Friday, January 9, 2009
2009 Governor of the Year
Gov. Jim Douglas of Vermont earns my Governor of the Year award for 2009. Bravo for going after the sacred cow and proposing to freeze K - 12 spending The following piece appeared in the Valley News.
Lynch on the other hand gets a thumbs down from me, although he is saying "No" to a broad base tax he is touting such B. S. as proposing creating a “Green Jobs Initiative.” The good news is that "Senate President Sylvia Larsen said lawmakers have much to do, which pushes an education-funding amendment down the priority list." according to the Valley News and the Concord Monitor article titled "Lynch: Even Now, No Broad Tax in N.H."
Governor Grabs Initiative By Going After Sacred Cow
By John P. Gregg
Valley News Staff Writer
Montpelier -- Republican Gov. Jim Douglas used his bully pulpit yesterday to propose freezing per-pupil K-through-12 spending and integrating the University of Vermont and Vermont's state colleges into one system.
A day earlier, House Speaker Shap Smith had proposed a $150 million economic recovery plan based on bonding, an aggressive first step for a new Democratic leader. Smith's proposal made news; Douglas, in targeting what has long been a sacred cow in Vermont politics, is making headlines, and his focus on school spending will likely dominate talk around coffee counters at general stores throughout the state this morning.
For six years, Douglas has nudged lawmakers, narrowly won key veto fights, and maneuvered his way to a series of victories on such issues as permit reform, Catamount Health, the vote-twice school funding law and a sales tax holiday.
Yesterday, he made an uncharacteristically bold statement that the Act 60 and 68 school funding formulas -- the latter was enacted on his watch -- “are fundamentally broken and beyond repair.”
“When we consider what government, businesses and families are facing, level funding is a fair approach,” Douglas said as Senate Democrats sat, stone-faced, at his freeze proposal.
Republicans -- though there are no longer enough of them in either chamber to sustain a Douglas veto -- greeted his proposals with enthusiasm.
“I think it's long overdue to have this discussion,” state Rep. Steve Adams, a Hartland Republican, said of replacing Act 68. “My constituents have told me over and over again that it's time we got a handle on property taxes. They're killing people.”
Former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, a Democrat in the audience for the ceremony, said Douglas “made some very bold proposals,” though she said “level-funding state aid to education, I think, will be the toughest to achieve.”
Indeed, Democratic leaders claimed Douglas was offering a sleight-of-hand, proposing a freeze on new state school aid, as well, that they asserted could shift more school spending onto the local property tax.
And they also argued that Douglas offered an idea, not a solution, to the state's growing fiscal crunch.
“We will not walk away from a system that we've worked so hard to achieve, that ensures that a student in Hardwick has the same educational opportunity to resources as a student in Stratton,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, who delivered the Democratic response. “You might have noticed the governor did not come up with an idea, he came up with criticism.”
“We actually have a control on school spending. It's called voting at Town Meeting,” Smith added.
In an interview with the Valley News after his speech, Douglas maintained he was not seeking to go around legislators and appeal directly to voters, who themselves could press for level funding of school budgets at Town Meeting.
“I'm talking to legislators because I need their concurrence in moving to a new system of funding education that makes sense, that is transparent, that is explainable, that is sustainable,” he said. “They are the ones who need to work with me to accomplish that goal.”
But Senate Majority Leader John Campbell, a Quechee Democrat, said freezing state aid could violate the state's Brigham decision that said Vermont schoolchildren are entitled to equal educational opportunities.
“We know the governor is sitting up there saying all these things everyone is going to love -- it sounds like lower taxes, we're going to restructure government, that's great -- but it is all smoke and mirrors,” Campbell asserted. “There is nothing behind it.”
State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding, a Democrat who himself is mulling a gubernatorial run in 2010, said he agreed that Vermont's continued growth rate in school spending could soon prove unaffordable, but said any solution needs to be found “in a thoughtful way” that did not threaten the quality of schools throughout the state.
“I heard a lot of ideas today. I did not hear a lot about how we're going to solve our budget dilemma, and I think that's job number one,” Spaulding said.
But using his office to strike key themes, and then driving them home with voters, has always been a Douglas specialty. What happens next is up to the House and Senate.
As state Sen. Dick McCormack, a progressive Democrat from Bethel, noted, “It has always been up to the Legislature whether or not the Legislature dominates or Douglas dominates. The legislative leadership has chosen in the past to work with the governor and, unfortunately, working with the governor has kind of boiled down to giving the governor his way.”
