Trailing Bernie: In defense of the nation state

PrintEzra Klein, the liberal blogger of Vox, recently had one of the more complete and telling interviews with Sen. Bernie Sanders. Vox posted the lengthy transcript online earlier this week. (It can be read at bit.ly/1JrYY7O).
One exchange is getting a lot of media attention.
Ezra Klein: You said being a democratic socialist means a more international view. I think if you take global poverty that seriously, it leads you to conclusions that in the U.S. are considered out of political bounds. Things like sharply raising the level of immigration we permit, even up to a level of open borders. About sharply increasing …
Sanders: Open borders? No, that’s a Koch brothers proposal.
Klein: Really?
Sanders: Of course. That’s a right-wing proposal, which says essentially there is no United States. …
Klein: But it would make …
Sanders: Excuse me …
Klein: It would make a lot of global poor richer, wouldn’t it?
Sanders: It would make everybody in America poorer — you’re doing away with the concept of a nation state, and I don’t think there’s any country in the world that believes in that. If you believe in a nation state or in a country called the United States or UK or Denmark or any other country, you have an obligation in my view to do everything we can to help poor people. What right-wing people in this country would love is an open-border policy. Bring in all kinds of people, work for $2 or $3 an hour, that would be great for them. I don’t believe in that. I think Continue reading

Economists predict continued, moderate growth in Vermont

MONTPELIER — Economists for the Shumlin administration and the Legislature provided an updated economic forecast Monday that predicts continued moderate growth for the state’s economy into the foreseeable future.

Thomas Kavet and Jeffrey Carr, economists for the Legislature and administration, respectively, presented a consensus economic forecast to the Emergency Board Monday that predicts a 3 percent increase in general fund revenues over the last forecast in January for the 2016 fiscal year. That means the state is expected to collected about $40 million more in revenue than expected in January.

Economists Jeffrey Carr, left, and Thomas Kavet brief the Emergency Board.

Economists Jeffrey Carr, left, and Thomas Kavet brief the Emergency Board.

The 2016 expected revenues are aided by about $30 million in news taxes and fees signed into law following the recent legislative session.

The new forecast also predicts about $30 million more in general fund revenues in the 2017 fiscal year, which represents about 2 percent growth.

“It’s nice that we’re finally seeing some signs of the economic recovery that’s taking place in Vermont. We’ve got the fourth-lowest unemployment rate in America. We’ve got a lot of folks who want to hire and can’t find qualified workers,” Shumlin told reporters after Monday’s meeting. “The days of dark, deep-red ink were pretty depressing, and we’re starting to see the labor of our hard work.”

The Emergency Board is comprised of the governor and the chairs of the money committees in the House and Senate. The five-member panel voted unanimously to accept the consensus forecast.

The forecast also predicts the state’s education fund is expected to grow by $1.6 million and $1.7 million in 2016 and 2017, a growth of 0.8 and 0.9 percent, respectively. The transportation fund, however, is expected to decline by $800,000 in 2016 and $600,000 in 2017, a drop of 0.3 and 0.2 percent, respectively. The expected decline is based on oil prices.

Kavet said the forecast is “uneventful” because the 2015 fiscal year forecast was very close to year-end results. The national economy also did not deviate from expectations, he said.

“The external economy hasn’t changed that much either. We’re looking at this very slow, steady kind of expansion and there’s not a big shift in that,” Kavet said.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson, right, at a meeting of the Emergency Board on Monday, July 27, 2015.

Gov. Peter Shumlin and Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson, right, at a meeting of the Emergency Board on Monday, July 27, 2015.

Meanwhile, the state’s relatively low unemployment rate, the fourth-lowest in the country, is a strong indication of a growing economy, according to Kavet.

“The fact is it’s a very good proxy for the state of the economy in general. When the unemployment rate is really high lots of other indicators show that bad things are happening at the same time. And when it gets really low that also is coincident with lots of other things being good,” Kavet said. “As a general yardstick for what’s happening … it’s a timely indicator.”

He said the state is “about a year away from full employment,” which should lead to wage and income growth.

Shumlin, who frequently touts the state’s low unemployment rate, said the state is on the right track.

“It sure is better than what I inherited in 2010 when we were seeing negative economic growth. I think we all recognize that we’re making the right choices, we’re heading in the right direction and we still have more work to do,” he said.

The economists warned of structural problems with the state’s tax code, however. There is a shrinking sales and use tax base because of online commerce and the proximity to sales tax-free New Hampshire, they said. And the state saw minimal growth in personal income tax withholdings in 2015.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, began a discussion earlier this year about expanding the sales tax to services. That effort did not gain traction, however, and Shumlin said he does not favor it.

“I think we should be careful not to misdiagnose the problem. The problem with the sales tax is being experienced by any state that has a sales tax. The Internet is killing Main Street sales of goods,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin signed a 2016 fiscal year state budget into law earlier this year that assumed a 3 percent growth in state revenues. That followed a January consensus forecast that called on the state to downgrade projections from 5 percent growth to 3 percent growth.

