Tag Archives: Phil Scott

Postscript: A Brief Note on Hypocrisy

In my previous post, I wrote about the series of Covid-triggered political windfalls enjoyed by Gov. Phil Scott. There’s one point I made in passing that deserves a bit more consideration.

The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.

Yeah, the governor is a fiscal hypocrite. He hasn’t raised an eyebrow over the federal government’s rampant deficit spending. And he is benefiting mightily from the ongoing tsunami of Biden Bucks.

And yet he wouldn’t be caught dead raising taxes in Vermont or spending outside his comfort level. He refuses to countenance any increase in the size of state government.

Now, there’s one big structural difference. States can’t deficit spend, and the feds can. But, if only as a fig leaf to cover his tacit opportunism, he might want to express the merest hint of concern over the fact that Covid relief and Biden’s infrastructure plan are classic examples of Keynesian economics — spending our way out of trouble with no concern for long-term fiscal ramifications.

Continue reading

It’s Amazing What You Can Do With a Billion Dollars

In purely political terms, the Covid pandemic is the best thing that’s ever happened to Gov. Phil Scott. He got to be seen as a decisive leader simply by outperforming the likes of Donald Trump. Throughout the 2020 campaign, he enjoyed a twice-weekly platform on live statewide television and radio. He absolutely dominated every news cycle, and walked to victory in something bigger than a landslide.

And now, state government is swimming in federal relief cash — with more likely on the way. Trump’s CARES Act provided the equivalent of 20 percent of Vermont’s GDP. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act is pumping in even more. And if Biden gets his infrastructure bill through, Vermont will get a third massive infusion in less than two years’ time.

The CARES Act alone floated Vermont through 2020 “in aggregate,” as state economist Jeffrey Carr put it. There was pain aplenty, to be sure. But there were winners as well, and the impact was greatly softened by the federal government’s ability (and willingness) to deficit spend. The governor is dead set against raising revenue or increasing the size of state government, but he’s perfectly happy to take whatever the feds will give him.

On Tuesday, Scott unveiled his billion-dollar plan to use a big chunk of the federal ARPA money. It includes just about everything on everybody’s wish list, and provides a huge boost to state initiatives that Scott insisted we couldn’t afford on our own. And the money will be spent over the next four years, which will make it extremely difficult to run against Scott in the next two cycles.

So, hooray for the pandemic!

Continue reading

Phil Scott’s Getting a Free Pass on Pensions, and the Democrats Are Letting Him Get Away With It

Legislative leadership is rightly getting an earful from teachers, state employees and union supporters over the emerging make-workers-pay pension reform plan. But let’s not overlook the fact that Gov. Phil Scott is playing no role whatsoever in devising a solution to this very large problem.

As he has done on issue after issue throughout his governorship, he is sitting back and letting the Legislature do the hard work and take the punishment. Then, after all their blood, sweat and tears, he saunters in, gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, and ambles away. If it’s thumbs down, the Legislature gets another try at guessing what will be acceptable to him.

This isn’t my idea of leadership. But who can blame the gov, considering that it works so well for him?

Over and over again, Scott sits out a tough policy debate — and the Democrats let him get away with it. They bargain against themselves. They begin with a position that’s more than halfway to his side, and they only give ground from there. The governor doesn’t get exactly what he wants, but the Democrats get far less. And they look weak in the process.

You’d think the Democrats would have learned by now. But no, here they are doing the same damn thing on pensions — and in the process, betraying one of their core constituencies.

Continue reading

The Reign of the Invisible Man

Harlan Sylvester, large and in charge (Not Exactly As Illustrated)

The House Democrats’ ill-considered pension reform plan was the icing on the cake, the topper in a series of events that expose the fundamentally centrist nature of the party and its officeholders.

And this I trace to the all-encompassing influence of one Harlan Sylvester.

For those just tuning in, Sylvester is a longtime money manager who shuns the limelight — but for decades, he has been the kingmaker of Vermont politics. You don’t get to the top of the heap without his blessing. And it sure seems like the modern Democratic Party has been fashioned according to his fiscally conservative taste.

There have been occasional press profiles about him, and they all describe him the same way. Peter Freyne, 2000: “Mr. Sylvester has had the cocked ear of Vermont governors going all the way back to Tom Salmon in the 1970s.” Freyne quoted then-UVM political science professor Garrison Nelson thusly: “Harlan loves conservative Democrats. He wants to erase the gap between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party.”

Rutland Herald, 2002: “it was Harlan Sylvester’’s considerable influence and strategic skills that helped put [Republican Jim Douglas,] the apparent underdog candidate, in office.”

