St. Albans Messenger: The Democrats’ gift to Vt. Republicans

St. Albans Messenger: The Democrats’ gift to Vt. Republicans

The following editorial was published in the St. Albans Messenger on May 2, 2017

The Democrats’ gift to Vt. Republicans

Vermont Democrats are on the cusp of giving Gov. Phil Scott and the Republican Party the gift that keeps on giving. The drama will be played out this week, part by part, as the Legislature lurches toward adjournment on Saturday.

The issue is the $26 million that would be saved each year if the state were in charge of negotiating our teachers’ healthcare package. The Democratic leadership is opposed, having decided it’s best to do the Vt. NEA’s bidding. The Republicans, including some Democrats and Independents, are in favor.

The most recent turn of events is the refusal of the House leadership to even allow a vote on the issue. The strategy is to push the school tax bill to the conference committee without a floor vote, and the only way that can be avoided is if the Republicans were able to garner 76 votes. Reportedly, they are a half-dozen votes shy, and that’s including eight Democrats and five Independents who have aligned themselves with the Republicans.

 

Unless the Republicans can find another bill to which they can attach the statewide health care contract language, it appears there will be no vote on the issue. The leadership’s strategy, obviously, is to give the Democrats cover in the next election. If there is no vote, Democratic legislators think they can skirt the issue, pretending it never happened.

Not only is that mistaken – all legislators should be asked how they would have voted, regardless – not allowing a vote adds to the duplicity. So now, Democrats are allowing the leadership to make the legislative process less transparent? That will please their constituents?

The refusal to allow a vote only makes the process more political than it already is. And that will intensify.

Play this out. If the Legislature sends the governor his budget package without the $26 million in savings and if, as promised, the governor vetoes the bill because it doesn’t have the savings, then the legislation goes back to the House where the Republicans say they have the votes to sustain the veto.

The vote to sustain the veto is also the roll call vote on the statewide health care contract. Not including the health care contract and the $26 million in savings is the only reason the governor would veto the bill. The Democrats can’t pretend otherwise.

For the Democrats, it could get worse. If the veto is sustained and if the Democrats decide to play politics with the budget itself – accusing the Republicans for not allowing a budget to be put in place – they put themselves in a worse position. If there is no budget, then spending levels revert to the prior year

Not only would Republicans would be comfortable with that, they would lay the blame at the Democrats’ feet saying all this could have been avoided had they agreed to the healthcare contract and the $26 million in annual savings, money that could have reduced people’s property taxes.

Here’s the Democrats’ argument as all this plays out:

• It’s too late to bring the issue up.

That’s nonsense and they know it. It’s not a complicated issue and they have all the time in the world, considering the amount of savings involved.

• It violates the collective bargaining process

It absolutely does not. Collective bargaining still remains in place. In fact, an argument could be made that it actually strengthens the hands of the union.

• The $26 million in savings could be negotiated locally, leaving the local control process in place.

That’s ridiculous and they know it. If the process is left to the local level then the union, obviously, will be negotiating for higher pay to offset whatever perceived loss they would suffer on the health care front. And there is no local control. Education in Vermont is paid for through a statewide tax – budgets are not set up so that savings can be accrued to the individual property tax payer level.

What’s interesting is that such issues typically invite a robust debate between those in favor and those opposed. But on this issue, the debate is almost all one-sided. The above arguments are posed, but not being articulated with any force. Where are the NEA’s defenders?

They’re silent because they know they’ve been dealt a weak hand. The Republicans [and the blue dog Democrats] can point to the $26 million in annual savings that can make Vermont more affordable. They can demonstrate that the teachers are essentially being held harmless and have better benefits – by far - than the average Vermonter. They can point to all the state’s school boards who favor the statewide health care contract knowing their jobs will be easier, and that they can be more effective. The Republicans can point to the funding advantages the $26 million offers in tuition assistance for needy Vermont students, and for early education.

Vermont’s Democrats have always been known as a generous bunch.

But to Republicans?

by Emerson Lynn