Trailing Bernie: Talking Sanders, socialism

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It’s no secret by now that Bernie Sanders considers himself a democratic socialist.

It’s also no real secret that he’s hoping to spark a national, political movement to change the direction of the country. There are (so far) 16 Republicans and four other Democrats hoping to spearhead a similar movement — all candidates for president of the United States of America.

Those two separate things are related because of our electoral system. Candidates, more often than not, are ascribed a political party, and certainly a political persuasion. And to become president, you need a national vision that citizens buy into.

But for the National Review’s Kevin Williamson, Bernie’s political identity — which includes the buzz word “socialism” — coupled with his desire to organize a national movement means one thing and one thing only — Bernie Sanders is unequivocally a national socialist. Yes, a national socialist like members of the Nazi Party in Germany once were.

Williamson writes:

“In the Bernieverse, there’s a whole lot of nationalism mixed up in the socialism. He is, in fact, leading a national-socialist movement, which is a queasy and uncomfortable thing to write about a man who is the son of Jewish immigrants from Poland and whose family was murdered in the Holocaust. But there is no other way to characterize his views and his politics.”

But wait, Williamson admits that Sanders is “not a national socialist in the mode of Alfred Rosenberg or Julius Streicher.” Rather, he’s more “in the mode of Hugo Chávez.”

How reasonable of Williamson to concede that Sanders is not quite on the same level as a murderous regime bent on eradicating an entire people.

But lest Americans breath a sigh of relief, Williamson soon makes a clumsy case that Sanders is a racist and bigot. It’s obvious, he infers, because of Sanders’ “incessant reliance on xenophobic (and largely untrue) tropes holding that the current economic woes of the United States are the result of scheming foreigners, especially the wicked Chinese …”

To Williamson, Sanders’ opposition to trade deals and outsourcing of jobs to China or Mexico is just more evidence of his blazing bigotry. Bernie never rails against sending jobs to Germany or Scandinavia or any place where mostly white people live!

“Bernie worries a great deal about trade with brown people — Asians, Latin Americans — but has never, so far as public records show, made so much as a peep about our very large trade deficit with Sweden …,” Williamson writes.

Williamson’s lengthy, churlish rant, now available on the conservative outlet’s website, is almost a caricature, and conglomeration, of conservative media coverage of Sanders’ campaign thus far. It combines all of the hysterics and over-the-top rhetoric that cable news outlets on both sides of the political spectrum are now known for.

Bernie Sanders is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and his policy proposals deserve thorough examination and debate by pundits and the public to determine how they would impact the country. But the length that Williamson goes to depict Sanders as a dangerous monster is comical.

There’s a certain disdain and vitriol expressed by Williamson for anyone who may identify with Sanders’ views. He even seems to hold the location of Sanders’ campaign events in contempt, too.

He describes the neighborhood surrounding Drake University in Iowa where Sanders held a large rally as “a dreary, rundown, hideous little corner of Des Moines dotted with dodgy-looking bars and dilapidated groceries advertising their willingness to accept EBT payments.”

Not surprisingly, the Sanders campaign has nothing to say about Williamson’s piece. “I don’t have anything on that,” was spokesman Michael Briggs’ brief reply when asked about the piece.

Here’s one suggested response: Lighten up, Kevin!

*****

Sanders has not fared well when it comes to endorsements from the Democratic establishment. In fact, he has exactly zero support from sitting members of Congress. But for those not paying close attention, here is a sampling of Sanders celebrity endorsements: Neil Young; Lucinda Williams; Sarah Silverman; Susan Sarandon; Mark Ruffalo; Patton Oswalt; Justin Long; Mia Farrow; David Crosby, and Lewis Black.

— Vermont Press Bureau

Reach Up cuts challenged in federal court

MONTPELIER — Vermont Legal Aid has filed a class action lawsuit in federal court against the state hoping to block a new statute that calls for a reduction in Reach Up benefits for some Vermonters.

Legislation recently signed into law by Gov. Peter Shumlin reduces the temporary cash assistance by $125 per month for as many as 860 households in Vermont.

That’s because of a provision in the approved 2016 fiscal year budget that counts $125 per month of federal Supplemental Security Income assistance, or SSI, against a family’s income when determining benefits under the state’s Reach Up program.

Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz.

Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz.

Under current law, an individual’s SSI disability benefits are not counted when determining a family’s Reach Up assistance. The change is part of a $1.6 million cut to the 2016 state budget.

“The approach we looked at was that we recognized that these are vulnerable families, but these families with SSI benefits did have more income available than other families (receiving Reach Up benefits),” said Ken Schatz, commissioner of the Department for Children and Families. “We geared this in such a manner to try to minimize the impact and also recognize that this approach, because it does deal with families that have more income available, was a better approach than an across-the-board cut to all families.”

But Christopher Curtis, the attorney with Vermont Legal Aid who filed the suit, said the cut to a subset of Vermonters receiving state benefits is unconstitutional.

“I think the single most striking thing about this proposed benefit cut is it singles out a distinct class of Vermonters,” he said. “That just jumps out on its face as discriminatory.”

