Monthly Archives: December 2011

Flood, Oliver in role reversal at AHS

Gov. Peter Shumlin today announced a managerial mash-up that will see Deputy Secretary of Human Services Secretary Patrick Flood swap positions with Commissioner of Mental Health Christine Oliver.

The two have worked closely together since Tropical Storm Irene, when heavy floods forced the closure of the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. Under considerable scrutiny from hospitals, mental-health advocates and the media, the pair has spearheaded the administration's quest to deliver a permanent, albeit controversial, replacement plan for the 54-bed psychiatric facility.

That plan will require an enormous lobbying effort in the Statehouse, a "legislative and strategic challenge for which Patrick Flood is uniquely qualified to address," Shumlin said in an administration press release.
Oliver's "extensive management and legal experience," meanwhile, are needed at an Agency of Human Services "facing a host of unanticipated management challenges due to both Irene and federal budget cuts."

"Christine and Patrick have both done an extraordinary job under difficult conditions over the past year," Shumlin said in a written statement. "As I have worked closely with them in the wake of Irene, it has become clear to me that at this unique moment, Christine's background and talents are better suited to managing the Agency's overall work, while Patrick's legislative and state government experience make him best suited to helping realize my vision for creating a comprehensive, post-Irene mental health system."

$26M Dialysis clinics offer withdrawn

A few weeks after state regulaters cast a negative opinion on the purchase of Fletcher Allen Health Care's dialysis clinics by a for-profit company, the company,  Bio-Medical Applications of New Hampshire, has withdrawn its application to purchase Fletcher Allen Health Care’s outpatient dialysis clinic, according to the state insurance regulator, BISHCA.

From the press release:

Bio-Medical Applications, a for-profit company, is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc., itself a wholly-owned subsidiary of a German corporation. The withdrawal of the application for a Certificate of Need approving the sale follows the release by BISHCA of a proposed Statement of Decision denying approval on the grounds that the sale would result in lower quality services at higher cost without any improvement in access to care. 

“Bio-Medical’s decision to withdraw closes the docket in this matter,” said Clifford Peterson, BISHCA’s General Counsel. “The Department will work with Fletcher Allen to assure continued delivery of high quality outpatient dialysis treatment to Vermonters.”

November state revenue results are in

Secretary of the Agency of Administration Jeb Spaulding has released the November revenue results for the state, and things are looking better than last year – state revenues for Nov. 2011 were $78.6 million, or about 2.9 percent ahead of the forecast. That puts the state about $12 million ahead of the forecast for the fiscal year thus far.

“Naturally, we are pleased that General fund revenues continued a positive trend for the month and
through the first five months of the fiscal year. All four of the major tax sources – Personal Income,
Sales & Use, Rooms and Meals, and Corporate Income – are ahead of target and last year’s actual
results, for the month and year to date,” Spaulding said in a press release announcing the results.

The forecast was approved by the Emergency Board in July; the next meeting of that board – made up of the Governor and the chairs of the four 'money' committees in the House and Senate – comes on January 18 of 2012. At that meeting, the E-Board will also take up a number of mid-budget year requests for adjustments on the expense side, including a request for more district technicians from the Agency of Transportation (which are somewhat related to Irene recovery efforts, but the agency is also recommending become permanent), and a new need from the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, which is facing a budget shortfall. Irene accounted for $25 million in shortfalls in this year's budget so far, according to officials.

While personal income and corporate tax receipts, and consumption taxes like the Sales & Use tax are ahead of forecast, real estate transfer taxes are down, more than 30% below the forecast for November and more than 11% below the fiscal year to date forecast.

Transportation Fund receipts are up, which helps provide more bonding capacity for VTrans, according to Spaulding, while the Education Fund non-property tax income was ahead of forecast for November, but still lagging slightly for the fiscal year to date. 

“It is definitely good news that the General Fund has exceeded target for the fourth consecutive month. However, uncertainty from the continuing global economic instability and the unknown extent of federal budget cuts require us to remain cautious. While the current results indicate a positive note for the current fiscal year (FY 2012), there remains a good deal of uncertainty for FY 2013. We look towards the January Consensus Revenue Forecast revision, scheduled for consideration by the Emergency Board on January 18, 2012, with interest and what we hope will be a clearer picture of the revenue future for our three major funds," Spaulding said in the release.

State is liable for abuse of elderly Vermonters, new lawsuit claims

The state of Vermont has failed to adequately investigate hundreds of alleged cases of elder abuse, according to a law suit filed this morning by Vermont Legal Aid.

The suit, which has backing from a former human services secretary as well as a number of disability-rights organizations, says the state’s failure to follow statutory mandates has resulted in the abuse of vulnerable adults.

