Senate Majority Leader Threatens to Hold Economic Development & Affordable Housing Legislation Hostage
Berlin, VT – Senator Majority Leader Becca Balint (D-Windham District) is threatening to block crucial legislation that would invest in economic development and housing that is affordable for Vermonters. Balint is attempting to use this legislation as leverage to kill Governor Scott’s proposal for up to $26 million in savings for taxpayers, without cuts to services or benefits.
Governor Scott has proposed legislation to save taxpayers up to $26 million annually by implementing a statewide health benefit for school employees. The plan would reduce premiums for teachers, hold school employees harmless for out of pocket cost changes, and avoid cuts in school programs, all while returning savings to property taxpayers.
Balint, however, remains opposed to this common sense proposal. During a May 8th interview on Green Mountain Mornings (1490 WKTV), Balint was asked about the legislation’s prospects of passing. Instead of simply reiterating her opposition, Balint doubled down with a threat to block important economic development legislation and a housing bond. Balint had this to say:
“However, there’s something that the Governor really wants, and that is this $35 million housing bond—which we haven’t really gotten into—but it’s something he cares a great deal about. There’s also a bunch of pieces in S.135, which is the economic development bill. So it’s possible that in the final days, there’ll be some leverage applied there.”
By pledging to block important legislation as leverage, Balint is putting politics ahead of property tax relief.
YOU can call on the Democratic Majority to exercise real leadership and stop threatening important legislation that would help grow our economy and make Vermont more affordable. Contact your legislators today by clicking here.
Berlin, VT – Over the past twenty years, property taxes and education spending have gone through the roof for Vermonters while the quality of education has remained roughly the same, according to University of Vermont economist and Burlington Free Press columnist Art Woolf.
Woolf states that, “When Act 60 took effect Vermont spent 12 percent more than the average state to educate each student in our schools. Fifteen years later we were spending 60 percent more than average and today the gap might be as high as 80 percent. Despite this high level of spending my analysis of the evidence shows that Vermont students don’t perform any better than their peers nationally.”
For almost every single biennium since Act 60 was passed, the Democratic majority in Montpelier has controlled both chambers of the Vermont Legislature. They’ve ignored opportunity after opportunity to achieve common-sense savings and lower property taxes for Vermonters.
Just this past week, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson cast a vote that halted Governor Scott’s proposal to save Vermont taxpayers $26 million annually in education costs, without making teachers pay more or cutting services to kids. Despite the proposal’s tri-partisan support, Johnson and the majority of Democrats in Montpelier demonstrated that their loyalty lies with lobbyists and special interests, rather than with Vermonters grappling with the crisis of affordability.
However, Woolf also points out a silver lining: “Governor Phil Scott seems to have secured a major victory with an overwhelmingly Democratic legislature: A balanced budget with no tax increases.” It’s due to the hard work of Governor Scott and Republican legislators that we have a budget on the table that doesn’t raise taxes or fees on Vermonters for the first time in decades.
But there is still more work to be done. We need to secure property tax relief for struggling Vermonters. And there’s still time to do it.
YOU can help by contacting your lawmakers and calling on them to support Governor Scott’s common-sense plan to lower property taxes by $26 million annually.
Governor Scott and Republican lawmakers have bucked the status quo in Montpelier by championing legislation to make Vermont affordable and expand economic opportunities without raising taxes. Let’s help them finish the job.
To read Art Woolf’s full column in the Burlington Free Press, click here.
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.
Urge Mainstream Democrats to ‘Do the Right Thing’
Berlin, VT – House Republicans stood united at a press conference recently in support of Governor Scott’s proposal to save up to $26 million annually by negotiating teachers’ health care benefits at the state level, and now they are urging mainstream Democrats to join them in doing the right thing by putting progress ahead of partisanship.
“I don’t want to leave millions if not tens of millions of dollars on the table. We need to return that value to the taxpayers who have supported our teachers for such a long time,” said House Appropriations Committee Vice-Chair Peter Fagan (R-Rutland).
The Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) would create a statewide health benefit to take advantage of a federal requirement that health plans be renegotiated this year. VEHI would also avoid the upcoming “Cadillac tax” on certain taxpayer-funded health insurance plans.
