Tag Archives: Jill Krowinski

Day One: Not as Immediately Disastrous as Feared, But Needlessly Chaotic and Destructive

I won’t try to convince you that I hate to say “I told you so,” but it’s true that I hate to have to tell you I told you so. Way back on March 26, when legislative leaders were assuring us that the end of the motel voucher program was being prepared for, that there’s no way we’d actually leave thousands of Vermonters without shelter, I wrote this:

When we see pictures of mass evictions, stories about struggling Vermonters suddenly tossed into the void, and coverage of human service providers despairing at the chasm between demand and supply, the Democrats will not be able to shirk responsibility for it.

Well, today was Day One of The Great Unhousing, and our print and broadcast media are full of stories about people having nowhere to go and pictures of desolate evictees surrounded by their possessions. VTDigger: a distraught young woman sits on a curb with hastily-packed items in bags on the pavement and no idea where she’s going. The Bennington Banner: an older woman loads her belongings into her car, where she’s planning to sleep into the indefinite future. WCAX: a young man says he’s “probably [sleeping] in the street.” Channel 22/44: A young mother says “we don’t know what’s next” and “it’s terrifying.” WPTZ: A middle-aged man talks of “reaching out to friends, seeing if anyone has a room available.” The Rutland Herald: Small towns in Rutland County struggle to prepare for a possible influx of the unhoused. Vermont Public: an outreach worker in Burlington describes a demand for tents, cooking supplies, and other necessities of outdoor living.

Oh, and also on Vermont Public: vaunted nice guy Gov. Phil Scott talks of how “some choose to maybe set up a tent somewhere.”

“Choose.” As if they were given a choice. Good God.

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Further Adventures in “Slum Management”

The pace of news continues at breakneck speed on our developing and self-inflicted dehousing crisis. This installment’s title is courtesy of Barre Mayor John Hemmerick, whose city is desperately trying to plan for the first installment of The Great Dehousing, which is now only a couple of days away.

In central Vermont, two charities have combined to raise over $15,000 (the goal is $20K; chip in here if you can) for tents and sleeping bags and such to distribute to the soon-to-be-unsheltered. The city of Montpelier is looking into a possible winter shelter at the city’s Recreation Center, and Barre is hoping to offer shelter at the Barre Auditorium. The problem there is not so much setting it up, as staffing it. The city doesn’t have the means, and local shelter operators are already doing everything they can.

Both cities are discussing the seemingly inevitable encampments that will follow Our Great Leaders’ decision to end the motel voucher program that provides shelter to 80% of Vermont’s unhoused. Mayor Hemmerick offered this comment to The Bridge:

It is a sad day in America and Vermont when tiny municipal governments must look to … informal settlement and slum management policies to do the unthinkable in the wealthiest nation on earth: sanction substandard encampments and living conditions.

Slum management, folks. That’s where we’re at in good old caring old Vermont.

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Hey, Here’s an Idea: Let’s Attack Phil Scott and Then Ask Him to Save Our Bacon

Well, in case you were wondering where Vermont Democrats’ heads were at regarding the unsheltering of thousands of Vermonters, now we know: Still firmly lodged up a windowless orifice. Instead of trying to resolve a humanitarian crisis of their own creation, not to mention heal a divide in their beloved legislative caucus, they’ve been trying to find a way to deflect the blame onto the governor. While, at the same time, begging him to solve a huge political problem for them.


Admittedly I’m somewhat burying the lead, because the most impactful thing is that Democratic leadership remains bound and determined to end the motel voucher program even though it currently provides shelter for 80% of Vermont’s unhoused.

This is [checks notes] the party of compassion, right? The party that fights for the metaphorical Little Guy? Yeah, gee, I wonder what the hell happened to that party.

That’s the real lead — the Vermont Democratic Party has lost its way — but the thing that grates on my nerves as a Vermont Political Observer is how profoundly stupid the politics of this maneuver are.

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Objects In Mirror May Be Larger, Or Smaller, Than They Appear

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.

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Shocker! Politician Discovers Politics In… Politics!

Rep. Anne Donahue is having a sad.

According to VTDigger’s excellent Final Reading, Donahue believes she’s the victim of political retaliation.

During the campaign, Donahue was the primary public voice of the anti-abortion movement seeking to defeat Article 22, the reproductive rights amendment. It struck me as a bit risky. After all, Donahue has long been a respected presence, known for her capacity for hard work and her tenacious activism on mental health issues. She’s served on two committees — Human Services and Health Care — that touch on those issues, which was a recognition of her skills and expertise. She was even elevated to vice chair of Health Care, a notable achievement for a member of the minority caucus.

But now she finds herself shuffled back to Human Services and stripped of committee leadership. And she’s crying foul. She believes the change is a simple matter of political retaliation for her strong opposition to Article 22.

Maybe she’s right. I don’t know. But if she is right, so what?

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Storm Clouds Above the Statehouse

There is much to be said about Gov. Phil Scott suddenly pulling a voluntary paid family leave program. For instance, that he has never ever pushed this issue at all unless the Legislature is actively considering a universal program. This isn’t a principled position, it’s an artifice meant to draw votes away from the Dem/Prog caucuses.

But something else, something subtler but equally discomfiting, is on my mind at the moment.

There are signs that the House-Senate tensions of past years are flaring back up again. If so, key legislation could fail because of differences between the two chambers, real or imaginary. If that happens, they’ll be disappointing the voters who elected record numbers of Dems expecting them to get stuff done.

This tension was minimized if not eliminated in the current biennium, thanks to the efforts of House Speaker Jill Krowinski and outgoing Pro Tem Becca Balint. It’d be a shame if Balint’s departure triggers a return of the bad old days.