John P. Gregg can be reached at email@example.com or (603) 727-3213.
Lynch: Even Now, No Broad Tax in N.H.
By Lauren R. Dorgan
Concord -- Gov. John Lynch struck a stark tone in his third inaugural address yesterday, telling the assembled crowd of lawmakers and dignitaries that recession has brought the country to a “critical juncture” and that the state of New Hampshire now faces a “budget challenge of unprecedented dimensions.”
Although Lynch peppered his speech with praise for New Hampshire's people and expressions of optimism for the future, the tone was largely grim, as the governor underlined the growing budget crisis that veteran lawmakers have described as the worst they've seen.
Lynch, 56, a centrist Democrat and former businessman from Hopkinton who has twice been re-elected with 70 percent of the vote, repeated his promise to steer clear of an income or sales tax, a pledge he's taken during each of his three campaigns for governor.
Yesterday, the promise inspired a lopsided ovation in Representatives Hall, with Republican lawmakers on the right side of the room standing and many Democrats on the left side holding their seats.
Despite $150 million worth of cuts and late-added revenue, the state's current budget still has a $100 million hole. The 2010-11 budget is expected to be worse: If promises are kept and services maintained at current levels, analysts have estimated, lawmakers may need to find as much as $500 million in new revenue.
To address the budget crisis, Lynch said yesterday, lawmakers “will have to say ‘no' more often than we would like,” he said, and will have to defer worthy programs for better times.
Lynch took the oath of office from Supreme Court Chief Justice John Broderick, who oversees a judicial branch that, starting in mid-February, will cancel a month's worth of jury trials as a money-saving measure. Broderick told the Monitor last month that he feared that if his branch is forced to cut its budget to 97 percent of this year's trimmed budget, “I don’t think we can run the justice system.”
The speech contained few new promises or programs.
Among the bigger plans: Lynch proposed creating a “Green Jobs Initiative” using some of the $20 million to $30 million that the state already expects to get from utility companies through two new environmental programs, the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative and the Renewable Energy Fund. He sketched out a picture of carpenters, electricians and plumbers working to weatherize homes; of state and municipal buildings receiving energy-efficiency upgrades; and of the state training workers in new skills needed in green industries. He also proposed creating a “low-interest revolving loan fund” to help small businesses bolster their energy efficiency and convert to renewable energy.
Lynch also urged the Legislature to expand the state's job-training fund to help the unemployed, although he didn't set any targets.
Looking to Washington, Lynch urged Congress to speed along an economic stimulus package promised by President-elect Barack Obama, a roughly $800 billion effort to defibrillate the national economy that is expected to include significant aid to states, many of which are in worse straits than New Hampshire. Lynch said federal money should go to infrastructure repairs and to bolstering the nation's “safety net for America's most vulnerable citizens.”
After the address, former governor John Sununu, who is running for chairman of the state Republican Party, criticized Lynch's speech as short on solutions.
“I was a little surprised and somewhat disappointed to hear that the cornerstone of our strategy to deal with the huge deficit we're facing seems to be that we'll wait for the bailout from Washington,” Sununu said.
Sununu also criticized Democrats for their response to Lynch's tax pledge, saying he was “extremely disappointed to see a very significant number of Democrats in the House and Senate” staying in their seats.
Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley said the governor's budget address is yet to come, and he batted aside Sununu's criticism of his party on taxes, saying that while Democrats have been divided, “John Lynch has taken that issue off the table.”
Legislative Republicans were muted in response, saying they agreed generally with Lynch's call for fiscal discipline but saying, as Senate Minority Leader Peter Bragdon put it, “The proof is in the pudding.”
Bragdon, of Milford, said he feared Lynch had left the door open to tapping the state's $89 million rainy day fund to balance the budget. That, Bragdon said, would be shortsighted.
“It's drizzling now compared to what it's going to be doing in the next two years,” he said.
One issue Lynch barely touched: his old push for a constitutional amendment on education funding, an effort that has failed in the House for the past two years.
Yesterday, Lynch said he recognizes there has not been “a consensus in the Legislature.” As for an amendment, he said, “discussion will continue,” even as lawmakers push ahead with the court-appointed process to define, cost out and fund an adequate education.
Afterward, Senate President Sylvia Larsen said lawmakers have much to do, which pushes an education-funding amendment down the priority list.
“He recognized that this isn't the year we're going to do it,” the Concord Democrat said.