Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen
Budget awaits veto
The continuing saga of the Great 2010 Budget Debate took a new turn yesterday, as legislators proposed some changes they'll make to. Not coincidentally, those changes might just be the sort of thing that would win over a stray legislator or two when it comes time next week to vote on overriding the governor's veto.
Speaking of the budget veto, the budget bill arrived at the governor's office yesterday. He has five days to act on it. Spokeswoman Dennise Casey said that is most likely to happen Monday.
The rumble around Montpelier is that legislators could come back June 2 and adjourn to the following week to take care of the 2010 budget that the governor promises to veto if it ever makes it to his desk. Mind you this is rumble, which is different from fact. I think the fact is that no one under all the sun, stars and clouds quite knows what will happen.
There are at least a couple possible theories for why they might do that stutter-step special session thing. If:
a) The Democratic majority has a member or members who can't make it June 2, but can be there the week after to give them enough allow for an override of the veto.
b) The Democratic majority doesn't have the votes to override and will need that extra week to work out a budget compromise with the governor.
House Republican Leader Patti Komline of Dorset said today that she has the votes to sustain the governor's veto. We don't, however, know what kind of reconstructive surgery Democrats have planned for any wayward members between now and whenever a vote might take place.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin also claimed today that Democrats would have the votes to override.
There will be posturing on both sides tomorrow as the great budget battle of '09 continues.
Legislators will hold the first of two public hearings, which they have made fairly clear are designed to hear from people who don't like the governor's budget proposal.
Not to be outdone, the governor is holding a series of lunches with Vermont workers, whom he indicates have so far all dissed the Legislature's budget. Wednesday's PB&J exchange is at DEW Construction in Williston.
Lunch comes with a taste of bitterness in the governor's news release:
"As lawmakers begin their Montpelier hearings, Governor Douglas tomorrow will attend his third budget meeting with working Vermonters and small business owners in Williston at DEW Construction Corp. The meetings, which are scheduled at convenient times for working Vermonters, are designed to give workers and employers the opportunity to weigh in on the troubling effects of the Legislature’s recent tax increases.
"While Legislative leaders sit in Montpelier and hear from special interest groups and lobbyists about a budget proposal that isn’t even up for consideration, Governor Douglas is out meeting with working Vermonters, farmers and employers in their communities about the budget proposal that will be taken up at next Tuesday's special session."
"In addition to community meetings, Governor Douglas is also meeting with several legislative Democrats who have reached out with ideas, comments and concerns about our current budget situation."
Some of you may already know this. We took a break over the weekend to do some running, so now we will play political catch-up.
The press release arrived in our inbox moments ago. It's from Rep. Mark Larson, D-Burlington, about himself and Sam Winship signing on to the Racine for Governor campaign.
It says Larson will focus on organizing and constituent outreach. Winship will provide fundraising support for the campaign.
The release continues: Mark Larson serves in the Vermont House of Representatives as the Vice Chair of the Appropriations Committee. “Mark has a history of building bridges to help solve the problems working families face and this is what our campaign is all about.” said Racine.
“I am concerned about Vermont’s future” said Larson. "We desperately need a leader who believes in Vermont and can bring Vermonters together. Doug has a track record of doing this and I am excited to work with the growing number of people who see Doug as the leader our state needs in times like these.”
Sam Winship is from Rutland and has a history of campaign fundraising work. He worked for the Tom Salmon’s campaign for Auditor in 2006 and for Steve Howard’s campaign for Mayor in 2007. Most recently, Sam served as the Finance Director for Segall for Congress in Alabama's 3rd Congressional District.
“As native Vermonter and UVM graduate, I know how hard this recession is on young people,” Winship said, “Doug has a history of working for young people and creating jobs. We need his leadership now more than ever.”
If everyone is already focusing on the next election, who is going to work on a remedy to the current stalemate? Isn't there an opportunity for a political hero here? Is that what Auditor Tom Salmon was thinking when he suggested he mediate between Gov. Jim Douglas and Democratic legislative leaders? Or is it hopeless?
For most of the legislative session, Rep. Ira Trombley, D-Grand Isle, listened in on Health Care Committee discussions by phone and floor sessions via the Internet from home. He was hobbled by an infected foot that would not heal.
Trombley felt as obtrusive as an elephant showing up at the Statehouse for the same-sex marriage veto vote in a van and hobbling into the chamber on crutches with his IV pack, but few people in the crowd knew what he was going through.
All that's in the past. Now, Trombley is on the mend, he said today.
He's been cleared by doctors to return to work as an alcohol counselor and he expects to be there June 2, perhaps on crutches or using a cane, when the Legislature returns for a special session on the budget.