The usual sniping between House and Senate is most often expressed in senators’ apparently innate sense of superiority. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen senators speak of state representatives as if they’re misbehaving kids on a school bus, and treat House legislation as if it’s toilet paper stuck to their shoes.

The most prominent example of the House-Senate tension has been the twin battles over paid family leave and raising the minimum wage. The House has preferred the former, the Senate the latter. The result: No paid leave program and woefully inadequate movement on minimum wage. On two occasions the Legislature has passed watered-down versions of a paid leave program and Scott has vetoed them. The inter-chamber differences have done much to frustrate progress toward enacting a strong paid leave program over Scott’s objections.

And now, here we are again with an apparent House-Senate rift on paid family leave.

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Sorry About That, Struggling Vermonters

I’ve got a post sitting on the backburner called “We Have No Idea How Well State Government Performs.” The thesis is that Vermont’s government is woefully deficient in checks and balances. The Legislature is too slammed to do any green eyeshade stuff. The executive branch provides the bulk of the available information. The Joint Fiscal Office does some useful things and so does the auditor, but their reach is limited.

So we’ll probably never know who’s responsible for the monumental screwup with the Vermont Emergency Rental Assistance Program (VERAP). It’s out of money, folks. Rental assistance will diminish in a month and disappear entirely for thousands of households before the onset of winter. Oh, and utility assistance will end before the calendar turns to 2023.

According to the administration’s own numbers, 3,015 recipients will see their rental benefits end on September 30. Another 5,400 will get reduced benefits through the end of November, and then nothing.

The explanations on offer are threadbare, sheepish and inadequate. There are broad hints of administrative malfeasance.

This ought to be a scandal. Will it be? Based on past performance, probably not.

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Governor Nice Guy Is Channelling His Inner Asshole Again

Gov. Phil Scott sent a letter to Legislative leaders on Thursday that was a tour de force of passive aggressiveness. In it, he said he was signing H.720 despite “a significant error” (italics his). What’s more, he alleged that this was just one of a series of unacceptably typo-ridden bills that has him questioning the Legislature’s basic competence.

As usual with his periodic coruscations of outrage, it’s overstated, mean-spirited and misses the point.

Funny thing for Mr. Nice Guy to be doing over and over again.

Scott felt compelled to express his displeasure despite the fact that the Legislature had already acknowledged the error and promised to fix it in 2023, via a well-established process to correct a bill that didn’t quite hit the bullseye.

The letter is pure condescension through and through. After slamming the Legislature over H.720, he goes on to infer that there were a bunch of bills with typos and mistakes. He doesn’t enumerate them, of course; I interpret that to mean it’s a pretty short list with picayune problems.

Scott concludes by expressing his hope that the 2023 Legislature “will resolve to have a better managed process with greater attention to detail.”

Well, la di da, Mr. Perfect.

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Empty Chairs: Even More Than I Thought

It looks like 2022 will be The Year of Turnover. Not only in statewide offices, but also in the Legislature. Earlier today I wrote a post about the House losing five committee chairs; since then, I’ve learned of three more. Plus one more Senate chair. And other prominent figures as well.

The departing chairs: Carolyn Partridge of House Agriculture, Maxine Grad of Judiciary, Tim Briglin of House Energy and Technology, and Michael Sirotkin of Senate Economic Development.

Let’s take the House first. Even if there are no more retirements, nearly half of all House committees will have new chairs come January. Partridge will have served 24 years in the House and 12 as chair of Agriculture (the committee’s name has changed multiple times but always included Ag). Grad has 12 years in the House, eight as Judiciary chair. Briglin has been in the House for eight years and chaired E&T for four.

Add that to our previous toll of lost experience, and you get 92 years of departing chair tenure and 153 years in the House. The former figure is the one I’m focused on here; if you add all the House departures, you’ll get a much, much higher number for the latter.

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Old Veepies Never Die, They Just Get Stupider (UPDATED)

Note: Second item has a significant update. Press WILL be admitted to Winooski/Enosburg soccer game.

Oh, you thought you were done with this, did you? Yeah, my awards for stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sector have been on sabbatical lately — it’s been harder to see the funny this fall, mostly due to the ongoing pandemic. But here we are again! On the docket: Noblesse oblige at the homelessness protest, barring the media from a soccer match, an especially stupid Covid rationalization from Team Scott, and Bennington Justice rears its ugly head.

We have multiple awardees for the It Was Quite Literally The Least We Could Do Award. The recipients include Gov. Phil Scott, House Speaker Jill Krowinski, and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. Brenda Siegel and Josh Lisenby, advocates for restoring the full emergency housing program, held what VTDigger helpfully called “a small rally” on Monday at the site of their Statehouse protest/campout. Apparently Siegel and Lisenby have cooties or something, because neither Krowinski nor Ballnt attended in person and Scott continues to resist meeting with them.

The Speaker and Pro Tem did issue a statement for Siegel to read, in which they endorsed full restoration of the program. Which is interesting since, as the governor points out on every occasion, they agreed to the springtime deal restricting the program. Nice of them to belatedly come down on the side of compassion. And while Scott could really use a spark of humanity, he refuses to meet with the advocates. But hey, as VTDigger put it, “they were granted an interview on Monday with Sean Brown, the commissioner of the Department for Children and Families.” Wow. “Granted an interview.” How noblesse oblige of them.

Brown reportedly said the administration would consider reopening the full program when/if (climate change, y’know) the weather gets really cold. Which tells you the administration sees this first and foremost as a PR problem. They want to be as stingy as possible, but they could do without pictures of freezing protesters or homeless people with hypothermia.

Onward and downward…

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