-washy on the nature of Racine’s departure, i.e. voluntary or not:

Asked what, specifically, prompted Racine’s exit, Shumlin said, “Specifically answering your question is exactly what I’m not going to do.”

Well, at least it was a head-on refusal to answer instead of the usual “bury ’em in bullshit” routine.

When I call AHS Secretary the “hardest and most thankless job,” here’s what I mean. It handles a whole lot of disparate programs aimed at helping our most unfortunate. It’s a huge agency by Vermont standards. As I noted earlier, it was hit hard by the Douglas Administration’s ill-fated Challenges for Change initiative, not to mention its misadventures with technology contracts (which were at least as bad as Shumlin’s). And it was ground zero for the health care reform effort and all the attendant troubles.

In addition, AHS’ challenges were compounded by Tropical Storm Irene, which left a whole lot of people in need of help — and which scattered the agency’s personnel to rented spaces in multiple communities because of the flooding in Waterbury. And they are still scattered today. Not to mention the flooding and forced closure of the Vermont State Hospital and the ensuing years of chaos in the mental health care system. 

Doug Racine handled all of that with grace and dignity. He kept his nose to the grindstone and almost never uttered a discouraging word in public. I’d think that was a good thing, but apparently he was too quiet for Shumlin’s taste:

According to Racine, the governor wanted a secretary more willing to engage with the news media and interest groups.

“If anything, it was perhaps not being out there enough,” Racine said.

I always thought Racine’s quiet style was perhaps exactly what Shumlin wanted from his longtime political rival. Either that, or Racine himself opted for the low-profile approach because he didn’t want to come across as bitter or as a potential political threat.

As I said in my previous post, I understand the need for a sacrificial lamb. And between the problems with health care and DCYF, I can see why Racine got the axe. But the way it was done? I think Racine deserved better.

All right, who asked Tommy One-Note for an encore?

It’s been awhile since Tom Pelham, self-proclaimed prophet of fiscal restraint, graced us with one of his interchangeable opinion pieces. But here he comes again, with yet another screed on Vermont’s impending financial doom.

Hey, you keep repeating it, it’s gotta be right sometime, no?

The latest installment, entitled “Inevitable Consequences,” is all about the same stuff as every other Tom Pelham wheeze: the state is on the edge of the abyss because we (by which he means profligate Democrats) are spending beyond our means.

Republicans have, of course, been singing this identical tune for several years now. We are still waiting for the cataclysm to arrive. But hey, they keep repeating it, they’ve gotta be right sometime, no?

Tommy One-Note begins with his one and only guiding principle of governance: “sustainable spending requires that growth in government spending reasonably equate to growth in the underlying economy.” Which is an absurdly dogmatic approach to government, or anything else. But more on that later.

He cites an array of statistics in support of his case that Vermont’s population is stagnant, while public sector spending continues to grow. He sees the gap growing wider and wider until it becomes an unbridgeable chasm.

And you’ll never guess what his solution is.

That’s right, Challenges for Change, the discredited Douglas Administration initiative for which Tom Pelham is the sole remaining cheerleader. There’s good reason for that: Challenges for Change was a bust. 

Before he became Governor, Peter Shumlin was a notable proponent of CFC, touting it as “a great success.” But when he was actually running the joint, he discovered that CFC was a hollow shell, whose projected savings “may not likely be realized.” CFC had fallen far short of its goal in FY 2011, and there was no evidence it would suddenly kick into gear.

“It was a big disappointment and a failure,” Sen. Vince Illuzzi, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Economic Development said last week. “We would have saved time and money if we had simply trimmed all departments’ budgets by 2 to 3 percent.”

And a top House Republican, Patti Komline, called CFC “smoke and mirrors” and “a dismal failure.”

In short, the abandonment of CFC was not, as Pelham claims, due to a lack of fiscal restraint by governing liberals; it was a bipartisan dismissal of a failed experiment. And yet, Pelham still clings to those savings estimates that had lost credibility among virtually everyone not named Tom Pelham.

That’s not the end of Pelham’s myopic approach to budgeting. He says that state spending has risen in spite of a shrinking workforce and a sluggish economic recovery. His reasoning includes the  unstated assumption that, if the state had spent less money, the Vermont economy would have performed exactly the same.

Which is nonsense. Many states fell into the trap of cutting spending in mid-recession, and were rewarded with even slower growth in jobs, production, and tax revenue. Pelham appears to believe that the “extra” money spent by Shumlin & Co. might as well have been tossed into a bonfire — when, in fact, public-sector spending has a beneficial impact on the economy. Just about every state program — transportation, human services, education, corrections, etc., etc. — puts money into the economy. The Keynesian approach mandates accelerated spending in bad economic times, in order to get the engine going at full speed again.

Also, many areas of public sector spending make our economy stronger, and our people safer, healthier, and better educated. That equals progress. And most of those investments would never be made by the private sector. If government doesn’t act, shit don’t get done. Within his own definition of fiscal restraint, Governor Shumlin is making wise investments in clean energy, education, and other areas that will strengthen Vermont in the future.

I’m certainly not saying we should waste money. Indeed, as a liberal, I feel strongly that the public sector should operate as efficiently as possible. And in fact, far from completely abandoning Challenges for Change, the Shumlin Administration has used some of its principles and process in writing budgets and managing the government. Which is another Pelhamian fallacy: some of the relatively meager savings promised in CFC have, in fact, been realized.

It’s just that the Governor has chosen not to bank the savings, but rather to invest them in Vermont’s people and economy. That’s why the financial doomsday predicted by Pelham and others has stubbornly refused to materialize: if Shumlin’s policies work, the economy will improve and revenues will increase. It’s worked very well so far, to the tune of a historically low unemployment rate and an economy that weathered the Great Recession far better than most.

In short, what I’m saying is, Tom Pelham can shut up now. He is wrong, and no amount of repetition will make him less wrong.