Christopher Curtis (VPR photo)

Christopher Curtis (VPR photo)

“Supplemental security income is to meet the needs of disabled Vermonters who have very specific needs. It’s not necessarily to meet the needs of an entire household,” Curtis added. “We do not think that supplemental security income should be counted against the Reach Up grant and there’s a provision in federal law that supports that.”

Curtis said he is hoping the court will grant an injunction to stop the cut from taking effect on Aug. 1. A letter sent to Agency of Human Services Secretary Hal Cohen, asking that the state not implement the cut, did not work, he said. Cohen, according to Curtis, responded that the Legislature had acted and the administration is required to follow the law.

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Trailing Bernie: Sanders unbowed after hitting rough patch out west

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The early weeks and months on the campaign trail for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders were relatively easy — thousands of adoring fans chanting his name and cramming into tight spaces to hear him speak. They opened their wallets, too, to fund his White House bid.

But the trail is long and winding, and Sanders has seen how even a division among progressives, who have flocked to him in droves, can cause headaches for a campaign on the rise.

Rough reception

Sanders appeared at the Netroots Nation in Phoenix this past weekend. What was supposed to be a pep rally of sorts for Sanders in front of a hyper-progressive crowd turned sour.

African-American activists took the stage. They wanted Sanders and fellow Democratic candidate Martin O’Malley to discuss the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and how they could advance it. Hillary Clinton skipped the event.

Both candidates stumbled. Those in the movement don’t want to hear about how Sanders marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in Washington D.C., decades ago. Rather, they want to know why African-Americans are dying in American streets at the hands of police. But Sanders missed that point in Phoenix, and his natural, gruff demeanor didn’t help.

“Black lives, of course, matter. I spent 50 years of my life fighting for civil rights and for dignity,” he told the gathering. “But if you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK. I don’t want to out-scream people.”

To be fair, Sanders has been speaking more about civil rights and equality on the stump. He began to include such issues in his remarks during a swing through Iowa in June, as the chorus grew in the media that he was avoiding it.

And, Sanders has done his best to recover since Netroots Nation.

‘It must stop’

On Tuesday, he expressed outrage when the dashboard video of Sandra Bland’s arrest was released.

Bland died in a Houston jail after being arrested July 10 after a traffic stop for a minor infraction.

The cop in the arrest video gets angry when Bland refuses to put out a cigarette and eventually tells Bland “I will light you up,” after withdrawing a Taser.

Sanders didn’t wait long to react after the video’s release, decrying “outrageous police behavior.”

“This video highlights once again why we need real police reform. People should not die for a minor traffic infraction. This type of police abuse has become an all-too-common occurrence for people of color and it must stop,” Sanders said.

Polls, schmolls

Sanders’ presidential campaign has raised $15 million, so far. OK, really about $13.5 million when you take out the funds he transferred from his Senate campaign account. But still, a respectable amount for a candidate many pundits believed would struggle mightily to connect with voters.

The self-described democratic socialist has spent about $3 million to advance his cause. But as The Huffington Post pointed out this week, he has spent a grand total of zero dollars and zero cents on a favorite of most campaigns — polling.

“If left to his own devices, he would not like to spend a dime on polling. I don’t think, as of this moment, we have convinced him of the merits of doing that,” campaign advisor Tad Devine told The Huffington Post. “I personally would like to, but I haven’t convinced him yet that we should. I’m hopeful I will.”

For a guy who’s been touting the same economic message for decades with little deviation, polling may not be a great investment. On the other hand, perhaps it could have helped Sanders get a better handle on how to work with the Black Lives Movement and expand his message to a wider, national audience.

Next up?

Sanders will continue his recent practice of visiting conservative states this weekend with a rally Sunday in Kenner, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. He attracted thousands of supporters in Arizona and Texas at recent rallies.

—  Vermont Press Bureau

Barnes to lead Sanders’ New Hampshire efforts

MONTPELIER — Departing Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Julia Barnes has landed on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign team next door in New Hampshire.

Sanders campaign announced Barnes’ new position Thursday morning in a news release. She will serve as the campaign’s New Hampshire state director.

Julia Barnes (Courtesy photo)

Julia Barnes (Courtesy photo)

Barnes has lead the Vermont Democratic Party since 2012.

Barnes previously worked as a regional field coordinator for Vice President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign during the 2008 Democratic primary. She then served as deputy field director on New Hampshire Gov. John Lynch’s re-election campaign in 2008.

Barnes also worked at Organizing for America New Hampshire as state field director and New Hampshire coordinated campaign field director from 2009 to 2011.

The Sanders campaign said Barnes will work out of its Concord office.

 

Shumlin’s office weighs in on EB-5 director’s departure

MONTPELIER — The director of the EB-5 Vermont Regional Center has resigned to take a job at Mount Snow that will involve working on the resort’s EB-5 project, leading Gov. Peter Shumlin to raise concerns about potential conflicts of interest.

Brent Raymond submitted his resignation last Thursday, Secretary of Commerce and Community Development Patricia Moulton said. Raymond provided for 30 days notice in his resignation letter, but Moulton said she and other officials determined Raymond could not continue to oversee projects because he would soon be advocating for one. His last day on the job was Monday.

