Tag Archives: Phil Scott

The budget mess, again

One of the annual features of the Shumlin Era is the battle to close a budget gap*. There are reasons for this: the rising costs of (1) operating a government (mostly health care), (2) operating public schools (mostly health care), and providing social services (mostly health care).

*To be fair, it was also a feature of the Douglas Era, but the dynamic was different: Republican governor versus Democratic legislature. 

And then there’s the revenue side. Vermont is suffering from a creaky tax system that doesn’t reflect current economic realities, and is bringing in less and less money over time.

The Legislature is now in the throes of dealing with Budget Gap 2016, which has many of the features of past editions. Cries of doom, unexpected revenue upgrades, patently unworkable/unpopular money-raising ideas from Shumlin’s crack policy staff, and lawmakers trying to find alternatives. This year, we also have a significant difference between administration and Legislature over the size of the budget gap; per VTDigger, House budget writers say the administration omitted more than $9 million in basic government operations from its proposed budget…

…including a pay increase for state workers (estimated at $2 million to $6 million, depending on the results of a fact finder’s report and ongoing contract negotiations), pay increases for child care and direct care workers ($1 million each), and funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($4 million).

Shumlin’s modest proposals for new spending have already been killed by the House Appropriations Committee, whose first priority is closing the gap between current obligations and state revenue.

It’s a depressing Rite of Mud Season that has drained the energy of the Democratic caucus, party, and electorate.

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The Property Tax Rebellion Has Been Postponed Indefinitely

It’s common knowledge that the people of Vermont are mad as hell over the high cost of public schools. And even angrier over the Legislature’s attempt to fix the problem. The situation was so dire that Governor Shumlin and Democratic leaders rushed through a fix to Act 46’s perceived unpopularities at the start of this year’s session.

Then came The VPR Poll, which showed an astounding lack of engagement with the issue. Here’s how I wrote it up:

As for Act 46, the school governance bill seemingly reviled by all — from conservatives who want tougher spending controls, to liberals who want no restrictions — most people are, well, ehh. Only 13 percent are “very familiar” with Act 46; 44 percent are “somewhat familiar”; and a whopping 42 percent are “not at all familiar.”

… Also, despite the Act 46 uproar, a solid 51 percent support Vermont’s efforts to encourage school consolidation. An underwhelming 29 percent oppose. 20 percent say “it depends” or “no opinion.”

One week later came Town Meeting Day, and the results add more credence to the poll. Josh O’Gorman of the Vermont Press Bureau totted up the numbers, and the conclusion may surprise you.

Around the state, voters approved 95 percent of school spending plans, and approved five merger plans by wide margins, according to unofficial data from the Vermont Superintendents Association.

All told, voters approved 231 of the 242 budgets offered Tuesday, creating a three-year trend that has seen fewer budgets defeated each year.

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A trip down Memory Lane (and a turn into Nightmare Alley)

Hey, remember when Donald Trump held a rally at the Flynn Center? And the Vermont Republican Party took pains to distance itself?

Just to refresh your memory, here’s the statement released before the Trump event by VTGOP Executive Directory Jeff Bartley:

We learned late today through media reports that Donald Trump will be making a brief campaign stop in Vermont The Vermont Republican Party did not invite Mr. Trump and has no role in his event. Like all presidential candidates, he is welcome to share his thoughts with Vermonters. We hope all candidates will articulate, in a responsible and respectful Vermont way, their ideas for helping to make our state and or nation more affordable and prosperous for working class families. And we look forward to the outcome of the primary campaign between our very diverse group of candidates.

I thought it’d be timely to revisit those words, now that The Donald shattered his “glass ceiling” in Nevada with 46 percent of the caucus vote. With each passing day, he looks more and more like the irresistible force, while the other candidates are decidedly movable objects.

Meanwhile, the obvious choice of Vermont Republicans, John Kasich, “won” 3.6 percent of the Nevada vote. Even before the results came in, he was the subject of a juicy headline Monday morning at Politico:

GOP to Kasich: Get out

A string of elected officials, GOP insiders and prominent donors officially threw their support behind Rubio on Monday, calling him their last chance to take down Donald Trump. Their statements had another common theme. Some explicitly called for Kasich to quit, while others sent the same message by saying the Ohio governor’s ongoing presence is holding Rubio back.

