Tag Archives: Phil Scott

An Inequity Ignored is an Inequity Enabled

The numbers, from the start of the pandemic through 2/10/21. Source: VT Department of Health.

The subject of today’s sermon is racial inequity in health care, and more specifically, racial inequity in access to Covid-19 vaccines. We have two readings. First, a legislative hearing about racial inequity in health care. Second, a racial equity activist’s efforts, apparently ignored, to get answers about Vermont’s vaccination policy.

As you can see above, Black and Hispanic Vermonters are far more likely to contract Covid than their white counterparts. And yet, the state isn’t doing much (if anything) to address the disparity in its vaccine policy.

More on that in a moment, but let’s turn to the hearing. The House Health Care Committee is considering H.210, a bill addressing racial disparities in health care. Wednesday morning, the panel heard from a nationally known expert in the field: Dr. Maria Mercedes Avila, a UVM prof and member of the Governor’s Task Force on Racial Equity.

Dr. Avila spent the better part of two hours unspooling a wide-ranging overview of those disparities. Their roots in history, their scope and persistence, their effects, and what can be done to address and eliminate them. It was a sobering presentation.

Well, it was for most of the committee.

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That “Big Tent” Lacks an Entrance or Two

It was probably inevitable that Kolby LaMarche would resign as chair of the Burlington Republicans. A bit less so that he left the GOP altogether. But here we are.

Whenever she’s asked about extreme elements in the party, VTGOP chair Deb Billado resorts to the “big tent’ analogy. The party, she says, is big enough to include all comers.

Nice theory, but it’s not working in practice. The kind of die-hard Trump supporters who still believe he was cheated out of the election are more than welcome in the party ranks and, what the heck, leadership. But people like LaMarche, who believe the GOP must abandon the Trump delusion, are made to feel so unwelcome that they eventually leave. And the party’s rightward tilt gets that much more pronounced.

If the VTGOP really believes in the “big tent,” then Billado and her colleagues would be pounding the phones, begging LaMarche to give them another chance. Somehow I doubt that’s the case. Because to the chair and her allies, including vice chair Deb Bucknam and national committee members Jay Shepard and Suzanne Butterfield, fealty to Trump is a litmus test for good Republicans. Not to mention local party officials like Ron Lawrence of Essex, co-instigator of the CovidCruiser that went to Washington for Trump’s attempted insurrection on January 6. That’d be the same Lawrence who launched a petition drive to get Gov. Phil Scott to abandon his party affiliation.

Yes, the Phil Scott who is the one and only Republican success story in statewide elections. According to Lawrence and the 2200-odd signers, he’s the real problem in the VTGOP.

Did Billado rush to Scott’s defense? Uhh, no. She “declined comment” on the petition, claiming she hadn’t read the thing and wasn’t involved. No “big tent” references this time.

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Any room for expanded opioid treatment in the budget?

Just askin’.

It’s clear that opioid use disorder has gotten more prevalent since the pandemic began, both nationally and in Vermont. The Centers for Disease Control published a report in December that said overdose deaths rose sharply after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, due to “a larger supply of illegal drugs, reduced access to addiction and overdose treatment, and the lethality of synthetic fentanyl.” A study published in Population Health Management reports that, while testing for illicit drugs plummeted in the early weeks of the pandemic, positive test results for opioids went through the roof.

The American Medical Association says that “More than 40 states have reported increases in opioid-related mortality as well as ongoing concerns for those with a mental illness or substance use disorder,” and recommended action “to remove barriers to evidence-based treatment for those with a substance use disorder as well as for harm reduction services.”

Which leads me to the question posed above.

Maybe there has been an expansion of treatment, harm reduction and availability of naloxone, buprenorphine and other relevant medications. Maybe the feds’ Covid relief bills brought some funding to the states for such programs. Maybe the state acted on its own to fight this aspect of the pandemic’s impact on society.

But if they have, it’s news to me.

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Three Mulligans and Counting

Lookin’ a little sweaty there, bud.

Submitted for your consideration: Michael Harrington, commissioner of the Department of Labor, and three-time offender against good government.

The latest offense is a massive cockup in printing IRS Forms 1099 for Vermonters who collected unemployment benefits in 2020. Tens of thousands of people received forms that contained other people’s personal information instead of their own, which is a low-tech kind of privacy breach in our age of digital hacking.

