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Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



The Tuesday political piece

This week marks the debut of a weekly look at politics in the Free Press.

Here's the text of the first one:

The only thing that could put the brakes on $28 million in budget changes today would be some unexpected revelation.

The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee will hold a hearing beginning at 1 p.m. at the Statehouse on the package — which the Douglas administration and legislative leaders put forward together two weeks ago. The hearing could be followed by a vote.

"I have heard nothing that makes me think it won’t happen," predicted Senate Appropriations
Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille.

Still, Joint Fiscal Chairman Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, promises attention to
those who testify. "If they tell us something we haven’t heard before and it is weighty enough, we may want to reflect on it and get some answers."

Lawmakers have to swallow hard to agree to some parts of the plan, such as:

Ö Transferring $1.8 million in adult education expenses to the Education Fund, which means the
expense will be paid from property taxes. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns has already
sounded the alarm about this "shift and shaft" philosophy.

Ö Endorsing $7.4 million in unspecified labor cuts, gambling that the Douglas administration and
the Vermont State Employees Association will negotiate furloughs or other pay and benefit cuts. The risk is the two sides will fail to find common ground, just as they failed last winter, and the $7.4 million has to be achieved with layoffs, about 200.

Ö Tapping $731,000 in unspent dollars in the Choices for Care program when there is a waiting
list of frail, elderly and disabled individuals with unmet home-care needs.

The Douglas administration is optimistic about securing lawmakers’ approval. "We are still on
track," said Dennise Casey, the governor’s spokeswoman.

Agreement may signal a new tone for relations between the Legislature’s Democratic leaders and the Republican Douglas administration. Relations had soured when Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the Legislature’s budget and then lawmakers overrode his veto.
_ Nancy Remsen 

Labor out in the cold?

Why are lawmakers willing to go along with $7.4 million in unspecified labor cuts — a proposal
that surprised the state employees union?

"Everybody is going to be asked to give to solve the problem," Rep. Michael Obuchowski said, D-Rockingham. He heads the Joint Fiscal Committee and helped negotiate the $28 million package.

Workers represented by the Vermont State Employees Association — those who didn’t lose their
jobs — saw their pay increase this summer. Still plenty of workers are worried about more layoffs and have contacted members of the Joint Fiscal Committee.

The administration swears layoffs would be a last resort. "That point is a leap of faith we had to make in the negotiations," Obuchowski said.

"It’s putting trust in the administration and the VSEA to find a resolution that doesn’t involve
RIFs (reductions in force)," said House Appropriations Chairwoman Martha Heath, D-Westford.

"It is no secret that lots of other states are using furloughs and other alternatives to layoffs,"
noted Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden.

"All the same stuff that is going on in other states, we offered," said Jes Kraus, director of the VSEA.

"We offered a pay freeze. We threw furlough days on the table."

Still, Kraus said the union is open to new talks. He said he tried to include short-term changes in
the talks last week that launched negotiations on a new long-term contract.

Spokeswoman Dennise Casey said the Douglas administration is waiting until the Joint
Fiscal Committee agrees on the amount of labor adjustments.
— Nancy Remsen

Quote to note: "You really can’t have reform without a public option," former Gov. Howard Dean declared on the CBS Early Morning Show on Monday after officials in the Obama administration suggested Sunday that a public health insurance plan wasn’t a necessary component of health care reform.

Dean explained his uncompromising approach. "My guess is the Republicans aren’t going to vote for this bill no matter what, so there is no point in making a lot of concessions to people who aren’t going to vote for the bill."

Maybe this trait of speaking his mind is why President Obama didn’t pick Dean for a job in his administration. Obama knew it would be hard to keep Dean in the fold — especially if the issue was health care.

— Nancy Remsen

Nothing raucous here They came, they spoke, some disagreed, but no one created a ruckus at Sen. Bernie Sanders’ first two health care forums.

"The turnout was extraordinary," Sanders said Monday. "And the good news is people respected
other people’s point of view."

Sanders, who sees a single-payer system as the remedy for what ails the health care system,
noted most people at the forums indicated they didn’t want to do away with Medicare or the Veterans Administration — both government-run health care programs.

Sanders agrees with Howard Dean that a public option must be included in the pending health
care legislation — despite public nervousness. "I’ll fight for that," Sanders said.
— Nancy Remsen

Cyber campaigns These days, it is almost like a political campaign is not real until it has a Web site.

Sen. Susan Bartlett, Democratic candidate for governor, has launched hers — www.bartlettforgovernor.com. Fellow Democratic rivals Doug Racine (http://www.dougracine.com/) and Deb Markowitz (www.debfor
vermont.com) have had Web sites for a few months.

Visitors to Bartlett’s site will learn things about her they likely did not know (husband Bill was
her college sweetheart, and they used to sell vegetables and bread at the Morrisville Farmers Market). They will not, however, gain any hint about who is in Bartlett’s camp, something her competitors were eager to point out on their sites. Though there is a link to join
Bartlett’s "2010 Club," there’s no indication of whether anyone has joined.

Bartlett said she did it her way on purpose. She wanted to keep it simple.

Speaking of candidate Web sites, Philip Baruth, a Chittenden County state Senate candidate,
launched his last week, http://baruth2010.com. Baruth, of course, has another site at http://
vermontdailybriefing.com, where he blogs. He links the two by referring from one to the other. The blog tackles mostly national issues, but with a tone that can be quite different from what a candidates might choose. Last week in the blog, for example, he called former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum a name that is not printable here.
— Terri Hallenbeck

Question of the week: Does health-care reform have to include a public insurance option? Why or why not?


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