It’s easy to find an acceptable compromise if the main loser in the deal is not at the table. That’s exactly what happened in the Legislature’s passage of its alternative to Governor Scott’s proposal to save $26 million in teacher health insurance costs.
The Vermont-NEA balked at Scott’s proposal to achieve those savings by shifting negotiations from local school boards to the state. The Democratic leadership caved to the union and came up with an alternative way to save the money. How? You guessed it — the local school boards are now responsible for negotiating an 80/20 split in payment of health care premiums or finding the savings elsewhere in their budgets. Once again (think Act 46) the Legislature is establishing a statewide mandate that the local school boards have to figure out how to execute.
While I applaud the governor’s successful containment of a multiyear out-of-control budgeting process, I am appalled that both the governor and the Legislature are willing to drop this bombshell on the local school boards. I can’t imagine how anyone would agree to serve under these conditions. I would be especially furious if I were a school board member of one of the districts that have already completed their negotiations.
For Vermont voters the situation is simple: the union won. The Vermont-NEA, with its roughly $4 million in mandated yearly revenue (teachers have to join or pay 85 percent of the dues), has more influence over Vermont government affairs than any other organization. If voters want this to change, they have to vote out of office all those legislators who yielded to the pressure of the leadership to vote against Governor Scott’s plan on May 3d. (For roll call vote list, see p. 1976 of 2017 House Journal, Rep. Beck’s amendment.)
One silver lining to the new law is that all current plans have to expire in 2019. This is intended to give the government time to study the advisability of shifting teachers health care benefit negotiations to the state level in the future. Widely supported by school boards, this could be a central issue of the 2018 elections.