This will require a costly fix. DOL will reprint all 180,000 forms and mail them all out, plus it will provide prepaid envelopes to those who got bad 1099s so they can return the faulty forms at no cost. Harrington also said his department has contacted the Attorney General’s office as required by state law, in case there are legal repercussions.

VTDigger reports that this is DOL’s second data breach since the pandemic began. The first, back in March, saw DOL send nearly six thousand Vermonters’ Social Security numbers to employers not connected with their cases.

But while it was the second data breach, it was the third major administrative failure by DOL during the pandemic.

Deets after the jump.

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In Which I Discover the Limits of Phil Scott’s Generosity to Business

Throughout his tenure as Vermont governor, and even more so during the pandemic, Phil Scott has been a friend to the business community. Ever solicitous of their needs, ever willing to step up when a helping hand is required.

But finally, I have identified the boundary of this unending love. It’s at the level of microbusiness — those with five employees or fewer.

This morning, the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee heard testimony about the state’s Microbusiness Development Program and its Covid-19-specific effort called EMBRACE*, which provides advice and grant funding to these smallest of businesses. And one of the things I learned from the testimony was that, in his FY2021 budget, Scott proposed eliminating the program’s funding.

*Economic Micro Business Recovery Assistance for the COVID-19 Epidemic. Must have taken a committee quite a while to come up with that.

The Legislature restored the money. Which turned out to be a very timely thing, because the Covid-19 pandemic pushed many microbusinesses to the brink of disaster. EMBRACE did a lot to keep them alive.

In his FY2022 budget, Scott has proposed to level-fund the program. But in each of the last three years, it has received an extra $100,000 over its base amount. Scott doesn’t want to continue that. And with the pandemic still raging, microbusinesses still need a lot of help.

Meanwhile, Scott’s budget is full of grant programs and tax credits for bigger businesses and favored classes of white-collar workers.

After the jump: Tattoos and Eggplant Parm.

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Another Step Toward Irrelevance for the VTGOP

Yet another can of lighter fluid has been tossed on the roaring fire that is the Vermont Republican Party. This time the perp is Ron Lawrence, chair of the Essex Republicans and co-organizer of the CovidCruiser excursion to the January 6 Capitol riot.

Lawrence, whose town is rapidly transitioning from purple to deep blue, has taken to Change.org to post a petition calling on Gov. Phil Scott to leave the Republican Party.

That’s right, Lawrence believes that the VTGOP would be better off without the only member who’s managed to win a statewide office since 2010.

For those keeping score, that’s Phil Scott, undefeated with a 6-0 record running for LG and governor. The rest of the party from 2010 onward? A sterling one win, 29 losses. (Turncoat Tom Salmon is the one. He won another term as state auditor on the Republican ticket in 2010 after originally winning the office as a Democrat.)

That’s a winning percentage of .033. )The 1962 New York Mets, the measuring stick for futility, had a winning percentage of .250.) Any statistician will tell you that’s… not good.

Obviously, there are two separate VTGOPs. There’s the party hierarchy, which is full of Donald Trump loyalists such as Lawrence, and its elected officials. With the exception of a few dead-enders, Republican officeholders realize that to win elections in Vermont, they have to tack to the center. Like Phil Scott.

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The Luckiest Man in Vermont

Gov. Phil Scott issued his budget address today (YouTube video here). It was an astoundingly pain-free occasion, considering that we’re in the throes of a pandemic that’s been holding our economy hostage for almost a year now. In fact, rather than proposing painful cuts, Scott offered a generous scattering of funds for a wide variety of programs that, he said, will put Vermont on a sounder footing going forward.

How? Simple. The tsunami of federal Covid relief money. Scott’s budget includes $210 million in one-time money from the feds. As we heard from state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr last week, federal money has prevented an economic collapse and even contributed to a boom in some sectors.

Throughout his political career, Phil Scott has benefited from little-known and/or underfunded Democratic opposition in races for state senate, lieutenant governor and governor. In his six races for statewide office, the closest result was the 2010 contest for lieutenant governor — seven percentage points over Steve Howard. He gets credit for being an appealing political figure, but he sure hasn’t had to fight very hard.

And now, once again, he’s the luckiest man in Vermont. You’d think a shattering pandemic would lead to massive cutbacks, but no. Scott could once again boast of a budget that wouldn’t increase taxes or “existing fees.” And according to Kavet and Carr, the state economy will continue to be buoyed by federal infusions for the next two fiscal years. Which will make it a lot easier to craft a pain-free state budget again next year and, if he runs for a fourth term, he may well be unbeatable once again.

