For the second time, Phil Scott has vetoed the budget passed by the Legislature. The original budget presented to the governor had near unanimous tri-partisan support. I do not believe that the governor is striving for compromise – his opposition to a budget bill that was so overwhelmingly supported by the Legislature puts the responsibility to avoid a shutdown on him, not on anyone else.
Furthermore, it appears that we have a governor who does not understand how to lead or what it means to be fiscally responsible.
From a leadership standpoint, he set out a 2018 goal to keep the growth in education spending below 2.5 percent. On Town Meeting day, 97 percent of the school budgets passed throughout the state and the total increase came in at 1.5 percent, well below the target. A good leader would have come out and praised the excellent work of our school boards for exceeding that goal. A good leader would have celebrated the accomplishment. A good leader would work collaboratively with the towns, the school boards, and employees to build on this success and work towards implementing a long-term plan.
Instead, our governor complained that the increases were excessive and decided to move to a politics of division, pitting Vermonters against each other. Essentially, he pulled the rug out from under the towns and the schools, putting the state into a manufactured crisis. Our governor has chosen to follow the political path of our President, using crisis and division as a tool to implement his agenda, without building consensus.
This is the second year in his two-year term that he has done this, establishing a clear pattern of how this administration works.
Our governor has also demonstrated that he does not understand sound fiscal policy. For the second year in a row, he is advocating for the use of one-time money to pay down taxes, while not properly funding pension funds that the state is legally obligated to pay. Any good business leader knows that the pension fund is exposed to the wild swings of the financial markets and an organization can suffer severe repercussions by not funding them properly – especially in today’s uncertain economic times. The budget that he vetoed would have invested $35 million of the surplus to pay down those pension obligations, which would have resulted in a $100 million dollar savings over the long term. Our governor is essentially trying to buy votes rather than lead the state responsibly.
Barking orders, setting arbitrary measures, and then beating up the Legislature, school boards, and the teachers is not leadership.
Vermont is better than this. The Vermont that I know and love is a state where we all work shoulder to shoulder to do good. We work together, despite our differences, and come to agreement. We understand the importance of long-term planning and financial responsibility. Vermonters can and should expect great leadership and should call it out when that expectation is not met.
Written by Christine Hallquist, Democratic candidate for governor.