By Kevin Joseph Ryan
With the 2012 election behind us, and the Vermont Legislature looking to re-convene in January 2013, the Democratic Party would seem to be sitting in the catbird seat. With 96 out of 150 seats in the House, as many as 23 out of 30 seat in the Vermont Senate and having held all the statewide offices they have held in recent years, one would think that liberal policy has carte blanche for the upcoming legislative session, set to begin January. There’s only one hurdle they have yet to clear, their own constituents.
This past legislative year, both in Vermont and nationwide, both parties have suffered a degree of philosophical schisms. With the Republicans, they appear to be divided between their ideological right-wing, led by the likes of New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson or Florida Congressman Allen West; and a more centrists contingent, led by those such as Governor Mitt Romney. Having lost the election by a slim margin, time will tell how the GOP will shake out in time for 2014.
For Democrats and Progressives, especially in Vermont, the reckoning is here. The political left were able to put it all together in Vermont, riding on similar, if amplified, prescriptions as the national Democrats. Global warming is destroying the planet, universal healthcare is a human right and the right is looking to take women back to the stone age. This was the message. They won. However, now in power, they may have a serious issue doing much about it.
In order to pull off a unified front, the more moderate Left had to, to a large degree, pander to rhetorical slogans of the far-left interests. Here in Vermont, this included a bill provision signed in early May, and strongly advocated for by the Vermont Worker’s Center (VWC). May 2 of this year, the VWC rallied to the Statehouse for the inclusion of a “People’s Budget” provision, stating a specific purpose of the state budget. This was included in the FY 2013 Budget Bill as 32 V.S.A. § 306a. This purpose is as follows: “The state budget, consistent with Chapter I, Article 7 of Vermont’s Constitution, should “be instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people, nation, or community…” The state budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.”
Part of this new law calls for a “process of participation”, allowing for the inclusion of the public in developing budget goals. It would seem that that’s what the legislative process does anyway, but this year, we’re doing it a bit differently. Beginning last November 13, Vermont’s Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding hosted a statewide video conference through the Vermont Interactive Technologies Network at eight different locations throughout the state including Montpelier. Another such meeting will take place this afternoon at 4:45 PM and can be accessed on http://aoa.vermont.gov
So, here’s the new problem we promised in the title. As the Public Budget Forum wore on, it became increasingly apparent that not only was Vermont Worker’s Center and the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees the only ones who actually cared, but it became obvious their members had no idea how a “budget process” worked. Outside of a sea of red and green VWC and AFSCME shirts at every video link-up location, a total of six viewers tuned in on the internet for the presentation, according to the Ustream link.
James Reardon, the Vermont Commissioner of Finance & Management was teamed with Secretary Jeb Spaulding for the internet presentation. After a 20 minute explanation of the details of state budgeting, the floor was turned over for questions from attendees at the locations around Vermont.
They should have known it wouldn’t go well. According to an October 31 press release from the VWC:
The People’s Budget Campaign (state) that two public hearings do not provide sufficient opportunities for meaningful public participation in decision-making related to the development of the FY 2014 budget. Two hearings are a poor surrogate for a serious public participation process.
One representative from the VWC demanded that the presentation needed to be released before the meeting in order to be understood. Jeffery Haslett of the VWC said that the state now needed a “bottom-up process”. Mary Garis of the VWC, upon hearing that the Shumlin Administration would have to set budget priorities among human services, health care and assistance for food, housing and other needs, said that this was a false choice and that “all priorities are important.”
“Vermont does put it’s people first…in some cases, the benefit levels are among the highest in New England”, countered Reardon a former Commissioner of Human Services himself. However, he did add, “We are asking corporations to come to Vermont….this adds jobs.” Knowing this concept would be lost on the challenging audience, Jeb Spaulding added, “The Governor does not agree with the United States Supreme Court that corporations are people, and we would like to get that changed.”
Will Vermont come to a meeting of the minds between the ideological Left and those who must actually govern? Will the members of the VWC realize that Vermont is facing a financial shortfall of up to 70 million dollars amidst falling Federal budgets? And, after all this is over, will the “Wish List Liberals” be able to kiss and make up with the Shumlin Administration?” Tune into Vermont Interactive Television today at 4:30 PM and find out.