Vermont Legal Aid said it filed the suit only after concluding that negotiations with the Division of Adult Protective Services would not rectify the shortcomings without some kind of formal intervention.

“It is unfortunate that we have come to this point, but it is painfully clear that APS is not protecting our most desperate elders and we must now look to the court to remedy this ongoing failure,” said Jim Leddy, a former state senator and state president of AARP.

 

 

   

Editorials respond to Vermont journalist’s arrest

The editor and publisher of the Barton Chronicle, Chris Braithwaite, was arrested early this week while covering a protest at Green Mountain Power's Lowell Mountain Wind Project. The arrest has prompted a number of editorials about freedom of the press in Vermont media:

From the Hardwick Gazette:

   Democracy Arrested

    “Heave the tea overboard!”

    Such might have been the cry over 200 years ago when Sam Adams (the

patriot, not the beer) joined fellow colonialists to protest the English

Stamp Act. Adams and his compatriots threw boxes of tea into Boston Harbor

as an act of civil disobedience. Immortalized as a foundation block of

American democracy, the Boston Tea Party of Dec. 16, 1773 was not only a

protest against what Adams and others thought was an unjust law, the protest

was the intentional breaking of a law that is seen as unjust.

Continue reading

State workers to get 2 percent annual raises under new labor contracts

MONTPELIER – The state employees union and the Shumlin administration have struck a tentative deal on new, two-year contracts that include 2-percent raises each year, the administration announced Friday afternoon.

The deal also includes the restoration of a 3-percent pay cut that Vermont State Employees Association members took for fiscal years 2011 and 2012, according to the administration. The pay cut will be restored at the end of June 2012.

In addition, previously “frozen” step movements will resume in July 2012, according to the administration.

Gov. Peter Shumlin said in a written statement that the agreement balances the need to reward Vermont's “hardworking state employees” and the need for financial prudence.

While these contracts provide a modest increase for state employees, they also reflect the fiscal constraints facing Vermont taxpayers and our responsibility to maintain fiscal discipline in the coming years,” Shumlin said.

The state employees made a few, seemingly minor, concessions. Employees in the Select Care health plan will pay an additional $5 co-pay for office visits, from $15 to $20 dollars, effective January 2013, according to the news release. And Columbus Day will no longer be observed as a state holiday, effective July 1, 2013.

VSEA President John Reese touted the agreement as a good deal for workers.

Certainly, VSEA members belonging to the Units that will soon vote on this tentative contract will welcome a return of the three-percent wage cut they graciously surrendered to help Vermont weather our state’s economic storm," Reese said in a written statement. "I also believe they’ll be very receptive to a small wage increase in the next two years, as the cost of living is rising just as fast for state employees as it is for all working Vermonters.”

The contracts are subject to ratification by the VSEA membership.

The two sides entered negotiations amid a heated labor dispute between the Shumlin administration and state workers over whether double pay was warranted for workers displaced by the flooding from Tropical Storm Irene.

But Reese said the tone of the negotiations was positive.

The fact that, for the first time in decades, VSEA bargaining units were able to reach a tentative agreement without having to resort to the use of a mediator or fact-finder should speak volumes about the tone of these negotiations versus previous bargaining sessions with the State,” said Reese.

The labor contracts cover three bargaining units: Corrections, Supervisory and Non-Management Units.

Republican Randy Brock to run for Governor in 2012

MONTPELIER – Vermont Republicans finally have their man.
State Sen. Randy Brock this afternoon announced his candidacy for governor. Flanked by a number of GOP luminaries, including former Gov. James Douglas, Brock, a two-term senator from Franklin County, said “there would be no greater honor than to work on behalf of all Vermonters as your governor.”
Brock said his campaign would begin in earnest in May, at the end of the 2012 legislative session. But he wasted no time Wednesday lobbing political grenades as his incumbent rival, Gov. Peter Shumlin.
“I believe that Peter Shumlin is a good man, but I believe he is blindly steering Vermont’s ship of state toward the shoals,” Brock said during at a 1 p.m. press conference in the Cedar Creek Room.
Brock has taken particular exception to Shumlin’s single-payer health care initiative, a reform proposal he said is “built on rosy assumptions and wishful thinking constructed on a foundation of quicksand.”
Brock has held statewide office before, winning a single term as auditor in 2004 before narrowly losing his reelection bid in 2006 to then-Democrat Tom Salmon.
Brock enters the 2012 race for governor as the heavy underdog. Gov. Peter Shumlin wields not only the power of incumbency – an advantage buoyed by his widely acclaimed handling of Tropical Storm Irene – but also has had a head start on fund-raising. As of mid-July, the last reporting disclosure deadline, Shumlin had amassed a nearly $200,000 war chest.
“I feel fully confident that when Vermonters go to the polls next November, when they think about who deserves to be the next governor, their thought will be, ‘we can do better,’” Brock said.
Brock, a longtime Swanton resident, holds one of two senate seats from the Franklin County district, where he was the highest vote-getter last year with slightly more than 9,000 votes.
The retired Fidelity Investments executive has been among the chief opponents to Shumlin’s single-payer health care initiative and said Wednesday the issue would be among the centerpieces of his campaign.
“Vermonters don’t want to live in a laboratory for change. They don’t want to be guinea pigs or lab rats in a grand social experiment,” he said. “Vermonters simply want to have a fair shake, an honest shot at the opportunities that lie before them and an ability to lead their lives as they want to lead them.”
Brock’s entry into public service was preceded by a long private-sector career. He is a certified fraud examiner who served as general auditor at Fidelity before retiring in 2003 as the investment giant's executive vice president of risk oversight (he commuted by plane between Swanton and Boston for a decade).
Though he’s been involved in electoral politics for nearly a decade, not very many Vermonters are familiar with him, according to the results of a poll conducted by Public Policy Polling earlier this year.
Only 32 percent of Vermonters surveyed knew Brock who Brock was. Of those, half said they held an “unfavorable” opinion of the man, according to the poll results.
In a series of hypothetical match-ups with Shumlin, Brock fared worse than all but one Republican – Barre City Mayor Tom Lauzon. According to the poll, Brock would lose a contest against Shumlin by a margin of 52 percent to 29 percent.

