Controversies bubble to the surface at Shumlin press conference

by Angela Chagnon

Gov. Shumlin holds press conference in Cabot

Governor Peter Shumlin held his weekly press conference at the Cabot Creamery distribution center in Montpelier Thursday to talk about his Career Readiness Certificate Program. The program, which is free for participants, is offered through the Community College of Vermont and is designed to provide workforce training for those looking for better jobs. (Press Release)

However, Shumlin’s Certificate Program took a backseat during the question and answer session.

Of more interest to the press were the firing of several attorneys by new BISHCA commissioner Steve Kimball and the claim by Seven Days reporter Shay Totten that the salaries of the Governor’s current administration officials were being paid a total of $400,000 higher than the same positions were previously paid under Douglas.

“There is absolutely no truth in what you’re saying,” Shumlin replied to the Kimball question. “Frankly, it’s fantasy.”

As for the higher cost of his administration’s salaries, Shumlin said, “First of all, I’d ask to check the math on that. I don’t think they’re making a lot more.” He went on to say that he had “hired the best people that I could to get the job done.” When pressed as to how much more they were being paid over the Douglas administration, he deferred to Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding.

“First of all, just to point out something to make sure we all have to understand is that any increases had to stay within people’s FY12 budget targets so there was no increase over the budget that was presented,” began Spaulding. “We have reached out to the reporter to say ‘how did you come up with this’ because we can’t come anywhere within not even half of that, less–a quarter of that.”

Shumlin was also asked about his financing plan for healthcare. “We are on a pilgrimage to try to design the first cost-containment system in the country that works,” the Governor said. “And that is the hard part. If we can succeed in designing a cost-containment system that works, I’m convinced that we can convince Vermonters to pay less for healthcare than they’re paying today.”

“Why are you asking Vermonters to wait two years and then tell them in two years how much this is going to cost and how we’re going to pay for it?” asked Anson Tebbets of Channel 3 News. “Why can’t you tell them now?”

“Because we don’t have the answers,” Shumlin replied. “We don’t have the answers. We don’t even have the answers, frankly, of how to make a cost containment system work. No one has done it. So what our bill does is, create a mechanism to do the heavy lifting, the hard work, to come back with a system that contains cost. We’ll also figure out the financing.”

He continued, “Give us the opportunity to design this system, and figure out how much this system is going to cost before we ask anyone to pay for it.”

“Some feel that the bill you’re team has introduced doesn’t give them opportunity to weigh in,” said Anne Galloway of VT Digger. “They feel that a lot of the power has been consolidated into a board which would be handpicked by you. I don’t think that lawmakers are allowed to make choices there.

Shumlin replied that the Public Service Board, Commissioners and Secretaries are appointed by the Governor. “[The Vermont Health Board] is no different. If they have better ideas, I’m all ears. All I can tell you is that Board has to be really smart people who can get really tough things done that have never been done before. I just don’t think the citizen legislature…in 16 weeks, 12 more to go…can do that work.” Shumlin quickly added, “It’s not a criticism of the Legislature, it’s just not their role.”

Shumlin learned that his plan to roll Catamount into VHAP was being opposed by the Vermont Medical Society (VMS), and that Hospice had called his plan a “broken trust”. VMS’s statement about the proposal can be found here.

“I understand that it’s the job of advocates to make sure that their ox doesn’t get gored and someone else’s does,” the Governor stated. “Sometimes folks use strong language, but let’s be honest about this. The current healthcare provider system has been a partnership between the state and the hospitals to draw down federal dollars. What we put together is a budget that draws down more federal dollars in an imperfect system.”

“We don’t fix this system, we are in big trouble,” Shumlin continued. “And if we do fix this system, we beat the other 49 states to job creation, to economic opportunity, to a better life for Vermonters.”

Questions about the future of VT Yankee came up during the session, and whether Shumlin was concerned about VT Yankee bringing a federal lawsuit against the state if it’s license is not extended.

The Governor said he “firmly believe[d] that we made the right judgment” in not extending the license. “Renewable energy is going to create jobs…[we’re going] to show the rest of the nation the faster we get off our addiction to expensive oil, the faster we prosper as a state.”