Can Democratic legislative leaders and Gov. Jim Douglas make up and move on following last week’s veto override? Not many positive signs yet.
Douglas provided a window into his state of mind at noon Tuesday when he fielded questions on Vermont Public Radio. (Actually he was a bit late for the show as he was fishing – one of those gubernatorial appearances at a fishing derby).
Douglas repeated his now familiar complaint that the budget that lawmakers enacted over his veto set the state on a track that would be unsustainable.
He declared the just-ended session one of the “sloppiest” in his years watching Statehouse goings-on.
Further, he charged that legislative leaders walked away from the negotiating table – three times.
Not exactly the kind of comments that would bring people together.
Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham, and House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, held a press event later in the day where they repeated their mantra of cooperation. “The speaker and I want to work together with the governor to put together the 2011 budget,” Shumlin said. “We are committed to working together with the governor.”
Still, they answered the accusation about the sloppiness of the session. It was not, Shumlin said. And they rebutted governor’s assertion that they walked away from negotiations on a compromise budget. “Nobody ever walked away,” Shumlin said. “I don’t know what motivates the governor at this time to say something that is untrue.”
Smith said the talks with the governor’s staff – the governor didn’t attend most of the negotiations – were cordial. “I’m disappointed the governor would characterize them any other way.”
How exactly will they work with the governor?
Smith and Shumlin sent Douglas a letter Tuesday suggesting areas of common concern. In the area of proposed structural changes in government, the letter suggests, “We are very interested in regular meetings with you to ensure we move forward to achieve what savings that can be made.” In other areas, the letter notes legislative studies that will soon get underway that could provide valuable information to the budget process.
Douglas, for his part, has begun calling on legislators to provide him with a “plan” showing how they would close the financial gap that will occur in fiscal 2011 based on current spending and revenue trends. Given that during the session, lawmakers drummed on Douglas to give them his budget alternative in writing, expect Douglas to demand the same.
When asked about producing a plan for Douglas, Shumlin reminded that it is the executive’s duty to propose a budget and the Legislature’s responsibility to review (and rewrite) it.
Smith suggested the governor and his staff might want to try to win some support for budget proposals earlier rather than surprise lawmakers and the public in January.
Douglas has said airing ideas early sometimes gives opponents more time to organize.
So on this one-week anniversary of the budget veto, does anyone see signs that Douglas and Democratic legislative leaders can and will enter a new era of cooperation -- or are they steering into politically choppy waters?
-- Nancy Remsen