- PETE HIRSCHFELD

Sen. Randy Brock will keep Vermont guessing until 1 p.m. today.

Eagle-eyed Seven Days columnist Shay Totten blasted a Tweet late last night that looked to break open long-simmering rumors about Brock’s gubernatorial aspirations.

According to Totten, Brock’s website had been updated to indicate the Franklin County Republican is now a candidate for governor.

In a phone interview this morning, Brock attributed the web update not to an announcement for governor, but to a snafu by his web administrator.

Apparently Brock wrote web text for “three possible scenarios.” Somehow the texts got mixed up and posted prematurely, he says.

Brock says he’ll sustain the suspense until his press conference later today in the Statehouse.

While “governor is certainly in the realm of possibility, so too are other offices," Brock says.

“The reason I used to have years ago a ‘Q’ clearance (in the federal government) is because I could keep my mouth shut,” Brock says.

– Peter Hirschfeld

VSEA announces new director

After a months-long search, the Vermont State Employees Association has finally named a new executive director.

Mark Mitchell comes to Vermont by way of San Francisco, where he most recently served as a labor representative for the California Nurses Association. He fills the position departed by Jes Kraus, who left the VSEA to take a job at UVM.

Mitchell joins the labor organization as it continues to feel its way with the Democratic governor it helped elect last year. The relationship between the VSEA and the Shumlin administration has been a rocky one, to say the least. Shumlin won plaudits from pro-labor groups earlier this year when he went toe-to-toe with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker over workers’ rights. He has since alienated some of those same groups by taking to task the approximately 90 state workers who filed an Irene-related labor grievance.

“It’s great to be joining the VSEA family, and I look forward to working with Vermont state employees to protect and enhance the historic wage, benefit and working condition victories of all the VSEA members who came before them,” Mitchell said in a statement.

Mitchell arrives as the VSEA preps for what could be a acrimonious battle over state employees’ next labor contract. The VSEA will be looking for a restoration of the 3-percent pay cut they absorbed two years ago to help the state out of a fiscal jam. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding has not thus far indicated a willingness to capitulate.

Mitchell sought to strike an optimistic early tone.

“Coming from California, I know how hard it is out there for working people in these tough economic times. Vermont has not been immune, and a lot of state employees have been impacted, but, now, working with a Governor and Legislature that VSEA members helped elect, I’m hopeful Vermont can be a model for the rest of the nation, in terms of seeing the results of a respectful and collaborative relationship, as opposed to a combative one,” he said.

Prior to working for the CNA, Mitchell, a labor professional and lawyer, was employed by the Florida Education Association, IFPTE Local 20 (Engineers and Scientists), AFSCME District Council 36, the American Guild of Musical Artists, the Writer’s Guild of America and the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union, according to a VSEA press release. His duties ran the gamut, from lawyer to organizer to business agent to negotiator to strike coordinator.

Jab and parry over ed taxes begins

Republicans seem to think they’ve found a chink in the armor of fiscal conservatism Peter Shumlin has donned since his election last year.

The governor last week sought to put an upbeat spin on dour news that statewide education tax rates are headed for a 2-cent increase. Vermonters can avoid the rate hike, Shumlin said, if only they tell their school boards to level-fund budgets local schools.

