Tag Archives: Vermont Press Bureau

Checking in on the new guy

So, how’s it goin’ down Phil Scott way?

For starters, he still hasn’t decided what he means by his core budgeting principle, that he would oppose any state budget that grows faster than wages or the state economy. April B. McCullum of the Burlington Free Press:

Scott has yet to settle on the formula he will use to measure the economy and limit state spending: Tax revenue? Gross state product? Median household income? Some combination?

Just a reminder, we’re almosttot the halfway mark between his election and his inauguration. And there’s some holidays between now and then.

Which also applies to naming a cabinet and staffing an entire administration, where he continues to fall further and further behind the pace set by Peter Shumlin in 2010, and which he’s apparently in no hurry to do. Neal Goswami of the Vermont Press Bureau:

Since winning the governor’s office on Nov. 8, Scott, a Republican, has appointed four people to serve on his staff. But top-level cabinet positions remain unfilled. Six years ago, outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin named several such appointees within a couple of weeks of his election.

… “When you have hundreds, literally hundreds of applications, it takes a little time and I don’t want to leave anything on the table. I want to make sure that we fully, fully take a look at their backgrounds, what they could bring to the table … and talent is very, very important,” Scott said.

Good to know talent is important. I was hoping the next cabinet wouldn’t feature Larry, Darryl and Darryl.

And the idea of open auditions for cabinet posts is certainly small-D democratic at its core, but wouldn’t it make sense for an incoming governor to have a few ideas going in? Maybe have a small team do some pre-election planning, even?

If they’re truly starting from scratch with piles and piles of applications, well, sheesh. I’ve never been elected governor of anything (although I am the captain of my kitchen), but I’d have a pretty good notion of the people I’d want at the top levels of my hypothetical administration.

Oh, and here’s a little tidbit that somebody might have thought to mention before Election Day, courtesy April B.

Outgoing Gov. Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, claimed this week that his administration already “righted the ship,” and that during his tenure the state budget grew less than the growth in Vermont’s gross state product.

An analysis by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office showed state spending exceeded gains in Vermont’s gross domestic product in fiscal years 2012-14, but in recent years state spending has grown more slowly than the economy.

Well, gee whillikers, what do you know. State spending grew in the wake of a killer recession and Tropical Storm Irene, and was then brought under control in Shumlin’s final two years.

Which means what? Phil Scott’s mantra about the reckless spending increases of the past six years was nothing more than a politically motivated piece of accounting fakery?

Er, yeah.

How about that.

If that had ever been mentioned before now, I missed it. (And I’m sure whoever reported it will promptly correct me.)

(And I’ll ask them why they never fact-checked Candidate Scott on his alleged factoid.

In any case, one of these days Phil Scott will have to stop running for governor and start actually, y’know, governing.

Phil Scott Makes Tax Cut Plan Somewhat Less Awful

It hasn’t been that long since Phil Scott unveiled his glossy 39-page economic plan, but he’s already acknowledging one major mistake.

As the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami reported over the weekend, Scott’s plan to cut capital gains taxes was based on Vermont’s old tax formula. As a result, the Scott campaign has watered down its cap-gains proposal.

Details in a moment. But first, let’s just put this out there:

[Cutting the capital gains tax] would spur tax shelters, generate little new saving, give a windfall to the wealthy, and make long-term budget problems even worse.

That’s from the commie-pinkos at the Brookings Institution. There’s plenty where that came from; the consensus among experts (not employed by the Cato Institute and other right-wing policy shops) is that capital gains tax cuts are, at best, a grossly inefficient way to spur economic growth. At worst, they’re a pointless squandering of resources.

But let’s return to Phil Scott’s plan, before and after. This will get into the weeds of tax policy, so my apologies in advance. I’ll try to keep things simple.

Vermont used to allow taxpayers to exclude 40 percent of their capital gains. That was killed in 2009, in favor of an exclusion for the first $2,500 in capital gains. The change was designed to concentrate the tax benefits at lower income levels; whether you got $2,500 in capital gains or $2,500,000, you got the same tax break.

Scott’s original plan would have restored the 40 percent exclusion.