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VTGOP Chair Fires a Shot Across the Bow of Moderate Republicans

I don’t think Deb Billado is planning to resign anytime soon.

The Vermont Republican Party chair made that clear when she devoted her most recent weekly newsletter to a very fringey speech made by the very fringey South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem. It was a shot across the bow of Republican lawmakers who recently called for her resignation — and a slap in the face to Gov. Phil Scott.

You see, Scott and Noem are polar opposites on Covid-19 policy. Scott has proceeded with great caution, erring (mainly) on the side of public safety. Noem has kept her state wide open — including the granddaddy of all superspreaders, the Sturgis motorcycle rally.

The result: Vermont has a death rate of 27 per 100,000 residents, the second lowest among the states. South Dakota has lost 189 out of every 100,000, the seventh worst death rate in the nation. In total Covid-19 cases, Vermont is the best in the nation at 1,654 per 100K, while South Dakota is second-worst at 11,958 per 100K. How about testing? Vermont has conducted 133,174 tests per 100K — more than one test per resident. South Dakota? Way near the bottom, at 44,827 tests per 100K.

So, Vermont is doing far better at tracking the virus, keeping people healthy, and keeping them alive. I can’t say that Billado endorses South Dakota’s Covid “strategy,” but she went out of her way to highlight Noem’s views in a message to all Vermont Republicans. Now, maybe Billado didn’t intend it as direct criticism of Vermont’s govenror, but I bet you dollars to donuts that Team Scott sees it that way.

Beyond that, there’s the issue of Billado calling a collection of QAnon-adjacent nutbaggery a “thoughtful speech.” We’ll run it down after the jump.

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“The Tom and Jeff Show”

Best: Gov. Scott, great lighting, busy but effective background. Worst: Pretty much everybody else.Extra demerits for “Redshift” Cummings and “Tiny” Hooper.

Vermont’s Emergency Board, an obscure but highly influential entity, held its twice-yearly meeting Tuesday afternoon to receive an updated revenue forecast from state economists Tom Kavet and Jeffrey Carr. Or, as the governor dubbed it, “The Tom and Jeff Show.” (The E-Board includes Gov. Phil Scott and the chairs of the Legislature’s four “money commitees” — House and Senate Appropriations, House Ways & Means, and Senate Finance. All of whom are women, it should be noted.)

Their report is posted as a downloadable file on the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office website. It’s recommended reading; it’s full of economic information beyond the basic tax projections. Video of the E-Board meeting available here.

Considering the pandemic and all, the news is astonishingly good. The new outlook for FY2021 predicts a very slight dropoff in total revenue, about $20M in all. That’s peanuts compared to earlier dire predictions. For FY2022, which begins in July, the new forecast predicts $77M in additional revenue. Carr and Kavet also predict a big increase in revenues for FY2023.

(Now, if you’re concerned about the federal deficit, it’s not all good news. Since 2018, deficit spending has gone from 105 percent of GDP to 135 percent. Covid relief is one driver of the increase; the other is the Trump tax cuts of 2017.)

How can this be? One simple explanation: A tsunami of federal recovery funds. And with Democratic control of the presidency and Congress, Carr and Kavet expect at least one more big infusion. (President-elect Biden has proposed a $1.9 trillion relief package.) So far, federal relief funds to Vermont account for a stunning 20 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.

“Without the federal money, I’d be declaring a five-alarm fire on Vermont’s economy,” said Carr. “We’re all Keynesians now. If we throw enough money at a problem, we can mitigate the damage in the aggregate.”

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Act Like Nothing’s Wrong

@VTGOP, Exactly As Illustrated

You have to feel a little bit sorry for Deb Billado, chair of the Vermont Republican Party. She’s been working hard for three years now, trying to build a functioning machine out of spare parts and duct tape. But her Trumpian worldview makes her an ineffective advocate for the kind of fiscally conservative, socially moderate organization the VTGOP needs to be.

Now it’s all coming apart, thanks to the January 6 insurrection triggered by President Trump. While Republican Gov. Phil Scott came right out with a call for Trump’s removal from office, Billado issued a statement condemning the violence without mentioning the President at all.

On Tuesday, Billado issued another statement, this one urging people not to take part in a January 17 Statehouse rally in support of Trump. She began, oddly, with this:

It has come to my attention through various vague media reports that there is a rumor of some kind of protest planned at the capitol building in Montpelier this weekend.

Exsqueeze me?

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