At his press conference yesterday, Gov. Phil Scott offered a mixed message to the state Legislature. He seemed to be holding an olive branch, but whether he’ll use it as a peace offering or a weapon remains uncertain.
His topic was the budget, and the differences between his plan and what’s on the table in the Statehouse right now. He cautioned against squandering our historic federal windfall, by which he means spending it in ways he doesn’t like. But he offered some praise for Senate budget writers on one important point:
I heard in Senate Appropriations yesterday they are concerned about creating cliffs by funding new programs with one-time money that will be difficult to address in the future. I couldn’t agree more.
It’s a point he’s made before. Use the one-time money for one-time investments, not to create or sustain programs that will remain on the books after the federal tsunami recedes.
I’ve got no beef with that concept. But the governor expresses none of that concern when it comes to cutting taxes. We’ve got the money right now, thanks to all the economic activity generated by all those federal dollars. We can afford some tax relief now, but any tax cuts we adopt this year will remain on the books indefinitely.
According to a new report from the nonprofit Coalition for Integrity, Vermont is one of the worst states in the nation for ethics enforcement in government.
The C4I’s report (first reported in Vermont by VTDigger) compares the ethics processes of all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Vermont is in a three-way tie for next-to-last, along with Utah and Virginia. All three states have an entirely toothless ethics process. (Five states — Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, North Dakota and Wyoming — have no ethics agency at all.)
The report’s Vermont section is a depressing read. It notes that our Ethics Commission is purely an advisory body with “no authority to investigate or enforce the ethics laws.” All it can do is review ethics complaints and refer them on to agencies with actual power. And all of its activity is shielded from public scrutiny.
This is no surprise to anyone who’s been following my coverage of the Commission’s establishment on this blog and in the pages of Seven Days. (If you do a site search for “ethics,” you’ll find the relevant stories.) Indeed, an entirely toothless ethics process is exactly what the legislature intended. After staunchly resisting the very idea that Vermont needed ethical standards, lawmakers did just barely enough to make it seem like they cared. But they don’t.
And the Democratic majority bears the responsibility for this sad state of affairs, because Democrats have the power. They used it to stonewall every idea for real ethics enforcement. They show every sign of continuing to hold that position. In fact, lawmakers essentially bullied the Ethics Commission into rewriting its own rules on advisory opinions to end any possibility that any of the panel’s work would ever be available for public inspection.
A secret ethics process. Isn’t it ironic, don’tcha think?
Vermont’s Most Sclerotic Deliberative Body has been taking its time with a proposal to set up a state Ethics Commission. Much more time than they took with legalizing marijuana, and probably longer than they’ll take with the frickin’ budget.
Why the slow play? Well, the Senate’s point person on ethics reform makes it abundantly clear.
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham and chairwoman of the Government Operations Committee, said, “Because the press keeps saying that we’re the only state without an ethics commission and clearly we have something to hide … I don’t really believe that.”
Credit to the Associated Press’ Dave Gram for capturing that entry into the Quote of the Year competition.
Jeezum Crow. The Senator in charge of ethics reform doesn’t believe ethics reform is necessary. She blames the media for fomenting “a lack of faith in government officials.”
Methinks the good Senator has been in Montpelier too long. She’s been so deep in the system for so long, she’s lost all perspective.