Brent Raymond (Courtesy photo)

Brent Raymond (Courtesy photo)

“His departure is amicable. We felt because he’s going to work for an EB-5 project he couldn’t remain on the job and work with other EB-5 projects,” Moulton said.

Raymond will continue to be paid for another 30 days, Moulton said, but is no longer employed by the state to “avoid any conflicts.”

“He fully understood that,” she said.

The Burlington Free Press was the first to report Raymond’s departure.

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s office weighed in on the matter Tuesday, saying the governor is concerned about potential conflicts emerging from Raymond’s pending position with Mount Snow.

“The Governor has concerns about the potential for a conflict of interest in this decision. As soon as the Governor’s Office was made aware of this development, we made very clear that the employee should cease working in his capacity as director of the Regional Center immediately. We fully expect all appointees and former appointees to comply with the Executive Code of Ethics,” spokesman Scott Coriell said in an email. “The Governor has also asked ACCD to review the communications leading up to this departure to ensure that all actions were in compliance with the Executive Code of Ethics and conflict of interest policies.”

A full story will appear in Wednesday’s editions of the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus.

Scott says state contracts with his company are no conflict

MONTPELIER — Republican Lt. Gov. Phil Scott says his construction business, and the millions of dollars in state contracts it has received since he has been involved in state government, is a major factor in whether or not he will run for the state’s top job.

Scott, 56, is co-owner of DuBois Construction, a Middlesex-based excavating and construction company, along with Don DuBois. Scott served five terms in the Vermont Senate, beginning in 2001, before being elected lieutenant governor in 2010. He served as vice-chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and chairman of the Senate Institutions Committee during his tenure as a legislator. Both committees oversaw budgets that included contracts that Scott’s company received.

hardhat

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott (Courtesy photo)

Since 2001, DuBois Construction has received $3.785 million through more than 250 payments from the state, according to records provided by the Agency of Administration in response to a public records request filed Monday. Since Scott took office as lieutenant governor in 2011, DuBois Construction has been paid $2.657 million.

The majority of state funds paid to DuBois Construction — $2.58 million — has come from the Agency of Transportation. The Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation is second at $391,000, followed by the Departments of Buildings and General Services and Fish and Wildlife at $331,500 and $330,000, respectively.

When Gov. Peter Shumlin announced last month that he will not seek a fourth term in 2016, Scott immediately became a front-runner for the post. He is giving a bid for governor serious consideration, but does not plan to announce his intentions until at least Labor Day.

Scott said he has been very clear that his business interests will play a role in his decision to seek the governorship.

“A lot of it has been highlighted by me. I’ve been talking about it as one of the hurdles and obstacles since I’ve been thinking about it,” he said. “I keep reminding (people) that I have a business that we’ve been involved with for 30 years or more and I just want to make sure that — from a number of different standpoints — that the business continues, but also the fact that I’ve got to disassociate myself from the business because of the possible appearance of improprieties.”

Should he become governor, Scott said it would be imperative to distance himself from the company to avoid even the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest. A “firewall of some sort to take me out of the day-to-day operations” of the company would be put in place, he said.

“I view being the governor as being the CEO of a company. You’re running the government and you have people you put in charge of different sectors,” he said. “You have much more power in running the day-to-day operations of state government. Some of those day-to-day operations are in the area of my business.” Continue reading

Administration initiates retirement incentive plan

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration has identified 952 state employees who are eligible for a retirement incentive program signed into law as part of the 2016 fiscal year budget.

The eligible employees identified are based on a preliminary review, according to administration officials. All 952 state workers identified will receive letters late this week or early next week explaining the program’s details and requirements.

The offer is part of the process the administration and lawmakers undertook during the recent legislative session to close a projected $113 million budget gap. The retirement incentive is part of about $10 million in labor savings.

According to the letter on its way to eligible employees, those interested in accepting the incentive must apply by Aug. 31 for the Oct. 1 effective retirement date. Employees must meet the following criteria to qualify:

— Be employed by the executive branch of state government on July 1
— Be part of the defined benefit or defined contribution retirement plans
— Employees hired before July 1, 2008 must have at least 30 years of service or be age 62 with at least 5 years of service as of Aug. 1
— Employees hired on or after July 1, 2008, must have a combination of years of service and age equaling 87 or more, or be age 65 with a least five years of service as of Aug. 1

State statute allows up 300 state employees to receive the incentive. The administration says it will use a lottery system if more than 300 apply. Those selected through the lottery will receive an estimate of the payment they are eligible for in early September.

Employees who have between five and 15 years of service will receive $750 for each year. Employees with 15 or more years of service will receive $1,000 for each year. The maximum amount any single employee can receive as part of the incentive is $15,000. The money will be paid in two installments, one each during the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.

Deputy Secretary of Administration Michael Clasen said the incentive offering will save the state $2.5 million in the 2016 fiscal year, after incentive payments are made from individual agency and department budgets.

“They’re no longer going to have salary or benefits associated with those employees,” he said.

