VSEA: Will they or won’t they?
The Vermont State Employees Association is busy this week and next trying to sell its members on the 3 percent pay cut the union negotiated last week with the Douglas administration. Members are expected to vote on the deal by the end of the year. The new contract would take effect July 1.
The big question is will they or won’t they accept the deal. Commenters on vt.Buzz have gone both ways: “The membership should vote against the deal,” one said. “All in all, this is a reasonable proposal and the union should accept - the next alternative is worse!” another said.In a memo to union members last week, VSEA Director Jes Kraus called the deal “the least painful choice” and asked members to thank those on the bargaining team for their hard work. He sounded very much like he was telling them that if they don’t approve this deal, they could fare worse. The administration had sought a 7 percent cut.
Kraus warned them of the perils that election-year politics and a state budget crisis pose. If the members don’t approve the contract, he noted, the state Labor Board would impose a contract. “The Labor Board sends its choice to the Legislature for funding. The Legislature can then make any adjustments it wants to your contract,” he emphasized with underlining and two exclamation points.
Kraus declared two victories despite the pay cut: the percentage employees pay for health insurance doesn’t change and they can expect to return to their current level of pay after the two years. That second victory is not quite written in gold, Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville noted. The two sides are to start negotiations at the old pay level, but this contract has no binding power over the next. There will be a new governor by then and the economy will be (pick one: better/worse/the same?).
By the way, the 3 percent pay cut would also cover exempt employees who make less than $60,000 and were not subject to the 5 percent pay cut that other exempt employees took last year.
— Terri Hallenbeck
Change in governor’s office
News came Monday that Gov. Jim Douglas’ deputy chief of staff and spokeswoman will be leaving. Dennise Casey starts a new job with the Republican Governors Association in Washington with the new year.
The 28-year-old Starksboro native has worked with the governor since she was 20 years old and still a student at the University of Vermont serving as state field director on his first gubernatorial campaign. She is very much part of his inner circle — people who are devoted to the governor and know instinctively what he would do or say at almost every turn. As Casey herself said, “I believe in him completely.”
What does her departure mean?
“It depends on who replaces her,” said House Majority Leader Floyd Nease, D-Johnson. “We will miss Dennise. She was approachable and willing to engage in substantive discussions. She was a good soldier but was agreeable when we disagreed.“
Veteran lobbyist Steve Kimbell, who worked on Gov. Madeleine Kunin’s transition team, said it should be no surprise to see some of Douglas’ staffers moving on, given that he’s not running for re-election next year. He also said he has no doubt Douglas’ Chief of Staff Tim Hayward has a plan in mind to replace Casey.
“This is a loss for the governor’s office, but it’s inevitable,” Kimbell said.
Casey’s new job with the RGA, a group whose annual meeting she attended with Douglas in Austin last month, will be help Republicans win as many of the 37 gubernatorial offices up for election next year as possible. She plans to live part-time in D.C., part-time in Vermont.
Casey said it isn’t easy to leave the only employer she’s had since reaching adulthood, but she couldn’t pass up a chance to take part in the 2010 election, which some — including Casey — believe could be a GOP comeback election. “I have to take it,” she said.
Her new job will include helping Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie win in 2010. Casey illustrated some of her trademark political drive in discussing that. “Obviously, the governor and his administration have fought hard on behalf of the people of Vermont the last seven years and they want to ensure that the governor is succeeded by a Republican governor — someone who understands the needs of Vermonters,” Casey said.
— Terri Hallenbeck
Caucus considers cuts
Democrats gathered Saturday for a quiet caucus — none of the hand-clapping, foot-stomping of past years because there’s not a lot to clap about. After sobering briefings, House leaders asked the caucus to brainstorm ways to create a leaner but more effective state government.
“If anything can be seen as an overriding theme it is to reinvigorate legislative oversight,” House Democratic Leader Floyd Nease of Johnson said Monday. He added, “The group was open to look even at sacred cows such as the Agency of Human Services.”
Among the most dramatic suggestions: create a single statewide school district, eliminate the state Board of Education and put the Department of Education under the executive’s wing, name an efficiency czar, create a culture that welcomes innovation, put teachers, state workers and municipal officials in a single health insurance pool.
— Nancy Remsen
How’s my message?
Rep. David Zuckerman, P-Burlington, slipped into the room where Democrats caucused Saturday shortly before noon. He wasn’t the only non-Democrat in the room — plenty of lobbyists and reporters sit in on these caucuses. Zuckerman came, however, to test the political waters with his House colleagues over lunch.
Zuckerman is weighing a run for lieutenant governor on the Democratic ballot. If not that race, he plans to run for the Chittenden Senate, also on the Democratic ballot. Saturday he carried his pizza slice to a table of Democrats to test “whether my message will resonate with their constituents.”
Nearby, another possible candidate for lieutenant governor, Rep. Steve Howard, D-Rutland, sat with Rep. Kathy Keenan, D-St. Albans, and Rep. Ann Manwaring, D-Wilmington, “testing some arguments about why I would make a good lieutenant governor.” Howard recently sent out an e-mail seeking feedback, too.
Howard said he wouldn’t make up his mind based on what Zuckerman decides. Both say it will be February before they decide.
There are already two Republican candidates — Sen. Phil Scott, R-Washington, and Mark Snelling, businessman.
— Nancy Remsen
It’s health reform round-the-clock in D.C.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., has some features on his Web site that can help Vermonters feel closer to the health reform debate.
• Want summaries of floor action? Here’s the link.
• Want to understand the lingo? Check out this vocabulary link.
• Leahy also explains common misconceptions about the pending legislation and answers constituent questions. Go here:
Just up Monday afternoon — Health Care: the Good and the Bad — by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and staff. Go here:
Both Leahy and Sanders have changes to offer to the Senate bill. Leahy, for example, wants to end an antitrust exemption for health insurance companies. Sanders is pushing at least 10 changes, such as moving up effective dates for key initiatives. Sanders also wants a vote on an alternative — national health care.
Democracy for America plans a vigil outside Sanders’ Burlington office at 5:30 tonight [nre: Tuesday: ]to thank Sanders for his support of the so-called public health insurance option and to warn other Democrats against scuttling the public option in the name of compromise.
— Nancy Remsen
Sanders trips up Bernanke confirmation
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., got noticed recently for his procedural move to slow the inevitable confirmation of Ben Bernanke to a second term as Federal Reserve chairman. He has interesting allies in his opposition to Bernanke — conservatives. Here’s Jonathan Witt writing Monday in The American Spectator. The link is here.
“If Sanders sticks to his guns, Bernanke’s supporters will need 60 Senate votes to confirm the nomination. Good for Sanders. We need a robust Senate debate about Bernanke’s policies, since they helped to create the housing bubble and crash we’re now experiencing.”
— Nancy Remsen
Welch revamps Web site
Nothing is static in the cyber world. Monday, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., unveiled an updated Web site . The news release about the Web site says it has a new constituent service section called ‘Helping Vermonters,’ expanded issue summary pages and new regional pages highlighting Welch’s work throughout the state. Want to track bills and Welch’s voting record and see what money he’s seeking — it’s all there. Like pictures? The site links to Welch’s You Tube page and other photographic displays.
— Nancy Remsen
Labels: House Democrats, Vermont politics; VSEA contract