Sometimes I wish we had the tradition of the British Parliament in the Legislature and at sessions such as the today's breakfast sponsored by the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp. You know the tradition I'm talking about -- "hear, hear" or the mumbling and shouts of displeasure.
I'm not looking for lack of civility so much as some reaction. Surely the more than 300 people who heard Gov. Jim Douglas outline his plans this morning have some reaction to his suggestions to freeze school spending, consider a merger of the University of Vermont and the state colleges and revise the permit system -- but there wasn't any detectable buzz. Just determined forking of eggs and bacon and coffee-drinking.
Too soon to decide? Too many nuances to consider?
Douglas warned the assembled business and civic leaders that the fiscal news would get worse tomorrow when economists present a revised revenue report for adoption by a special board on which he and four legislators sit.
"There is not a situation we there we can just tweak and tinker," he said. Nor would dismantling state government be the answer, he said. "We can't just make draconian cuts to our programs on which so many Vermonters rely."
Douglas acknowledged that his proposals, made in his inaugural address, hadn't received an enthusiastic response among legislators. "I outlined a few thoughts last week that were, in some cases, provocative."
He appealed to the business crowd when he explained his proposal to freeze school budgets at current levels. What business could have its customer base decline by 10 percent and afford to increase its staff by 25 percent? he asked.
He noted that state government faces the same challenges to belt-tightening as school districts -- fixed labor contract, increasing energy and health care expenses. "I say, welcome to my world."
The questions were submitted on cards -- which was more efficient, but took away any feeling the questioners might have expressed along their queries. Douglas was asked about the impact of divided government -- a Republican executive and Legislature dominated by Democrats.
He joked that voters didn't cast their ballots hoping for gridlock. Can he and legislative leaders work together? "I think we can. The fact that there are different perspectives I hope will be helpful," he said. "I'm sure there will be lot of back and forth ... that will make you wonder." Still he predicted eventual cooperation.
A lot of that back and forth could be short-circuited if the two sides could gauge public/political support for their positions. So how about some "hear, hears" on something.
-- Nancy Remsen