by Rob Roper
MONTPELIER – According to Republican House Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) the way state government normally creates new positions is through the budget process. Positions are created and funded at the same time. The Administration will make a recommendation on behalf of the agency requesting the positions, outlining how much the new jobs will pay and how they will be funded. The committee of jurisdiction then take testimony and debates the merits of the request.
Therefore, Turner and others in the legislature were surprised to find upon returning to Montpelier for the 2012 legislative session that the Administration was attempting to create 48 new government positions for 2013 through the Budget Adjustment Act.
“It’s really unprecedented from what I can find out from the Joint Fiscal Office and people who have served here for many years,” explained Turner. “You don’t normally create positions in a Budget Adjustment Act. The Budget Adjustment Act – that’s truly what it is. You’re halfway through the fiscal year and you’ve got an idea whether you’re going to be within budget or over budget, and if you’re over budget you’ve got to figure out where you’re going to get the money to rectify it.”
Twenty-two of the new positions would be in the Agency of Transportation, the other Twenty-six would be in Human Services, and nineteen of those, according to Turner, in the Department of Health Access – the department that single payer spearhead and former chair of the House Healthcare Committee Mark Larson recently took over.
“Those are very concerning,” said Turner, “because I don’t want Irene to be the smokescreen or cover-up for growing government …. There’s a lot of empathy about helping Vermonters, and we’ll support whatever to do that, but we’re not in a position to support creation of new positions without the normal legislative process.”
Turner contends that by creating these new positions in the Budget Adjustment Act, the Shumlin Administration is short-circuiting the legislative process and escaping a great deal of accountability. “By doing it this way they circumvent [the committee process in which the committee of jurisdiction takes testimony, debates and votes on whether or not to create the new jobs]. The Appropriations Committee is the only one that deals with it. There’s no real justification – or there’s a whole lot less justification” given for creating the new positions.
Asked why he believes the Administration is embarking on such a tactic, Turner said pointed push for single payer healthcare. “They’re building the foundation for this single payer system and it is probably… so it doesn’t bring so much attention back to that bill.”
Turner was somewhat gratified that after attention brought to this issue the request for the transportation positions was changed from permanent, full-time positions to two-year, temporary positions, but more sunshine is still necessary for this process.