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The Paige Exclusion

Congratulations to the Vermont Democratic Party for giving perennial fringe candidate H. Brooke Paige more publicity in a few days than he could possibly earn on his own this entire year.

The VDP did so by ordering his banishment from all party events, reportedly due to impertinent and offensive comments posted by Paige on Facebook.

Mixed feelings about this. I don’t have much use for perennial fringe candidates; as far as I’m concerned, it’s too easy for people to get on the ballot and even grace the occasional debate stage without proving they hold the least bit of appeal or interest for the electorate. Waste of time and space. Detracts from direct confrontations among candidates who actually matter. That goes for Paige and for Emily Peyton and Cris Ericson and the entire Diamondstone clan.

Paige is an irritant* in all senses of the word. He runs for at least one office every cycle, sometimes as a Republican, sometimes as a Democrat, and I think as independent on occasion. He has also fomented birther claims against not only President Obama, but also Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. I can see why the Democrats would want to be rid of him. And, after all, it’s their party and they can make their own rules. Or even cry if they want to.

*Irritants produce distress, annoyance, and the occasional pearl. 

That said, their reaction seems unduly stiff.

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The decline of the newspaper continues apace

Sad, but entirely predictable, news from the world of Vermont media. The Mitchell family newspapers, the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, will no longer be daily papers as of early next month.

Both organs are jettisoning their Monday through Wednesday print editions, and will publish physical newspapers Thursday through Sunday. Thursday and Sunday are the biggest advertising days of the week, with Friday not far behind. The news was reported first by Seven Days; a few hours later, both papers posted stories about the change online.

Many newspapers around the country have already abandoned daily delivery. My old hometown paper, the Ann Arbor News, publishes only on Thursday and Sunday. Which is a disgrace, because Ann Arbor is a prosperous city of more than 100,000 with masses of affluent suburbs on every side.

The Mitchells and their minions have been doing yeoman’s work in maintaining a daily schedule AND providing decent coverage of local news AND a two-person Statehouse bureau. The T-A and Herald do a lot more with less than, say, the Burlington Free Press.

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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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The Brock campaign’s nuclear connections — UPDATED

Last week, Randy Brock kinda re-introduced his bid for lieutenant governor at the same news conferece where a bunch of Republicans threw their lot in with Marco Rubio, the presidential candidate last seen telling dick jokes about Donald Trump.

Mm-hmm, presidential.

Brock made headlines by claiming he knows how to boost state tax revenue by $100 million, and I’ll be writing more about that in the near future. But he also showcased his campaign team. And the media coverage was notable for what it didn’t say.

VTDigger identified campaign manager Brad Ferland in passing, without specifying his credentials. The Vermont Press Bureau named Ferland* (listing his day job as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Management) and two others: Brent Burns, credentials unspecified; and Guy Page, identified as “field director for VT Watchdog.”

*UPDATE: The VPB was in error. There are two Brad Ferlands. The one who works for the state is not connected with the Brock campaign in any way. 

The latter is interesting enough; VT Watchdog is the Green Mountain outpost of the national Watchdog network, which is funded by far-right wealthy donors in the Koch brothers orbit.

But what’s even more interesting about Page and Ferland is what wasn’t reported: both are on the payroll of the Vermont Energy Partnership. For those unfamiliar, this bland-sounding organization is basically a sounding board for corporate energy interests in Vermont. As Green Mountain Daily put it:

The Vermont Energy Partnership was founded by [some] of the most powerful corporations, few from Windham County, including IBM, Casella Waste Management, and Pizzagalli Construction, plus business associations like the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association. And, of course, Entergy.

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Bizarro Dave

I’m writing an awful lot about David Sunderland lately, but then he’s been doing a lot of dumb stuff lately. And this tidbit is the cherry on his hacktastic sundae.

The Vermont Press Bureau’s Josh O’Gorman did a writeup of the VTGOP chair’s latest stunt — the anti-carbon tax website, which seeks to blame Democrats for something that’s not going to happen.

And deep within the article, I discovered the source of Sunderland’s difficulty with facts.