The story is especially poignant in these circles, since it came only two days after Vermont Republicans couldn’t stop grinning while they shared a stage with Kasich.

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The Kasich Files: rabidly anti-choice

Now that John Kasich is planning a Town Hall in Vermont, I’ll be exploring his extremely conservative, and not very successful, record as Governor of Ohio. Enjoy.

Best of times, worst of times for Vermont Republicans. The good: they’ve finally got a credible, plausibly centrist candidate for governor — one who, in the mold of Jim Douglas, can put a smiley face on biz-friendly conservatism.

The bad: Oh, those presidential candidates.

Many in the VTGOP, glumly scanning the field, are latching onto Ohio Gov. John Kasich as the alleged “adult in the room,” the technocrat, the non-ideologue. I suppose we’ll see plenty of Vermont stalwarts at Kasich’s town hall on Saturday.

But to see John Kasich as anything other than a cookie-cutter conservative firebrand force-feeding the ALEC agenda to his home state, takes quite a bit of squinting. And wishful thinking.

Previously, I wrote about his fraudulent (literally) school-choice push, woeful jobs record, and how he has put the squeeze on local governments to save his state-budget bacon. Today, hey, it’s Planned Parenthood.

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Fantasia on a Theme by Bill McKibben

Last night I had the strangest dream… 

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VTGOP Reverses Course On Carbon Tax

At a hastily-called news conference at the Statehouse, Republican leaders announced a sudden change of position on climate change: they are endorsing a carbon tax proposal that’s been languishing in the Legislature.

“It’s the right thing to do, and now is the right time,” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning.

“We’ve all been kidding ourselves,” added House Minority Leader Don Turner. “But the longer this winter went on, with so little snow and such high temperatures, well, we just couldn’t ignore it anymore.”

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Look who the VTGOP is honoring tonight

The Vermont Republican Party is holding a fundraiser tonight at the Barre Elks Club. They’ll have speeches by candidates, a silent auction, and generally fun, food and frolic as only the Republicans can do.  (Think disco-era David Bowie with a whole lot of American flags.)

And oh yeah, they’re continuing their tokenistic Salute to Our Vets with a round of applause and a few parting gifts for three Actual Veterans!

(As usual, the proceeds of the event aren’t going to vets’ causes, or even a small portion thereof. It’s all going into @VTGOP’s coffers.)

And one of the three vets rang a faint bell in my mind: Paul E. Gibbs, Jr., of Springfield. After a bit of Googling, I discovered that Mr. Gibbs is a spectacularly unsuccessful two-time candidate for the legislature. He ran as a Republican for the House in 2010, and for the Senate in 2012. Got thoroughly trounced both times.

Sheesh. Not only are the Republicans using our brave veterans as window-dressing for a political fundraiser, they’re recycling old candidates from their Fail Pile and presenting them as randomly selected stand-ins for the defenders of our freedom.

That’d be shameful enough. But then I put on my Wellies and took a stroll through the muck and mire of Mr. Gibbs’ Facebook page, which is full of rabid archconservative propaganda.

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A big step forward for legalized pot, but don’t get your hopes up

This hasn’t been a great month for marijuana legalization in Vermont. Sure, we had Governor Shumlin’s conditional endorsement in his State of the State address; but since then, we’ve had a parade of skeptical comments from influential voices in the House and Senate.

This week brought the best news for legalization since the State of the State: Shumlin and Senate Judiciary Committee chair Dick Sears reached agreement on a legalization bill. And since the issue wasn’t going to go anywhere without Sears’ buy-in, this was an important development.

But if you ask me, I say it ain’t happening this year. Eventually, yes. 2016, no.

The Sears/Shumlin deal has raised hackles in the pro-pot community because it would ban grow-your-own. Sears is opposed because it complicates law enforcement, a legitimate concern. If this is the bill’s biggest flaw, then I’d say take the deal, get it into law, and shoot for further changes in the future.

The bill does have a number of positive features, aside from the crucial fact of Sears’ imprimatur. A strong positive: it would ensure that Vermont’s marijuana industry would be small and local. A breath of fresh air after Ohio’s unfortunate experience, where a cadre of high rollers got a measure on the ballot that would have handed the business over to a handful of large companies.

I could go on, but an in-depth evaluation is kind of pointless because it’s not going to pass. There are too many obstacles along the way, and far too many other issues on the table this year.

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