The administration is also counting on a $2 million savings from non-union employees from limiting pay increases, reducing temporary employees, limiting overtime, reducing mileage reimbursements and reducing some benefits. Another $6.3 million will be obtained by cutting 13 filled state positions and not filling about 50 vacant positions.

According to information provided by the administration, the Agency of Transportation has the most eligible employees with 171. The Department for Children and Families, Department of Health and Department of Corrections follow with 113, 75 and 72 employees, respectively.

Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard said he believes there will be no issue with finding 300 employees interested in the incentive.

“Based on the feedback we’ve gotten from members who are out there asking questions about it … I don’t think they’ll have a problem getting 300,” he said. “People can change their minds as time goes on, but my sense is there’s a critical mass of people who will take the incentive.”

Howard said the union would prefer “something better,” but recognizes there were worse options on the table to find labor savings. Still, there will be more work for fewer workers as a result, he said.

“The retirement incentive is clearly better than someone getting a (reduction in force notice),” he said. “I think the concern we have is that the case loads, the workload in state government, doesn’t go away. We’re in a position now where we have fewer and fewer workers carrying out the work. We have to be realistic about that.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Read the letter to eligible employees below:

Shumlin administration sees more staff changes

MONTPELIER — Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears is is leaving the Shumlin administration to rejoin the faculty of Vermont Law School.

Mears, who joined the administration in 2011, helped spearhead Gov. Peter Shumlin’s effort to pass clean water legislation during the last legislative session. He will return to VLS as the director of the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic, the position he previously held at the school. Deputy Commissioner Alyssa Schuren will take over the department’s top spot on August 10.

David Mears

David Mears

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deborah Markowitz said Mears is leaving the state and the department “better than he found them.”

“From the Lake Champlain clean-up plan, to cleaning up polluted industrial sites so that they could again serve as community assets, David’s leadership has helped Vermont advance our shared environmental mission,” she said.

Mears’ departure was part of a handful of staff changes Gov. Peter Shumlin announced on Thursday, and the most significant since announcing in early June that he will not seek a fourth term in 2016. Nearly a dozen top agency and department heads have departed since last summer.

Alyson Richards, deputy Chief of Staff and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs for Shumlin, is leaving the administration on July 24. She has been an influential part of the administration’s education policies.

“Aly has been a trusted member of my team, close advisor, and great friend,” Shumlin said in a statement. “She has played an integral role in our efforts to expand educational opportunities for Vermont kids, helping to pass universal pre-k and secure tens of millions in federal grants that will help us expand and bolster our early childhood education system in this state. Kids born in this state are better off thanks to Aly Richard’s good work.”

Alyson Richards

Alyson Richards

The administration did not say what Richards’ plans are after leaving her post. Her departure follows that of Elizabeth Miller, Shumlin’s now-former chief of staff.

Meanwhile, Jon Copans is taking over as deputy commissioner at the Public Service Department on Aug. 17. He will fill the post left vacant by Darren Springer, who is now Shumlin’s chief of staff. Copans is currently a senior policy advisor for government affairs for ANR. He previously worked as deputy state director and campaign manager for Congressman Peter Welch.

“Jon has great experience in both environmental and energy issues and I look forward to continuing our progress in advancing energy and telecommunications efforts on behalf of all Vermonters,” Public Service Department Commissioner Chris Recchia said in a statement.

Director of Vermont Emergency Management Joe Flynn will become deputy commissioner of the Department of Public Safety. Flynn will take over the position for Francis (Paco) Aumand, who is retiring on July 24.

Dunne sets frenetic fundraising pace for gov hopefuls

MONTPELIER — Democrat Matt Dunne posted an impressive fundraising haul Wednesday of more than $100,000 as he considers a bid for governor.

Dunne, a 45-year-old former state senator from Windsor County, now works as the head of community affairs for Google. He has launched previous, unsuccessful campaigns for both lieutenant governor and governor.

Dunne was part of the five-way Democratic primary for governor in 2010, from which Gov. Peter Shumlin emerged victorious. Another primary is likely in 2016, as House Speaker Shap Smith and Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter ponder their own bids. But neither filed a July 15 campaign finance disclosure statement required for candidates with who raise or spend more than $500.

Matt Dunne

Matt Dunne

Dunne’s campaign finance disclosure form filed this week shows that his contacts with tech executives helped him take in about $114,500 in contributions for the 2016 election cycle in just the past several weeks. That doesn’t include about $20,000 more than came within the two-day period before Wednesday’s filing deadline, he said.

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, along with his wife Michelle Yee, contributed a total of $8,000. Dunne said Hoffman, who attended the Putney School, has connections to the Green Mountain State. Christopher Brousseau, of San Mateo, Calif., who donated $2,000, grew up in Vermont with Dunner and Burlington Mayor Miro Weinburger, according to Dunne.

Married tech tycoons Mark Pincus and Allison Pincus, founders of the Zynga online gaming company and the One King’s Lane retail outlet, respectively, also kicked in $8,000 in contributions.

Support from people “who just aren’t able to live in Vermont is not insignificant,” Dunne said of his many out-of-state contributions.