Through VEHI, healthcare contracts would be bargained at one time, instead of at 60 times throughout the year. This would save up to $100 million over the next five years, without forcing teachers to pay more for healthcare or cutting services to our children.Read more
WE MUST ACT NOW FOR SIGNIFICANT SAVINGS
This commentary is by Vermont Gov. Phil Scott
We have an opportunity to save up to $26 million a year – up to $100 million over five years, adjusting for inflation – in our education system, without program cuts or asking teachers to pay more for benefits. But the Legislature must act now.
The federal Affordable Care Act signed by President Obama put high valued health plans at risk of a Cadillac tax. The Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) is transitioning to new plans, which are projected to cost substantially less than existing plans and will not be subjected to the federal penalty.
That’s why I’ve put forward a proposal – developed with the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association – that creates a statewide health benefit where the state bargains with employee unions, maximizing the savings of these new plans. This approach would save up to $26 million each year.
Right now, taxpayers invest $1.6 billion a year in our K-12 education system – about $19,000 per student, among the highest per pupil spending in the country. We have the smallest classes in the nation – averaging less than 10 students per teacher and almost four students per staff member. Though we have 27,000 fewer kids in our public schools than we did 20 years ago, the costs of the system have been growing faster than our economy – and faster than many Vermonters’ ability to pay.
While we have good schools and great teachers, the fact is – even while we’re among the highest per pupil spending in the country – we are not yet an education destination for young families.
But we can be.
If we have the courage to rethink how we structure and fund education and work together to ensure more of our spending goes to educating kids rather than empty spaces and unnecessary costs, our schools can become our best economic development tool.
That’s why I’ve proposed moving toward a cradle-to-career education system that realigns priorities and spending. By investing in early care and learning, technical and higher education, we can attract more families to Vermont, better prepare students for 21st century jobs, and address social challenges facing teachers and students.
Since presenting my budget in January, I’ve highlighted opportunities to reduce costs, specifically in health care, which is one of the biggest drivers of growth in school budgets. The teachers’ union itself cited “the inexorable growth in health care costs” as the “root” of excessive growth in school budgets.
Now, with the details of my plan in place, we know we can save up to $26 million per year while preserving high quality health care coverage for school employees, and without asking them to pay more.
Think about that. When was the last time Vermont had an opportunity to reduce education costs by $100 million over five years, without asking employees to pay more or cutting services? Never in my lifetime.
Imagine the value of these savings to our kids, and our economy.
By creating this statewide benefit, we’ll be better positioned to achieve the education vision I’ve highlighted. We could return savings to taxpayers. We could invest in child care and early education. We could expand science, technology, engineering or mathematics programs. We could reduce the cost of college. We could do some, or all, of the above.
What we can’t do is leave this savings on the table.
Realizing up to $26 million in savings each year is a win for taxpayers. It’s a win for local volunteer school boards who can focus more on school programs and classroom innovation instead of negotiating complicated health care proposals. And we can achieve this while ensuring school employees do not pay more.
With all teachers’ contracts open this year, it is truly a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. As we continue to lose an average of six workers from our workforce, and three students from our schools each day, we literally cannot afford to pass it up.
For the future of our kids and teachers, and our economic well-being, we must act now.
By Angelo Lynn
April 27, 2017
In Vermont, Democratic legislators must carefully consider a late-in-the-session move by Gov. Phil Scott that could potentially save taxpayers $26 million annually in education costs. To ignore a full discussion of the proposed plan (Senate Democrats are suggesting it’s too late in the session to take it up) could risk losing this one-time opportunity and give Republicans political ammunition in upcoming elections.
Here’s the deal: For the past several weeks, Gov. Scott has been working with the Vermont School Boards Association and with the Vermont Superintendents Association to develop a new Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) that would serve as a statewide health care contract for teachers and school employees. The impetus for the change is a provision in Obamacare that mandates all state supervisory unions switch their health care contracts to the state exchange by mid-November of this year.
Individual school districts would still hold teacher and employee negotiations for salaries, days off and other provisions of the work place, but health care benefits would no longer be part of that discussion. That’s either a positive or negative development depending on one’s perspective. For the NEA, the teachers’ union, it is seen as a negative because the union loses a bit of their clout.
For most citizens and taxpayers, however, it is no doubt seen as a positive development — not just because it is one less thing for district school boards to have to negotiate, but also because larger districts can’t offer better health insurance packages than smaller districts can afford. With health care benefits equal across the state, smaller districts can be more competitive on salary discussions.
From the public’s perspective, this appears to be a win-win-win scenario. It saves $26 million annually; it provides the same health care benefits for teachers and school employees at no added cost; it provides health care parity across the state; it maintains collective bargaining rights and the right to strike locally; and it lowers cost in K-12 spending.