Trombley wasn't there for the votes on the budget during the session, but he said he expects to vote for an override of the governor's budget veto if it comes to that.
Legislative leaders are planning two public hearings, as you surely read in today's paper, on the governor's new budget proposal.
From the sounds of it, these public hearings have a pre-determined feel about them. Here's how they were described in a letter from the pro tem's office to senators:
"On Wednesday, May 27, the Senate and House Finance and Ways and Means, joined by the Chairs of Senate and House Approps and Education, will hold a public hearing focused on our concerns with the Governor's proposal to lower tax rates for the wealthy and increase Vermonters' property taxes.
"On Thursday, May 28, the Senate and House Appropriation Committees, joined by the Chairs of Finance, Ways and Means, Health Care and Government Operations, will hold a public hearing focused on our concern with the Governor's proposal to make devastating cuts to human services and housing and conservation.
The governor's staff released his new budget proposal this afternoon. You can read more about the details in tomorrow's Free Press (no, I can't give you a link to the future).
The chairwomen of the Legislature's two appropriations committees were also briefed today on the budget.
Distinctly missing from the invitation list, however, were the House speaker and the Senate president pro tem. They are ultimately the people who have to sell any plan to their members, but they weren't there because the governor's staff didn't invite them.
Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon said time constraints prevented a meeting with Speaker Shap Smith and Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, and that the administration's money people usually deal with the Legislature's money people.
Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville said, "We'd be happy to brief legislative leaders."
Interesting decision not to include them in the first conversation.
For those of you who have not witnessed the smoke coming out of the ears, keep in mind that there is not a lot of love, or trust, lost between the governor and Shumlin.
Smith said this afternoon of the lack of invitation, "I'm not going to take to much from it."
Blogger Philip Baruth is looking to take his politics out of cyberspace and into the Statehouse.
Baruth, 47, author of Vermont Daily Briefing, filed his bank designation form Monday with the Secretary of State's Office, indicating he's started raising money for a campaign for state Senate in Chittenden County.
He's running for the Democratic nomination for one of six Senate seats and he admits that it's early _ more than 17 months before the 2010 election. "Yeah, it's a lot early," he said, and that's the point. "People generally don't come out this early and they generally lose."
Baruth, who is also an author and English professor at the University of Vermont, is looking to break into a field that most first-timers find tough to crack. There may be at least one incumbent among the six not running, though, as Doug Racine says he's running for governor.
Mark your calendars, kids. Gov. Jim Douglas will veto the budget bill and is calling the Legislature back June 2.
"If my only choice is between allowing your fiscal 2010 budget to become law or a veto, I must choose veto," Douglas' letter says. "I cannot abandon Vermonters' long-term economic security for short-lived political accord."
Douglas acknowledged in the letter that the Legislature may be able to override his veto.
"If this budget becomes law over my veto _ and despite my repeated attempts to forge a compromise that puts the public interest over special interests _ I am prepared to accept that outcome. But understand that what you reap is what you sow; the adverse effects of your tax and spending choices will ripple through the Vermont economy for years to come and those consequences will be your sole responsibility."
Douglas told legislators he will give them a new budget proposal Tuesday that will "balance the Legislature's desire for higher taxes with the need for ongoing financial responsibility. That said, I do not expect my ideas will satisfy your demands."
Administration officials are now working on a plan to save Agency of Human Services money without closing the St. Johnsbury prison, as had been proposed. You can read about the ever-changing dynamics of the state job cuts HERE.
Gov. Jim Douglas is meeting legislative leaders as we speak to discuss "a process" for how they might work out an agreement on the 2010 budget and avoid a veto of the budget bill.
Douglas, in an news conference this afternoon, outlined numerous areas of the budget the Legislature passed last week that he finds unacceptable, including a menu of consumption taxes and cuts to a scholarship program.
House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate leader Peter Shumlin, at a separate news conference, said they will urge him not to veto the bill. Failing that, they said, they will ask him to release a new proposed budget of his own.
Douglas said he is prepared to present a new budget package "pretty soon." Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville was flashing a folder with a spread sheet that showed 0 deficits for 2010 and 2011, but what else it shows he wasn't sharing.
The Vermont Democratic Party has hired a new executive director.
Robert Dempsey, a Buffalo native (which means he won't be whining about the weather here), was most recently the Midwest Candidate Services director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in Washington, D.C.
The party has been without a director for months. Interim Kristina Althoff left in Feburary. Former Director Jill Krowinski left last May to run Gaye Symington's gubernatorial campaign.
Dempsey will be working with a relatively new executive committee. Judy Bevans was elected chairwoman in March along with Vice Chairman Michael Inners, Secretary Linda Weiss, Treasurer Ed Frey and Assistant Treasurer Lloyd Touchette.