Closer to home, Dunne’s report showed that he is locking in early support from big-wig Democrats, including Jane and Bill Stetson, who collectively contributed $4,000. Dunne said the Stetsons, who are big Democratic donors, did not support him in 2010. Dealer.com co-founder Mike Lane contributed $3,000.

Perhaps the most impressive distinction about Dunne’s fundraising is that it has only been about two weeks since he began dialing for dollars.

“I’ve made it really clear that we are serious about a potential race for governor. Over the last 10 days we’ve started reaching out to Vermonters to gauge their interest,” he said. “As you can see that response is very positive. People are ready for new ideas and new leadership. The financial support is a great indication of the enthusiasm that’s out there.”

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in early June that he would not seek a fourth term. But then U.S. Rep. Peter Welch entered the fray, saying he would consider a return to Vermont and a gubernatorial bid. It was only recently that Welch bagged his trial balloon and Dunne returned from a vacation to begin seeking support in earnest.

“This was all part of a process that started after my friend Peter Welch decided that he wanted to stay fighting for Vermont in Washington, D.C.,” Dunne said. “When I got back I started reaching out to Vermonters all over the state to gauge their interest in a different kind of approach to Montpelier and to leadership. The response, as you can see, was really, really positive.”

Despite his early fundraising prowess, Dunne continues to maintain that his mind is not made up on a run. He said most Vermonters are not engaged in politics this far ahead of the election.

“We’ll make that announcement when we feel like we have all the pieces in place and the timing is right,” Dunne said.

Smith, meanwhile, said he has not begun to ask supporters to contribute financially. Although he has been traveling the state gauging support, and even lining up campaign staff, the speaker said Wednesday he has not reached a final decision about his political future.

House Speaker Shap Smith

House Speaker Shap Smith

“I have been deciding whether I’m going to run for governor and I think once I make that decision I’ll raise money from people. I’m not going to do that before then,” Smith said.

The six-term House member from Morrisville said he is not worried about Dunne’s impressive tally.

“It’s July of 2015 and a primary wouldn’t be until August of 2016. That’s more than 12 months. So, the answer to that is no,” Smith said. “We’re talking about more than a year before the primary and 15 months before the general election. There’s more than enough time to raise the money for a primary.”

“My focus really has been on what Vermonters are looking for in 2016, talking to them about whether they would support me if I ran for governor, and most importantly, talking to my family about what it would mean to run for governor,” he added. “I always expected that the people who would be in the race would be able to raise funds.”

Minter, a former House member and Tropical Storm Irene recovery officer, has said she is considering a run for office but appears to be making fewer behind-the-scenes moves than Dunne and Smith.

On the Republican side, Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who says he is considering a bid for the top job, filed a disclosure report as lieutenant governor. That report shows no new contributions to Scott for the 2016 cycle. Dan Feliciano, who ran in 2014 as a Libertarian and registered 4 percent of the vote last November, reported no financial activity and about $90 to carry over into the 2016 campaign cycle. He has since joined the Republican Party and is said to be considering a second run for governor.

Read Matt Dunne’s report below:

Welch, Minter seek long-term transportation funds

EAST MONTPELIER — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch and Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter are urging Congress to pass a long-term transportation spending plan before federal spending authorization expires on July 31, which would put dozens of Vermont projects at risk.

Welch and Minter held a news conference Tuesday at a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier that intersects with Route 2. The bridge has been deemed structurally deficient and has visible signs of degradation, including at least one hole in the deck offering a view of the water below.

“We in Vermont have bridges that are crumbling,” Welch said. “This bridge next to us is falling apart, and I hate to say that because I don’t want to scare the driving public, but the driving public knows how bad our roads and bridges are.”

Rep. Peter Welch, right, examines a hole on the deck of a bridge on Route 14 in East Montpelier.

Rep. Peter Welch, right, examines a hole on the deck of a bridge on Route 14 in East Montpelier.

In the recent past Congress has passed short-term spending resolutions to keep transportation and infrastructure projects around the country funded. But that approach has made it difficult for states to undertake long-term planning for needed projects. Minter said more than 40 projects totaling about $136 million set to be advertised in the coming weeks are at risk if Congress does not pass funding.

“If we don’t have the authority to spend federal money, they are off the table,” Minter said, also noting that Vermont could foot the bill in the near-term if Congress does not meet the July 31 deadline.

Welch said he and Rep. Reid Ribble, R-Wisc., have sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging him to use the so-called “Queen of the Hill” strategy to pass a long-term transportation funding plan. It would allow the House to vote on multiple funding options and the proposal with the most votes would be adopted by the House.

Welch said he hopes Boehner will help break prolonged gridlock in the House and pass a long-term funding plan, rather than another “dim-witted, temporary fix.” He said the previous short-term extension allowed corporations to lower their pension obligations, which in turn boosted corporate taxes — a “temporary and irresponsible” solution.

“A confident country, a competent country, will do what needs to be done to keep the roads and the bridges repaired and take the steps that are required to have a modern infrastructure. The thing that mystifies me in Washington is that this, traditionally, has never been a partisan issue. We all have potholes in our roads. We all have bridges that need repair, whether you’re in the most conservative district … or in Vermont,” Welch said.