David Sunderland (not exactly as illustrated)

David Sunderland (not exactly as illustrated)

He appears to live in an alternate dimension, with a parallel but very different set of events. Look:

Sunderland said he believes a carbon tax could be in the cards come January.

“It’s possible this will happen,” Sunderland said. “If you look to the past, nobody in million years would have ever thought we would enact state-run, single-payer health care, but it happened.”

Whaaaaaat?

Vermont has a state-run, single-payer health care system?

How did I miss that?

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There goes the Governor, kicking the hippies again

Pardon my sparse posting of late. Tweaked my back digging the potato patch. Limiting my keyboard time.

Bad, but not at all unexpected, news on the labor front. The Vermont Press Bureau’s Other Guy, Josh O’Gorman:

Negotiations between state workers and the Shumlin administration have broken down and are heading to mediation, according to the employees’ union.

Not unexpected because (a) the state’s budget is tight as a drumhead, and (b) the Shumlin administration has made a habit of hard-lining the VSEA. In the bargaining room this is standard procedure, but Shumlin also likes to take it public:

Shumlin said agreeing to the terms proposed by the VSEA would be “unconscionable.”

“That position asks for a 13.4-percent pay increase over two years, which would cost Vermont taxpayers $70.6 million,” Shumlin said. “It’s beyond me how anyone could find that position reasonable. At a time when many Vermonters are not seeing their wages rise, it would be unconscionable to agree to pay increases that are more than quadruple the rate of inflation and would add substantial pressure to an already-tight budget.”

Hmm. Unconscionable, check. Unreasonable, check. For good measure, he adds “intractable.” Also, according to VSEA President Steve Howard, Shumlin is substantially (and “disingenuously”) overstating the union’s actual pay demands, which are nothing like 13.4 percent.

Remind me again, is it the Democrats who are the party of labor?

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Ooh, Republican slapfight!

The Vermont Republican Party, said by Sen. Dustin Degree to be the party of youth, now has a 72-year-old running for Lieutenant Governor to go with the 68-year-old (Bruce Lisman) and the 57-year-old (Phil Scott) running for governor.

The latest AARP-eligible to grace the Republican campaign is Randy Brock, former state auditor and state senator, and spectacularly unsuccessful candidate for governor in 2012.

The best account of Brock’s announcement comes from the Vermont Press Bureau’s indefatigable Neal Goswami, who got the dirt on a freshly opened rift on the VTGOP’s right wing.

Recently, Brock had met with former VTGOP Treasurer Mark Snelling (65 years old, Dustin). The subject: the two men’s shared interest in Vermont’s Bucket of Warm Spit.

Snelling said he and Brock had a recent meeting in which the two agreed to ask the state party to host a meeting with candidates interested in the position “to try and maximize the talents within the party.”

But Brock called Snelling Wednesday night to tell him he was announcing his candidacy.

Sorta like two boxers ready for a fight. The bell rings, and one fighter suddenly says “Hey, look, it’s Muhammad Ali!” Second fighter turns his head; first fighter whomps him in the gut.

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A happy ending

Well hey, looky here:

Scott opposes efforts to defund Planned Parenthood

That’s the headline on a newly-minted story by the Vermont Press Bureau’s Neal Goswami, who reached out to Lt. Gov. Phil Scott for comment on the Planned Parenthood foofaraw. Don’t know whether Goswami’s inquiry was sparked by yesterday’s disgraceful Congressional “hearing” or by my earlier post calling for Scott to exercise some leadership, but the important thing is, Phil Scott stepped up and delivered.

“I’m pro-choice. I always have been and I believe that Planned Parenthood provides very important health services that go far beyond abortions for women,” he said. “They provide great services and needed services.”

Can’t say anything bad about that. It’s a strong and straightforward statement, and it puts Phil Scott at odds with the national party and all the Republican Presidential candidates. I do have one quibble:

Scott said he did not know if the videos that have inspired conservatives in Congress to cut funding for Planned Parenthood are reputable.

“I don’t know anything about the allegations, whether they are true or not, but I’m sure we can all agree that no organization should be profiting from abortions,” he said.

Well, he went a little Sergeant Schultz on us there at the end. But the rest of his position? Commendable.