The New York Times the other day looked at various states' welfare options. The premise of the package was that availability of services is fairly uneven.
The Times looked at various states' offerings. Overall, Vermont came out the most generous for the percentage of poor receiving welfare, percent of unemployed who receive benefits, percent of low-income children who receive subsidized health care and other categories.
Now, we all know that state rankings on virtually any topic are hazardous, so keep that in mind, but it's an interesting analysis nonetheless. Check out the story and the charts at the link above.
For those of you sitting at home on Saturday wondering how the Leggie is coming, I have one thing to say: Go outside and do something.
OK, now that you're outside, I'll try to update you. We are not getting out of here at any time that could be characterized as early Saturday.
Morning talks between legislative leaders and the governor did not bring a budget agreement. Legislators are going ahead with their own to-be-vetoed budget, with a few new tweaks to minimize the impact on the current use program and the Education Fund and win over some reluctant Democrats.
That set the table for a special session sometime between now and July 1 to come up with a new budget.
Gov. Jim Douglas had earlier said he's vetoed the budget before (in 2005) and will do it again, which he today corrected. He didn't veto the budget in 2005. He warned that he would and the Legislature fixed it before a veto came. So this would be the first budget veto in history.
The economic development bill is still in the works. There were so many brush fires to be put on this one, it is mind-boggling. The hallway outside the committee room has seen about 400 mini-conferences on everything from tax increment financing districts to labor regulations. It'll be the last thing out of the chute.
It appears that the legislative session will end Saturday. The House is scheduled to convene at 10 a.m. The Senate at 1 p.m.
Theoretically, the House will be voting on the budget, which the Senate has already approved.
But wait, is there still room for a deal with the governor so he won't veto the budget? Sen. Richard Mazza said he tried to get the governor and legislative leaders to talk Friday. Some talking went on, he said.
The governor, the speaker and the pro tem wouldn't deny it but also wouldn't admit it. As if they consider it a sign of weakness to acknowledge they are talking to each other. One sign that they were talking: Gov. Jim Douglas and Speaker Shap Smith both used identical language to say that the lines of communication remain open.
Right now, the House is in another marathon debate, a day after ultra-marathon debates on prescription drug and Vermont Yankee bills.
This time it's about renewable energy. The House is voting whether to concur with changes the Senate makes and House Republicans are fighting the bill. It won't last as long as yesterday's debate as the roll call has jut begun.
Meanwhile downstairs, word is that progress is being made toward the signing of tax and budget conference committee reports. That could put the 2010 budget on the Senate floor later this afternoon.
I had one of those recorded phone calls on my answering machine last night from the Citizens for Fire Safety. It was urging me to call the House speaker and object to the passage of a bill banning certain fire retardants.
Those kinds of calls are becoming almost routine. There was a round of them for the same-sex marriage bill too.
It was hard to imagine anyone getting this call and acting on it, though. The bill is is a little harder to grasp than whether one is for or against same-sex marriage. Hard to imagine that anyone even understood quite what they were talking about.
Anybody get the call and feel compelled to dial the phone?
Gov. Jim Douglas indicated this afternoon that he is prepared to veto the budget bill if it relies on the $26 million in taxes that legislators want. The budget is different than other bills in that it is the only piece of legislation that must pass, so a veto means calling the Legislature back into session to pass a new budget.
Douglas noted, however, that he vetoed the budget in 2005.
Indeed, he did veto the budget bill that year, over some language about a Vermont State Colleges union dispute. He called the Legislature back and it took about three hours for them to pass a new version without the offending language.
This year's disagreement would likely be tougher to fix. It might take longer than three hours to remove $26 million in taxes and replace it with something else,though the governor would probably say that he'll have a solution ready and waiting. All that have to do is come to town and rubber stamp it.
This morning, legislative leaders walked out of the governor's office without reaching agreement on the budget. They met for a while in the House speaker's office and when they came out they weren't talking about what was happening.
The day has more hours to it, but guesses at this point are that legislators are going to go ahead with forming their budgets based on their ideas.
As for the lt. gov's inclusion in the talks - a question asked on the previous posting - my sense is that Senate leaders liked having him there last year as another voice to balance the governor's and so they wanted to include him again this year.
The pirate jokes have run their course in the Senate this morning, as Sen. Vince Illuzzi is back with eye patch in place.
The Legislature, which normally doesn't meet on Mondays, is very much in full swing. Surely, you read about the end being near this morning, but if not go HERE.
The Senate is debating economic development. The House has sexting and Selective Service on its mind. An interesting debate about whether one should connect getting a driver's license and signing up for Selective Service.
Budget deal, you ask? Well, not yet. It could still emanate from under a door somewhere, though.