By Rob Roper
Peter Shumlin, Speaker of the House Shap Smith, and Senate President John Campbell have been enjoying a victory lap around the state after the conclusion of the legislative session. Among the major accomplishments they are touting include a corrections bill, a budget that didn’t resort to “broad based taxes,” and, of course the passage of a bill that will put Vermont on a path towards single payer health care.
But, Republican leaders see the session a little differently. Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) warned that people shouldn’t always judge legislation by its title.
“One case in point,” said Turner, “was the recidivism bill that the governor had touted. There was going to be 800 people that would be removed from corrections saving millions [$40,000,000] of dollars. That bill, it turns out… about 35 to 50 people will be effected by that. So, it’s got the same title, but it doesn’t have the same impact [that was promised].”
Asked if the Governor really lived up to his promise regarding no broad based tax increases, Turner didn’t think so based on a $20 million tax increase on healthcare providers, and the decision not to transfer $23 million from the general fund, which Turner explained, “It effectively is going to raise property taxes going forward. There is a re-basing of the transfer of the general fund to the ed fund of approximately 23 million dollars, which [means an increase of] approximately 2.3 cents on your property tax going forward.” Turner defines the property tax as a “broad based tax.”
As for the healthcare provider tax, Turner said, “I could never understand that, nor could anyone in our caucus, how we could be attacking in one bill the escalating and unsustainable cost of healthcare in Vermont, yet on the other side of the equation were taxing [providers] about 20 plus million dollars. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I think many Vermonters don’t understand that.”
The greatest concern for the Republican leadership team came over the passage of H.202, the healthcare bill.
Assistant Minority Leader, Patti Komline (R-Dorset) commented, “When they talk about a historic first step [toward single payer]… I’d say it’s historic in that it’s the first step in taking away your health insurance. And while we all know there needs to be reform, the people that have good health insurance, which is most Vermonters, want to know that they’re going to keep that level of coverage. That is definitely in jeopardy right now.”
One important issue regarding health care Turner said Republicans tried “over and over and over,” but unsuccessfully, to get Democrats to focus on was the threat of losing doctors. Evidence is piling up that this could be a catastrophic side effect of H.202.
But, Komline observed, “The democrats have dismissed the idea that doctors will move out of state. They don’t believe it. But we’ve all heard the stories that we can’t get doctors [to come to Vermont]. We already face a provider shortage. And, one of the things they’ve charged this [five member health care] board with is determining how much doctors can charge. If that doesn’t scare doctors away from wanting to be here, I don’t know what will.
Both Komline and Turner expressed frustration that more citizens did not get involved with the debate over health care, but hope more people will get active as they learn more about what H.202 really does and the negative impacts it is likely to have on not jut our healthcare system, but also our jobs.
Komline made an appeal, “I’d just like to add to that, when you read things on True North Reports, or hear our side of the story and you agree with us, hold your representatives and senators accountable. Find out how they voted on certain issues, put letters in the paper, and pay attention to how they voted because too many times – I’ve heard them – I’ve heard legislators just pandering to their constituents, and they didn’t vote the way they’re talking.”