Judy Bevans shot some sharp criticism at Tom Salmon, a former Democrat who just switched to the Republican Party, after he suggested the state should signficantly lower the maximum benefit paid to unemployed Vermonters.
Bevans, Democratic Party chairwoman, wrote, "Just two weeks after switching parties, our state's Auditor, Turn-Back-Time Tom Salmon, testified this week that he supports turning back the clock to 2000 and reducing the state's maximum weekly unemployment benefit from $425 to $300!"
Technically, Salmon didn't testify before the Unemployment Trust Fund Reform Study Committee, but he shared his idea publically and followed it up with a letter to the committee. The Democratic Party has corrected its description of his comments.
Bevans paired Salmon's comments with the news that the Douglas administration and the Vermont State Employees failed to agree over how to save $7.4 million without layoffs. She argued Gov. Jim Douglas refused "to meet the state employees union halfway in their negotiations, a move that could result in as many as 300 pink slips for state employees."
Her double-pronged jab: "Seems that the Republican version of economic stimulus calls for fewer jobs and a weaker safety net. A little backwards, if you ask me."
No surprise that Democrats are bitter, but what did Salmon gain from airing this idea?
Salmon's letter to Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington,and Rep. Michael Obuchowski, D-Rockingham, explains, "I hope to be a voice that adds productive material to the process."
The unemployment trust fund has a problem -- too little money coming in and a whole lot going out, thanks to the recession. It will become insolvent in January.
Salmon argues against significantly increasing employer contributions because that would slow the state's economic recovery.
Instead he suggests giving Vermont workers fair warning that the maximum benefit would shrink from $425 a week to $300 a week beginning at some date in the future -- such as next July 1. "We should forewarn Vermonters that the UI is not a strong or sustainable solution in assisting them in their household revenue/workforce planning."
Provocative stuff. Does it have appeal, I wonder? Lots of Vermonters can probably imagine themselves out of work these day, so how do they feel about signficantly reducing the maximum benefit -- since that would impact all the benefit levels? Not even the business groups that testified at the study committee's meeting Tuesday suggested such a dramatic change in benefits.
-- Nancy Remsen
Labels: Judy Bevans, Tom Salmon, Vermont Democratic Party