The one downside is that the plan wasn’t finalized until just recently, not allowing state legislators the opportunity to vet the issue as thoroughly as they would like. And here’s the catch: It’s a one-time offer. So, if the state Legislature doesn’t act on it this session, the opportunity for years of savings is lost.
The issue came up in the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, which expressed its reluctance to consider the bill at this late date, though they reserved the option to offer it as a floor amendment to an existing bill on Thursday. Senate leadership has also balked at considering the proposal, citing its concern that the measure would step on the collective bargaining rights of teachers. (To make matters worse for Democrats, a Senate committee recently passed a measure that takes money out of the general fund for teachers’ retirement and shifts it onto the property tax; adopting this statewide health care contract would eliminate that need to hike the property tax — and Scott, who opposes any increases in taxes, is not being shy about pointing that out.)
Politically, it would be a mistake for Democrats to dismiss the proposal. With the support of the state school board association and superintendents association, and with common sense on its side, this is precisely the type of issue that could swing political allegiance among moderates and independents to the Republican camp. If Democratic leadership is so beholden to the teachers’ union as to not pursue common sense objectives when they are presented, that spells trouble with a capital T.
If it takes a few extra days to debate the issue, and possibly flush out other concerns, so be it: the Democratic leadership should add the days to the agenda. There are few ways state legislators could ever save $26 million annually that also creates no loss of benefits for those involved. And it’s money, year after year, that can be invested in our school systems to yield better student outcomes. That’s a powerful talking point that wins elections if your opponent voted against it.
Read the editorial online here.
There cannot be an organization more out of touch with the public, or with the circumstances surrounding their environment, than the Vermont NEA, the union representing our teachers.
There is little to no understanding that its members are teaching fewer students, or that the property tax burden is too much for Vermonters, or that the union has any role in trying to make our schools better and more affordable.
Clarification of this blindness came this week when the union turned its nose up at the proposal to collectively bargain with the state to reduce health care costs, something that would have saved roughly $28 million.
It is a unique circumstance. Under the Affordable Care Act, the teachers union can no longer keep its “Cadillac” health care plan, it has to switch to plans carried by Vermont Health Connect. It’s something that has to happen by November of this year, which means that all 60 local supervisory unions are involved in the same negotiation.
That sort of collective opportunity has never before been an option. Gov. Phil Scott, along with the state’s school boards, saw the opportunity for what it is, which is a way to reduce costs. School boards and the teachers union have repeatedly marked health care as one of reasons it’s been difficult to keep spending down. This was the chance to do something about it.
The Vermont Education Health Initiative [VEHI], the non-profit that has drawn up benefit plans for our school districts for the last 20 years, was tasked with the need to figure out how this transfer could be made. It did so, offering a handful of options that
would produce considerable savings, yet lower the premium costs for the teachers.
Here’s one proposal: If 85 percent of all Vermont’s teachers picked the platinum plan, and if they paid only 14 percent of the premium cost, the teachers would save $4 million in reduced premium costs and the state – the taxpayers – would save $28 million.
This proposal, and others like it, would have hit the reset button on how health care costs for schools would be managed. The governor has not only talked about this need, but tried to formalize the effort as part of a statewide health care contract.
The NEA took the opportunity to blast the governor, the school boards and anyone else who looked favorably on the shift from local to statewide negotiations. But we’re where we are because the leadership of the union wants things to remain as they always have. It thinks it’s better able to use its strength locally than it could statewide.
The union’s leadership criticized the governor’s move as “an assault on collective bargaining” and something “straight out of the Donald Trump and Scott Walker anti-union playbook.”
That’s easy, albeit simplistic, political rhetoric, and something that might play to the membership, but it plays very poorly to the general public, the majority of whom are paid less, get less and could only dream of paying 20 percent of their health care premiums, let alone 14 percent.
Property taxes are a large factor in the cost of living in Vermont, and the lion’s share of that cost comes from the need to pay for our schools. Our per-student costs are at the tip-top of the nation’s scale. Our pupilteacher ratio is the nation’s lowest, and
about half the national average. Roughly 80 percent of a school’s costs are labor-based, and part of that cost of labor is health care.
What the union had before it was a way to show Vermonters that it, too, is concerned with costs, and with efficiency, and with the need to be sympathetic to the burden others bear.
