Without Prog support, Dem leadership may lack time to pass acceptable budget by July 1
by Paul Dame, Vermont GOP Chair
Democrats may find that the defining moment of their super majority may be the first government shutdown Vermont has seen in generations. Despite passing the largest budget in the history of the state, weighing in at over $8.5 Million, the Progressive wing of Vermont’s Democratic party are suddenly asking for even more. Governor Scott vetoed that budget, citing a budget surplus, and a poor economic outlook for the next year as reasons Vermonter cannot afford new taxes and higher fees. In addition, the Governor and his Republican allies thought it more prudent to take advantage of a once-in-a-generation opportunity to leverage Vermont dollars at a 3-to-1 or even 12-to-1 ratio to improve our aging public infrastructure for roads and wastewater treatment.
“If Democrats let the Progressive wing push them around into letting their own unilateral budget fail less than a month after it was passed, it would require the House & Senate to draft a new multi-billion dollar budget in one week. But even if a new budget is turned around in just a few days, the Governor gets another 5 days to review it. And if the new budget goes even further to the left of the last unsustainable budget that Gov. Scott vetoed, a second veto would be on its way, which could very easily get us to June 30 with two vetoed budgets.“ – Paul Dame, GOP chair
Just over a month ago there was a consensus that the hotel voucher program was not the best use of the state’s resources, and the House & Senate leaders agreed to end. Spending nearly $8 Million dollars per month on just 1800 households with no exit plan just simply wasn’t sustainable. At least that’s what Democrats thought last month. But now Vermont Democrats appear all too ready to allow the tail to wag the dog in their super majority and do an about face.
In surprising contrast, Republican Speaker Kevin McCarthy also working with a divided government, was willing to go against the extreme of his party, to put our nation on a path that took into account the fiscal realities that we are facing, and worked out a deal to work with the opposing party, despite their differences in vision. Meanwhile back in Vermont, Democrats have taken the exact opposite approach, not only refusing to work with a usually cooperative and overwhelmingly popular Republican Governor, but instead moving the goal posts even further away from compromise, cooperation and common sense. And now the fickle and unstable super majority is putting the creditworthiness of the state of Vermont in danger to appease their far left activist base.
If Democrats let the Progressive wing push them around into letting their own unilateral budget fail less than a month after it was passed, it would require the House & Senate to draft a new multi-billion dollar budget in one week. But even if a new budget is turned around in just a few days, the Governor gets another 5 days to review it. And if the new budget goes even further to the left of the last unsustainable budget that Gov. Scott vetoed, a second veto would be on its way, which could very easily get us to June 30 with two vetoed budgets because Democrats care more about their base than governing responsibly towards the middle.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Democrat leaders can take a different path by doing things the way that Vermonters want to see them get accomplished: through cooperation, not compulsion. House Democrats could work with Governor Scott, and House Republicans to pass a budget that Vermonters can afford. If Democrats would be willing to scale back their untimely and unprecedented experiments in new government programs, remove the new taxes and fee increases that none of their voters asked for, and make one or two concessions to major Republican policy goals, like repealing the tax on military pensions, or more importantly including the needed Act 250 reforms that were stripped from the housing bill, there might be enough support to pass the budget without the votes from the far-left Progressives. This would put forward a budget that the Governor could sign confidently before the July 1st fiscal year starts avoiding the Progressive path to brinkmanship. It would also put our state on a more fiscally responsible path for this year, but also the Act 250 reforms would begin to address the housing supply problems that are the underlying cause for so many of our problems with homelessness.
The Democrat party of twenty years ago might have considered such a path forward. But many worry that the Vermont Democrat party of today left that orbit a long time ago. Everything they have showed thus far is that their fundraising strategy requires them to alienate Governor Scott, and refuse to work with him. Since they have routinely issued press releases calling Republicans fascists, they have painted themselves into a corner where they can’t govern in a way that includes perspectives outside their party’s own. And the sad reality is that their go-it-alone approach to fixing the homeless issue will simply be to throw more money at it, without addressing this underlying cause, or making the structural changes. Many have already forgotten that we are repeating history from 2013 when the Democrats in control of the House, Senate & Governor’s office all bungled the last transition off of an expanded and unsustainable hotel voucher program. If Democrats go their own way we may see history repeat itself again and again before the next 10 years.
The author is an Essex Junction resident and chair of the Vermont Republican Party.