by Rob Roper
It’s hard to tally a lot of legislative victories when your side is outgunned 48 to 102, but those are the numbers Republicans in the Vermont House of Representatives face when they take their seats under the Golden Dome.
Don Turner (R-Milton) is the Minority Leader, and he recently brought attention to some of the accomplishments his caucus was able to glean from the 2011 legislative session. These, for the most part, are victories in the name of transparency and fairness.
One significant contribution Tuner is able to point to with pride is the fact that in 2011 no piece of legislation that had any money attached to it went out without financial analysis, or a ‘fiscial note,’ from the Joint Fiscal Office. “You’d think that would be common sense,” said Turner. “But in my six years [in the House] we could never get the Joint Fiscal Office to tell us what something was going to cost before we voted on it. I went to the speaker early on and said I am going to require this every single time.”
While Turner said the initial response to this request was not positive, persistence and a little bit of “jumping up and down” on the part of Republicans ultimately made sure that fiscal notes were presented every time we voted on a bill that had financial consequences.
Republicans were also responsible for bringing more transparency and clarity to the budget process by working with the Joint Fiscal Office in creating and publishing a simple spreadsheet breaking down the past five annual general fund budgets for easy comparison.
Another victory for transparency and fairness was the introduction in 2011 of minority reports on legislation, which (and it might surprise folks) were previously not allowed.
“You wouldn’t believe it,” said Turner, “but if you don’t agree with the majority, you can’t talk. So, we would have caucus members sitting in committee for weeks and weeks, and then when they didn’t vote for the bill, they couldn’t speak. Does that make any sense? So, I said to the Speaker, we’re going to do minority reports. He said, oh no you’re not. It’s custom. I said, I’m sorry. We’re going to do it. And, I’ve got to tell you a minority report is so helpful. Even if it doesn’t necessarily change the outcome on the floor, it gives the press the opportunity to pick up the opposing position. These are respectful reports that simply state why a member can’t support a bill.”
While these are certainly noble and worthwhile achievements, a super-minority can only accomplish so much. Turner explained many of the things the Republican caucus tried to do, but simply didn’t have the numbers to achieve.
“Republicans stood together against tax increases, increased spending, the proposed single payer health care plan, and the tax against our employers and especially our small businesses.” Turner was particularly proud of the fact that every Republican in the House stuck together and voted against H.202, the healthcare bill.
In addition, Turner went on, “Caucus members offered several amendments to the budget that would have reduced spending and protected Vermont’s most vulnerable. However, each of these proposals was defeated one by one by the liberal leaning Appropriations Committee.”
“The choices made by the Democratic supermajority in 2011 increased spending, raised $24 million in new taxes, and increased the statewide education property tax into FY 13 and beyond. You will see that in your tax bill next year.” Turner intends to make sure the voters know exactly who is responsible for these things going into the 2012 election season.
Which brings us to Turner’s goals for 2012.
As the legislature is set to reconvene in January, the Minority Leader has a clear picture of what he would like to accomplish. The list includes proposing a realistic plan to rebuild Vermont that stresses investment in technology over bricks and mortar, a plan to curb education and healthcare costs, and a plan to permanently repair our transportation infrastructure.
Turners main goal, however, is to achieve transparency and fairness in the accounting of healthcare reform. “We want to require the disclosure of the cost details associated with Green Mountain Health Care. Seems simple.” Governor Shumlin and the majority seem intent on keeping those numbers secret until after the 2012 election.
Turner is also focused on the issues of reapportionment (the process of redrawing legislative district lines) and recruitment of candidates for the 2012 election, both of which are key to increasing his caucus’ numbers in the future.
“48,” as Turner points out, “just isn’t enough.”