In 2010, Freyne’s successor Shay Totten described Sylvester as “The most powerful man in Vermont politics.” Totten also quoted Prof. Nelson: “He’s got access to people with real money, and those people with real money will invest in politicians who will protect their interests.”

So that’s Mr. Sylvester, who is in his late 80s but his power has not been visibly diminished. From what I’ve heard, he remains the power behind the throne.

And now let’s look at what the Democratic Party has become.

Continue reading

The Governor Puts His Thumb on the Education Scale

The news may be official by the time you read this post, but I’ve gotten word that Gov. Phil Scott has chosen two new members of the State Board of Education. The last two Peter Shumlin appointees on the 10-member board, Peter Peltz and William Mathis, have seen their terms come to an end. Yep, the entire board is now made up of Phil Scott appointees.

This ought to concern anyone interested in the health of the public school system. Since his initial run for governor in 2016, Scott has been nosing around some pretty big education reforms. He’s talked up a single statewide school district, which would include a statewide school voucher system. Such a system would drain resources from the public schools. Scott has also consistently voiced support for a “cradle to career” approach to education, which would likely mean giving some Ed Fund dollars to child care, early education, and secondary education.

Also looming overhead are the legal challenges to Vermont’s ban on paying tuition to religious schools. Given the compensation of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s likely that Vermont will have to accommodate an unfriendly ruling sometime soon. The easiest way around these lawsuits is to stop paying tuition to any non-public school, including the approved independent schools like the St. Johnsbury Academy and the Burr and Burton Academy. That’s politically unlikely, but the composition of the State Board of Education makes it even less likely.

Lovett was the headmaster of St. Johnsbury Academy until last June, when he stepped down after 19 years on the job. His appointment would mean that fully half of the board, and half of its voting members, have strong connections to approved independent schools.

Jepson is executive director of Chamber & Economic Development of the Rutland Region. (The clumsily-named C&ED was born of a merger between the Rutland Chamber of Commerce and the Rutland Economic Development Corporation.) Before that, Jepson was head of the Career & Technical Teacher Education Program at Vermont Technical College.

So, two more people with no particular tie to the public education system are joining the body that oversees the public education system.

Continue reading

All the Rabbit Holes

I think this is the point where the far left and the far right come together. Or at least try to.

The above cacophony of colors and fonts is making the rounds on social media. No indication of creator or sponsor; “Vermonters Against Unconst. Lock-downs & Tyranny” is either brand new or fictitious. A Google search produces no matches. Dive down this rabbit hole at your own risk.

The Burlington “flash mob” event follows a rally at the Statehouse this past Saturday which, by my count, attracted maybe 30 people. I wasn’t there, but a participant uploaded a nine-minute video of the rally on BitChute, a “free speech” alternative to YouTube that’s welcomed many who’ve been banned by mainstream social media sites, including shouty conspiratorialist Alex Jones. The video plays under the headline, “Covid is a Fraud and We Know It.”

The speakers at the Montpelier event included Newport print shop owner Mike Desautels, who has lost his UPS affiliation and his court battle against the state’s mask mandate. (The video’s narrator claimed that Desautels is $15,000 in the hole for legal fees, and pleaded for donations to Desautels’ GoFundMe page.)

Another speaker was Shylo Bourdeau, co-owner of a farm in Lowell. The video includes a short passage from her speech, which I transcribed to the best of my ability.

They can’t stop us by convention in this oath of office allegiance. And the importance of as established by convention in this oath is them swearing to uphold the Constitution as established by convention for we, the people, was removed. So who are they swearing to? Who are they holding their allegiance to, with that removed?

Your guess is a good as mine. At that point, someone in the audience helpfully shouted “Rothschilds,” so there’s the Protocols of the Elders of Zion George Soros World Jewish Conspiracy which funded the creation of coronavirus in a Chinese lab, I guess?

After the jump: All the rabbit holes in one convenient location!

Continue reading

Admin Official Injures Self Attempting Verbal Arabesque

You get the feeling that Human Services Secretary Mike Smith was all prepared for a question about the Scott administration’s refusal to prioritize prison inmates for Covid-19 vaccinations. Because, as it turns out, he was kind of over-prepared.

At the administration’s Friday press conference, reporters were far more occupied with other issues. There were questions about teachers and child care workers and various classes of potentially high-risk cohorts, but the first mention of inmates didn’t come until the one hour, 37 minute mark.

At that point, Joe Gresser of the Barton Chronicle asked whether long-term care facilities near the Northern State Correctional Facility should change their visitation rules due to the Covid outbreak at the prison. Implying, I guess, that the prison outbreak could mean more danger in the surrounding community.

At which point Smith spent three minutes and 21 seconds on a soliloquy that didn’t actually answer Gresser’s question. The time was consumed in a word-salady defense of the state’s inmate vaccination policy. Which makes me think Smith was expecting a barrage of questions on the issue.