Some ideas floated in Congress include repatriation of corporate profits, corporate tax reform and boosting the federal gas tax. Welch said he has no favorite funding source. However, collecting taxes on repatriation of corporate profits would provide a five to six year cushion for developing a sustainable funding source, he said.

“The worst thing we can do is come up with yet another short-term solution where we go into the general fund, take money that needs to be spent for education, for National Institute of Health or scientific research, and then use it as a patch to try and get us through a few more months of maintenance of our highways and bridges,” Welch said.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter speaks at a news conference as Rep. Peter Welch listens.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter speaks at a news conference as Rep. Peter Welch listens.

Minter, meanwhile, praised President Barack Obama’s Grow America Act, which would appropriate $475 billion for transportation projects across the country over five years through repatriation and corporate tax reform. Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont’s junior senator and a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president, has also advocated for funding, she said.

“There are proposals out there. The president put forth a very important proposal,” Minter said. “Sen. Sanders, another plan. A trillion dollar investment. It’s called rebuild America. What we need isn’t just to cobble together and put the duct tape on these old bridges, we actually need to be thinking about the future and especially our economy.”

The country’s infrastructure “used to be the envy of the world,” Minter said. But the U.S. now spends just 2 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure. By comparison, most of Europe spends between 5 and 6 percent, while China spends 9 percent of its GDP, she said.

In Vermont, significant progress has been made on replacing aging bridges, according to Minter. In 2009, she said, 19 percent of Vermont’s bridges were structurally deficient. That has since dropped to 7 percent.

“We have been doing things differently. We have been focusing more on bridges and we’ve been innovating and doing them more quickly and at lower cost,” she said. “We want to keep going, and that’s why we need Congress to act, because we don’t want to slow down.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, also called on Boehner to allow long-term funding solutions to be voted on. He said local residents fear crossing the Route 14 bridge.

A guardrail is severely degraded on a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier.

A guardrail is severely degraded on a Route 14 bridge in East Montpelier.

“Shame on Congress. I dare Speaker Boehner to come here and drive across this bridge. This bridge is a nightmare. People in East Montpelier are afraid to drive across this bridge,” Klein said. “This has got to stop. This is ridiculous, and Americans should not have to potentially pay with their lives to get people to change their minds.”

Wayne Symonds, the state’s bridge engineer, said the span is now inspected every year and remains suitable for traffic.

“Right now the bridge is safe but it is nearing the end of its useful life,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

Sanders PAC fined by FEC

MONTPELIER — Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ political action committee has been fined by the Federal Election Commission for failing to file financial reports on time.

Documents obtained by the Vermont Press Bureau show that the Progressive Voters of America Leadership PAC, a so-called leadership committee that current and former members of Congress are allowed to create, paid about $8,000 in administrative fines in May. The FEC levies fines when a committee fails to file required reports or files them late.

The fines are expected to be made public by the FEC next week.

The Burlington-based committee’s treasurer, Phil Fiermonte, a longtime Sanders aide and currently the field director for Sanders presidential campaign, received a letter from the FEC in December warning that the committee may have failed to file required financial reports.

Fiermonte wrote to FEC Chairwoman Ann Ravel on May 5 acknowledging the committee, which appears to have been founded in 2004, had in fact missed reporting deadlines.

“We acknowledge that we neglected to file the 12 day Pre-General Report of Receipts and Disbursements and the 30 day Post-General Report of Receipts and Disbursements before the filing deadlines and have enclosed checks to pay for each of the administrative fines for these infractions. This was an inadvertent mistake. As you know, we have since filed both reports with the FEC,” Fiermonte wrote. “We will make certain to be diligent to comply with all filing deadlines in the future.”

The letter included two separate checks, one for $1,090 and another for $6,600.

Sanders spokesman Michael Briggs declined to comment on the fines.

“The letters from the senator’s committee to the Federal Election Commission speak for themselves,” Briggs said.

Leadership PACs are often used by candidates to fund expenses, including travel, office needs and consultants and polling. They can also be used to fund provide financial support to other candidates.

Since Jan. 1, 2013, Sanders’ leadership PAC has raised $535,000 and spent $405,000. Sanders has donated generously to Democratic members of the House and Senate from the committee.

Letter from FEC:

PAC letters to FEC:

https://www.scribd.com/doc/270402147/PVA-FEC-AF-2944

Sanders raises $15 million

MONTPELIER — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign announced Thursday that he has raised $15 million for his White House bid since April 30 — an impressive number but far behind presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

According to Sanders’ campaign, the $15 million in donations came from more than 400,000 contributions from about 250,000 individuals. The average donation has been $33.51, and 99 percent of the donations have been $250 or less.

The fundraising haul is significantly more than most pundits expected, and ahead of the pace President Barack Obama set when he defeated Clinton in the 2008 Democratic primary.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

Sen. Bernie Sanders greets supporters at his new Iowa campaign office Des Moines on Saturday, June 13, 2015.