Republicans, however, say it’s Shumlin – not community school boards – who needs to shoulder the blame for higher tax bills. The Shumlin administration earlier this year authored a provision in the budget bill that reduced the annual contribution from the general fund to education fund by $27 million.

The move ameliorated a general-fund shortfall that had threatened the delivery of human-services programs. Rep. Oliver Olsen though says it created a hole in the ed fund that property-tax payers will now have to backfill.

Olsen and Rep. Patti Komline fired off a missive Monday taking Shumlin and other Democrats to task.

“In effect, the Legislature legalized a perpetual raid on the education fund, leaving Vermont property taxpayers to foot the bill for years to come,” Olsen said in a statement.

Komline, meanwhile, likened to move to outright theft.

“For the past two years, local school boards have worked hard to relieve the property tax burden by keeping costs down. Unfortunately, Montpelier will pocket those savings, even as the Governor sets up school boards to take the blame for increased property taxes next year,” Komline said.

It’s a line of attack you can expect to see more of as the 2012 political season heats up.

GOP Gubernatorial contender? Wait and see…

MONTPELIER — At minimum, the field of prospective Republican gubernatorial candidates will shrink by one this week. Many well-placed sources, however, say they expect Randy Brock to announce his intention to run for governor at a Statehouse press conference Wednesday.

By no means can the Vermont Press Bureau confirm the rumors. And while many in-the-know political observers say ‘governor,’ others hear the Franklin County senator has decided on a bid for treasurer.

Brock himself isn’t saying. But he has promised to reveal his plans for 2012 at 1 p.m. in Montpelier on Wednesday.

The long-time Swanton resident spent a term in the auditor’s office before being unseated in 2006 by then-Democrat Tom Salmon. Regarded as a top financial mind under the Golden Dome, Brock has helped lead the opposition to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s push for single-payer health care.

If Brock opts instead to take on State Treasurer Beth Pearce – widely viewed as the most vulnerable Dem incumbent in a statewide office – the task of challenging Shumlin would fall to Mark Snelling, Brian Dubie, GOP Chairwoman Pat McDonald or some yet-unknown still flying under the radar.

For his part, Snelling says he hasn’t discounted entirely a run at the state’s top elected office. But he says he’s busy building up his small business and would be “delighted” to see Brock announce for governor.

“I’ve encouraged Randy to run for governor and would be thrilled to see him do so,” Snelling said over the weekend. “I think he’d make a tremendous governor.”

Some top Republican figures, including former Gov. James Douglas, will reportedly be on hand for Wednesday’s announcement. Check back here for elections news as it happens.

Derby joins Leahy’s staff

Diane Derby, a former political reporter and press secretary for Sen. James Jeffords, is joining Sen. Patrick Leahy's staff.

Derby will be a field representative based in Montpelier, where she lives, Leahy's office announced Friday.  

Leahy called Derby “a talented professional” and said he has admired “her work, her decency and her sense of humor” for as long as he has known her.

Derby covered Vermont politics in the 1990s. 

Most recently, Derby was a communications manager with the Regulatory Assistance Project, a Montpelier-based nonprofit focused on energy policy. 

 

Salmon to Vermonters: Don’t drink and drive

Take it from Tom Salmon: it's just not worth it.

That’s the message behind a public-service announcement slated to run during the holiday season and beyond, according to a recent e-mail correspondence from the three-term Republican auditor.

Salmon, busted for DUI in Montpelier last December, recently cut a 30-second spot he hopes will “increase awareness” and “safety” among Vermont motorists.

The spot opens with Salmon on the side of the road holding a sign reading, “You can’t afford it.”

A voiceover asks, “Who are you accountable to?”

Salmon then proceeds with his own narrative:  “I am State Auditor Tom Salmon asking you to help prevent DUI in Vermont. Plan ahead, get a designated driver, or stay off the road. Vermont has had a difficult year, and DUI is painful for all. Don’t risk it… You’ll get nailed. Take it from me: It’s a long road back.”

According to Salmon’s description of the PSA – he announced it to his office staffers earlier this week – he then “turns and walks down the desolate road.”

The spot closes with the tagline, “Be accountable.”

– Peter Hirschfeld

Totten leaving Seven Days



MONTPELIER – Vermont political columnist Shay Totten is headed for greener pastures.

Totten, who took over as the columnist at Seven Days after Peter Freyne's departure more than three years ago, is taking a new gig at Chelsea Green Publishing and will leave the alternative weekly at the end of the year.

Totten was wooed away from Chelsea Green to go work at Seven Days, he said, and now he's been wooed back to the publishing house based in White River Junction. He'll be the media and communications director.

“I've had a really good run at Seven Days and wasn't looking for another job,” Totten said. “This opportunity just kind of presented itself out of the blue."

Totten said Seven Days staffer Andy Bromage will be the new political columnist.