It would have cost them almost nothing. Their premiums would be less than they are now. It would place a priority on making better health care choices, something that is being pushed in every other corner of Vermont life.
What the Vermont NEA has done is thumb its nose at Vermonters, preferring to stick the money in its own pocket. That savings could have gone to taxpayers in the form of property tax relief. The savings could have gone into the educational fund and then to the children we’re trying to do a better job of educating. It could have gone to an early education fund that addresses our profound needs to reach children before they enter kindergarten. It could have gone to tuition assistance for students struggling to afford college.
The Vermont NEA gave the stiff arm to any and all of these options. By so doing, it made itself look selfish and apart.
That’s not how you win friends.
As a union, that’s not how you win followers to your cause.
This article was originally published in the St. Albans Messenger and written by Emerson Lynn.
ICYMI Gov. Scott's Administration Exposes Democrat's Opposition to Better, More Efficient Government
Gov. Scott's Administration Exposes Democrat's Opposition to Better, More Efficient Government
Montpelier, Vt. -- Governor Scott and his administration are continuing to fight for reforms that make state government more efficient, productive and valuable -- like the Governor's proposal to unite and modernize the departments of liquor and lottery. In a recent media interview the Governor's chief of staff squared off with Rep. Helen Head (D-South Burlington), chairwoman of the committee that is currently blocking this commonsense change. Watch the entire debate here: http://www.vpt.org/show/22517/114
"The following editorial recently appeared in the St. Albans Messenger. It is a stark reminder of how much petty political resistance, and old government thinking, Governor Scott and Vermont's Republican legislators face in their work to modernize state government and put the economic progress and affordability of our state ahead of partisan politics. We have confidence, however, that Governor Scott's positive and forward looking leadership, his laser focus on the economy and affordability and his common sense approach to making state government more efficient and productive will carry the day." -- Jeff Bartley, Executive Director of the Vermont Republican Party
Why would Dems allow themselves to look so petty?
By the St. Albans Messenger
The Democratically-controlled Legislature hasn’t learned to pick its battles with “affordability” governor Phil Scott. They keep giving him political gifts and, in so doing, make themselves look petty.
The pettiness took full flower on Wednesday. The House voted 82-63 to rescind the governor’s executive order to merge the Lottery Commission with the Department of Liquor Control. The merger, putting both operations under the same roof, would have saved $500,000 annually. The vote to oppose the governor was a straight party line vote. And the reason for their opposition?
The merger wasn’t their idea.
It was suggested that the governor hadn’t really provided all the necessary details as to exactly how the merger would work, and how the savings would materialize, and who would do what, and when, and to whom, and for how much. It’s such a complicated thought process that the Democrats are considering the need for a summer study committee.
If that happens, it would be the second summer study committee dealing with the state’s liquor control department.
Here’s what the public hears: The governor wants to merge two very small departments into one because the efficiencies of working out of one building instead of two saves Vermont’s taxpayers $500,000. The Democrats are opposed to saving $500,000 and don’t have a suggestion as to move forward, other than to repeat another summer study.
That’s a lousy message for Democrats to leave with their constituents. It’s not something that can be explained away because most Vermonters have little to no contact with either department. All they know is that the Democrats turned down a proposal that would have saved the taxpayers $500,000 each year. Is a half million dollars in annual savings inconsequential to Democrats?
If the Democrats think they have ideas that would save more, or ideas that would save more and improve operations beyond what the governor proposed, they should have said so. They did not. The message they left was purely partisan: If it’s not our idea, it won’t be considered.
It’s such an odd issue for House Democrats to use to define themselves or their legislative record. They’ve just passed the state budget by avote of 143-1. They figured out how to maintain services, bridge a $70 million shortfall, and, in so doing, not raise taxes. It was their defining moment, one of the best we’ve seen in years. Why allow the pettiness of opposing the governor’s proposed merger sully the good work they’ve accomplished?
Perception, as Marshall McLuhan told us, is the biggest part of reality. When people perceive legislators to be small-minded and partisan that perception clouds the complete image, and cannot be segregated according to topic.
The Democratic leadership should not have allowed that to happen. If they have a better way, share it. They know as well as anyone that if the need is there, ways can be found to make an idea work.
But for the Democrats to pick up their ball and run home, just because the game isn’t completely under their control, shows them to be less than what they are. That’s an image that needs correcting.(Note: This editorial by Emerson Lynn first appeared in the St. Albans Messenger on April 13th; www.samessenger.com)