The self-described democratic socialist has been drawing enormous crowds on the campaign trail, including about 10,000 people in Madison, Wisc., Wednesday night. His poll numbers are on the rise, too, showing him surging in both New Hampshire, home of the nation’s first primary, and Iowa, home to the first caucus and first overall presidential contest.

In Iowa, a Sanders now trails Clinton by just 19 percentage points, according to a Quinnipiac Poll released Thursday. Clinton leads Sanders 52-33, but that is down significantly from May when she led 60-15.

In New Hampshire, a recent CNN poll showed Sanders with 8 percentage points of Clinton, 43-35 percent.

The campaign said it raised nearly all of its cash in online donations through Sanders’ campaign website. The numbers released Thursday will be used to filed required financial reports with the Federal Election Commission later this month.

Clinton’s campaign revealed Wednesday that she has received $45 million in contributions.

Vermont child abuse reports, cases on the rise

MONTPELIER — The number of Vermont children in state custody rose sharply in 2014 to record numbers as families struggled with a slow economy and the scourge of substance abuse, according to the Department for Children and Families’ annual child protection report.

The annual report, released Tuesday, found there are currently 1,326 children in DCF custody. That’s a 33 percent increase since the beginning of 2014. DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz said the increase is “particularly striking” for children under six, which saw an increase of 68 percent.

“Why is this happening? We continue to believe that substance abuse is the primary factor resulting in these increased number of reports and the increased number of children coming into state custody,” Schatz told reporters Wednesday.

Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz.

Department for Children and Families Commissioner Ken Schatz.

The state’s entire child protection system has been strained because of the increase in reports and higher number of children in state custody. He said it has had an impact on family courts, law enforcement, public defenders, foster parents and DCF staff.

The report revealed some staggering statistics:

— Reports to the Child Protection Line were up 10.5 percent to a record 19,288 calls
— DCF accepted 5,846 reports, or 30 percent, for intervention, resulting in 2,908 child abuse investigations, 1,688 child abuse assessments and 1,281 family assessments
— DCF substantiated 652 abuse reports with 992 unique child victims and 906 incidents of abuse
— The substantiated incidents included 145 of physical abuse, 365 of sexual abuse, 128 of risk of sexual abuse, 242 of risk of harm and 26 of emotional abuse/neglect.
— About 73 percent of the calls were made by mandated reporters, 19 percent were made by non‐mandated reporters and 8 percent were made anonymously
— Substance abuse was a factor in 31 percent of the reports received, while financial stress showed up in 17 percent of reports, domestic violence in 15 percent and mental health in 12 percent

The annual child protection report follows several investigations into DCF following the deaths last year of two toddlers who had been under the department’s care. Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon, of Poultney, died in February 2014, and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw, of Winooski, died a short time later in April. Criminal charges have been filed against family members in both cases.

Those deaths sparked outrage from the public as well as lawmakers, who formed a special committee to review the state’s child protection laws. There was also an internal investigation as well as an independent review.

As a result, the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin hired 18 more social workers to address high case loads per worker. But state officials said Wednesday that the increase in abuse reports and children in custody have now driven case loads even higher than before the additional workers were sought.

“They are higher than they were immediately before we added the 18 social workers,” Deputy Commissioner of Family Services Cindy Walcott said.

Those social workers continue to face challenging cases, Schatz said.

“The challenge that they face on a daily basis cannot be overstated,” he said. “It is oftentimes very complicated situations, so, I have to tell you, I really admire the folks who do this on a daily basis.”

Meanwhile, Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State address in January 2014 to combating heroin and opiate abuse, pledging to help Vermonters deal with the disease of addiction. Since then, the governor’s office noted Wednesday, the state has increased the number of people in treatment programs by 1,000.

The state has expanded treatment options, including the opening of West Ridge treatment center in Rutland, which is treating more than 300 patients. Shumlin’s office also noted the state has increased overall spending on drug treatment by 16 percent, despite ongoing budget challenges.

But substance abuse, particularly heroin and other opiates, continues to drive abuse rates, according to Schatz. The number of abuse reports in which substance abuse was a factor grew by about 800 cases in 2014, and represented 31 percent of all reports.

“What we see… is that our annual report does indicate that Vermont families are struggling, with substance abuse issues being a major concern,” he said. “We’re working hard to address those issues, but they do present substantial challenges.”

Schatz said the state’s enhanced drug treatment system has taken time to implement and he believes it will help lower abuse rates in the long term.

“The increased capacity will take some time to actually have its impact … in terms of parental safety behavior. Obviously I would love for there to be an immediate impact,” he said. “I am hopefully that those new interventions will be successful and we will see a change in this trend going forward.”

Shumlin recently signed in to law an overhaul of the state’s child protection laws, which stemmed from the special legislative panel that took testimony last summer and fall. The law aims to improve communication between those involved in child protection cases and directs the state to focus on the best interests of children, rather than on unification with their parents.

Despite an intense focus on child protection in the last year, Schatz said he could not definitely say if Vermont’s children are safer.

“I don’t have any data to answer that one way or the other. I don’t have any indication that children are less safe,” he said.

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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