Legislation

Unions face pension Cancel Council

By Guy Page

For the second straight year, the Vermont House of Representatives is poised to appoint a Cancel Council.

Frustrated by heavy union opposition to its plan to reduce the multi-billion state pension deficit, House leadership instead wants to create a problem-solving task force, with just a minority of labor voices at the table. 

Graphic credit VSEA newsletter April 16

The answer – for reducing both carbon emissions and the size of the state pension deficit – seems to be, ‘appoint a Cancel Council.’ Their very unaccountability to voters cancels the political consequences to the Legislature. 

Last year, the Vermont Legislature passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, creating the Vermont Climate Council to reduce overall climate emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. Failure to do will get the State of Vermont sued. The GWSA followed an embarrassing House leadership setback in 2019, in which a proposed heating fuel tax hike created so much acrimony that the Senate refused to take it up, the bill died, and House leadership quietly announced it was done with climate change for the session. Shortly thereafter, an angry Climate Caucus legislator in the State House coat room was heard to exclaim in frustration, “what’s it take to get something done about climate change in this building?”

The crafters of the GWSA intentionally staffed the council with people from pro-carbon reduction organizations. Lobby groups that once had a merely unofficial, advisory role suddenly had been told, ‘you make the policy.’ 

During the GWSA discussion, public unions like the Vermont State Employees’ Association quietly watched as the Legislature surrendered the hands-on decision-making power bequeathed to them by the voters to climate change advocacy organizations. Now it’s the VSEA’s turn to howl about the unfairness of it all. 

Last week, the House Government Operations Committee voted 9-2 on H449, the pension bill, which among other things creates a task force charged with Vermont’s multi-billion dollar pension deficit. The VSEA isn’t vexxed about the idea of a task force. Just days earlier union leaders had crowed that a pension ‘solution’ unfavorable to union members had been scotched, and then replaced with what looked like another do-nothing, face-saving ‘summer study.’ Amid political threats from the Progressive left, the House Democratic leadership appeared to cave. Whew!

But looks can be deceiving. The House leadership may have resurrected the Cancel Council to get its way with a minimum of political damage. To its horror, VSEA has discovered that only six of the 15-member task force are pro-labor. The other nine members are either legislators or members of the governor’s administration. Both bodies appeared ready just weeks ago to stop kicking the pension can down the road. 

Realizing they would be unwilling passengers on a train that House Speaker Jill Krowinski was driving in the wrong direction, the VSEA cried foul. Union President Aimee Towne warned in the April 16 newsletter, “If this passes, it will doom the task force to the perception that it is stacked unfairly against labor before the work has even begun.” 

H449 has been sent to the powerful House Appropriations Committee….next stop the full House, then on to the Senate, and finally to the governor. Survival is not assured. It faces a long, climbing road full of sharp turns. The VSEA and other unions will seek every opportunity to shove the 9-6 Cancel Council off a steep cliff. 

There’s a saying in Montpelier – if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu. If H449 passes as currently written, the state’s public unions may finding themselves in the unaccustomed position of being at the table but on the menu nonetheless.

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3 replies »

  1. The fact that they even have that many seats is ridiculous.What is more appalling is who is not on it, the taxpayer who has to pay for this unicorn of a benefit that private industry realized was not sustainable a decade ago. Freeze the pension, convert to 401k, no COLA’s now

  2. Why is the State responsible to manage these pension funds?

    The State (taxpayers, in fact) should make matching contributions. Nothing more. Let the teachers and government workers manage their own retirement programs.

  3. As a life time NEA member, I know these retirement packages are a sweetheart deal and all. I mean we’ve turned what could have been something like indentured servitude to the legislature into lifetime CARE…a gold mine. We’ve got ’em… they have to take care of us. But doesn’t it bother you that this arrangement amounts to extortion of our neighbors.

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