Tag Archives: Emergency 911 call centers

Stupid Tax and Budget Tricks

The Republicans often (constantly) accuse Gov. Shumlin and the Democrats of irresponsible governance — of taxing and spending without regard for the long term.

Well, pot, meet kettle.

Consideration of the tax and budget bills in the House has been marked by Republican gimmickry and short-term thinking. And it looks like we’re in for more next week.

A few examples.

First, House Minority Leader Don Turner’s deal with Speaker Shap Smith, delivering ten Republican votes in exchange for more money for Emergency 911 call centers and the Vermont Veterans’ Home. Thus ensuring the passage of a budget he claims to oppose, and fattening it by more than a million dollars.

Second, Rep. Paul Dame’s unaccountable vote for restoring full LIHEAP funding, in spite of the fact that he opposes all tax increases and wants even deeper spending cuts  — conveniently unspecified — than the Democrats proposed. Which means if we restored LIHEAP, we’d have to cut the money somewhere else — almost certainly in other human-services programs, since that’s the lion’s share of General Fund spending.

Third, Rep. Job Tate, a House freshman who was previously noted for handing out Life-Savers in honor of the Emergency 911 call center staffers whose positions he sought to maintain even while insisting on No New Taxes and More Cuts Elsewhere. Today he resorted to an old chestnut of Budget Theater: proposing a pay cut for lawmakers.

Who, as it is, make a mere pittance for their work. And because their pay is so minimal, the cut would have been minuscule compared to the budget gap. But hey, it would have sent a message, right? Share the pain, right? Yeah, thanks for participating, Mr. Tate.

And then we have Paul Dame, he of the pandering and hypocritical LIHEAP vote, proposing another cynical amendment. The tax bill includes a cap on itemized deductions equal to 2.5 times the standard deduction. Well, Mr. Dame touted an amendment to allow unlimited itemizations for people with incomes under $60,000 a year.

Never mind that pretty much everyone who earns less than $60,000 is taking the standard deduction. It’s virtually impossible to have an income that low and rack up enough deductions to make itemizing worthwhile. It’s an empty gesture aimed at positioning Dame as a friend of the little guy, even as he would force massive cuts in human services programs if he had his way on taxation and budget-writing.

As for next week, one of the big items on the House agenda is the water bill, aimed at sparking cleanup efforts in Lake Champlain and other Vermont waters. The Republicans, natch, oppose any new taxes even while paying lip service to clean water. Indeed, they apparently favor new programs (not that they have any choice, since the EPA would come down on us hard like a criminal if we didn’t act), but want to get the funding from existing sources. Like, oh, maybe scraping the gold off the Statehouse dome and selling it to Cash4Gold.com, or searching the seat cushions for spare change.

Or, in Don Turner’s case, scrounging a little money from existing sources and using it “to leverage bonds.”

Bonds?

Oh, you mean debt?

I see. So Mr. Fiscal Responsibility wants Vermont to assume a pile of new debt — adding to our long-term fiscal issues — for the sake of avoiding any new taxes right now.

You know, during the House debate we’d occasionally hear a blast of honest, hard-core conservatism. One Representative basically said all those poors should get off their asses and go to work. At least that’s honest, if it’s also ignorant and mean-spirited. But Republicans trying to have it both ways? That’s just sickening.

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Don’t play poker with Shap Smith

ItsNotGamblingAs one lawmaker pointed out yesterday, the Speaker of the House has never lost a vote he wanted to win.

Which is either testimony to Shap Smith’s backstage adroitness or his overabundant caution, depends on who you ask. In reality, it’s both.

His gifts were on full display yesterday, although not on the floor of the House. There, the apparent drama was high as votes approached on the big tax and budget bills of 2015. A coalition of liberal, Progressive and independent lawmakers were prepared to vote no — and that, combined with the Republican minority, would be enough to sink the measures and send the House back to the drawing board. Or the back rooms, anyway.

Indeed, on Thursday morning the tax bill was headed for defeat and the budget vote was going to be close.  But the Democratic leadership made a deal with Minority Leader Don Turner to ensure enough Republican votes to pass both bills. The tax bill passed 76-67, and later the budget bill passed by a roughly two-to-one margin.

What did Turner receive for, as VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld put it, ensuring “Passage of a Budget [the Republicans] Don’t Support”?

Well, in a lighthearted Tweet yesterday, I estimated his take as three paper clips, a rubber band, and some pocket lint. The reality wasn’t that bad, but it wasn’t much better.

Reportedly, Turner got a couple concessions that will actually increase spending: three more months of funding for the two Emergency 911 call centers slated for closure, plus more money for the Vermont Veterans’ Home. The two call centers are in heavily Republican areas and veterans are part of the GOP base. And constituency trumps consistency.

Beyond that, Turner folded to a big fat bluff by pokermeister Smith.

“Because their alternative was to increase spending to attract the more liberal side of the House,” Turner says.

Yeah, maybe. The hallway chatter told another story: Smith had no interest in dealing with the liberals, but it was a very convenient lever to get the Republican votes he wanted.

At day’s end, Smith raked in the winner’s pot. He got very tough tax and budget bills through the House with amazingly little disputation; he kept his undefeated streak alive; and he cemented his reputation as a moderate Democrat who can be dealt with and trusted to deliver.