For those just joining us, the state’s policy is to consider inmates exactly as other Vermonters are considered. They get vaccinated when their age group or risk group gets vaccinated. No special treatment. Despite the fact that, according to defense attorney and inmate advocate Kelly Green, 44% of NSCF inmates have tested positive. Forty-four percent. If that’s not a high-risk cohort, I don’t know what is.

After the jump, I’m going to provide a transcript (my own) of Smith’s entire disquisition and then make some comments.

Continue reading

Is Phil Scott Okay With Appointing a Conspiracy-Minded Trumpist?

Welcome, friends, to the Facebook feed of Brian Bailey, a resident of Barre and a Phil Scott appointee to the state’s Fish and WIldlife Board. Bailey is the owner of McLeod’s Spring and Chassis, a truck repair shop in Barre. He’s very active on Facebook. Many of his posts are about hunting, fishing and the Great Outdoors. He also spends a lot of time posting and reposting hateful attacks on Democrats including the one pictured above.

It must be noted that Vermont has I don’t know how many boards and commissions. It’s practically a full-time job for someone in the administration to keep up with all the nominations. So this isn’t anything like Gov. Scott naming a die-hard Trumpist to an executive-level position in his government. And as a hunter and outdoorsman, Bailey seems to be qualified for the post.

But how does the governor feel about having such an extremist represent his administration in any capacity?

(Before we go on, I’ll note that the Fish and Wildlife Board has 14 members, one representing each county. Only two of the 14 are women. Problem?)

After the jump: Lots more hateful postings! Join me, won’t you?

Continue reading

Another Flood of Federal Cash: Will We Do the Right Thing?

Vermont is about to receive another tsunami of federal Covid relief. Thanks in part to the diligent “bring home the bacon” efforts of our Congressional delegation, Vermont will be among the top recipients of per capita federal aid. The American Rescue Plan, passed by the U.S. Senate on Saturday, would provide $1.25 billion for Vermont, according to Baconator-in-Chief Pat Leahy. That’s equal to the amount we got from last year’s CARES Act.

And until the last dollar is spent, there is no excuse for any Vermonter to be struggling. That is, if the Scott administration and the Legislature follow one simple rule: Prioritize relief for those hit hardest by the pandemic. Only then should you think about anything else.

Since the pandemic began, the Vermont Foodbank has been overwhelmed. In 2020, it set an all-time record for delivering food to those in need. Total food distribution was 113% higher than in 2019. And the demand has remained high. “The need has not gone down,” Foodbank CEO John Sayles told me.”Our 300 partners around the state all continue to see the heightened levels we’ve seen since last March.”

As long as there are unspent federal dollars, this should not happen. The food banks ought to be empty. Crickets, tumbleweeds, dust on the canned goods.

Sayles offered plenty of praise for steps the state has taken to reduce hunger, and said his request for fiscal year 2022 has gotten a “really positive response.” If that’s true, I asked him, why has the demand stayed at record levels? “So many people have had massive economic disruption,” he said, citing a UVM study that found 50% of Vermonters have had some kind of financial disruption since the pandemic hit.

Full credit to our political leaders for accomplishing much, but we could be doing even more. Food-insecure Vermonters should be at the front of the line, along with others hard hit by the pandemic. They include people with substance use or mental health issues, and small businesses in sectors like small retail, hospitality and tourism.

What shouldn’t happen is that the money gets used for wish-list projects or non-Covid-related issues.

Continue reading

This Has Been a Bad Week for Phil Scott Exceptionalism

A couple of fresh stains have appeared on Gov. Phil Scott’s reputation for managing the pandemic. First is the mass outbreak at the Newport prison, second is Scott’s turnabout on vaccinating school and child care workers — one day after President Biden had ordered all 50 states to prioritize educators.

First, the bad (and utterly predictable) news from the Northern State Correctional Facility. Long-serving interim Corrections Commissioner James Baker said the prison “is now being treated like a hospital” after a round of testing produced 100 positives among inmates and another eight among facility staff.

Gee, who woulda thought. An outbreak among people forced to live indoors in tight conditions with iffy sanitary standards? You don’t say.

The inmates deserved better. Whatever their offenses, they are under state custody with no right or ability to take their own precautions against coronavirus. The state has an obligation to protect people under its care. The culture-change-in-progress DOC failed in that regard. And it failed because higher-ups in the Scott administration have refused to prioritize vulnerable inmates.

They still do, even after the outbreak at Newport.

Now, it’s admittedly tough to make these decisions. A lot of groups make persuasive claims for vaccine priority. But a few points to consider:

Continue reading