MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is likely to serve as the target for both Republican and Democratic candidates looking to replace him, but the governor’s office appears ready to push back on critiques of his management during his three terms in office.
Republican Bruce Lisman, who launched his gubernatorial campaign on Monday, launched a blistering critique of Shumlin’s governorship. He faulted Shumlin, who announced in June he would not seek a fourth term, for a state budget that grows 5 percent annually while revenues grow at 3 percent. Lisman, a former Wall Street executive, said he would cap state spending at 2 percent per year, but did not lay out a plan for where he would cut spending.
And he said local communities “are powerless to resist large scale wind and solar installations,” while calling for a two-year moratorium on such projects.
Many of Vermont’s challenges, Lisman said, are the result of Shumlin’s policies.
“People know that the Shumlin Administration, and those who aided them, and those who have
stood by in silence, are the ones at fault for this mess,” he said.
Shumlin’s handling of major initiatives, and their outcomes, like Vermont Health Connect, drove him to enter the race, Lisman said.
“I decided to run because I thought – honestly I thought this administration was so remarkably and relentlessly incompetent that we should do something,” Lisman said, according to Vermont Public Radio’s Taylor Dobbs.
On Tuesday, Shumlin’s office pushed back.
“It takes something special for a guy who was part of the Wall Street machine that drove the economy into the worst recession since the Great Depression to talk about mismanagement,” Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell said.
Coriell defended the administration by highlighting its successes. According to Coriell, the state now has the lowest uninsured rate in the country — tied with Massachusetts. The administration also ushered through education reform that aims to “enhance quality and help address rising property taxes,” and legislation to provide universal pre-K education to all three-and four-year-old children.
Other items highlighted by Coriell included:
— Legislation requiring that foods with genetically modified ingredients be labeled
— Raising the minimum wage to $10.50 per hour by 2020.
— Offering two years of free college education
— Creating green energy jobs
Shumlin has also faced criticism from within his own party. House Speaker Shap Smith criticized Shumlin’s handling of negotiations with the Vermont State Employees Union. Shumlin issued a statement to the media last week saying the union was seeking a 13.4 percent pay increase that would cost taxpayers $70 million.
“It’s beyond me how anyone could find that position reasonable. At a time when many Vermonters are not seeing their wages rise, it would be unconscionable to agree to pay increases that are more than quadruple the rate of inflation and would add substantial pressure to an already tight budget,” he said.
Smith told the Vermont Press Bureau that Shumlin’s public comments would not help negotiations with the union and that talks should be take place in private “at the bargaining table, not in the press.”
“We need to have a relationship with them that will allow us to solve them together. I was really disappointed in the shot across the bow that the governor sent to the VSEA this week. I thought it was not healthy and I thought it was disrespectful. We need to see them as partners in addressing this problem and not as adversaries,” Smith said.
Shumlin, in an interview, defended his response, saying the union called for mediation without making any other formal offers. A union official later said the union was considering a lesser increase.
“With this unit, they came in, they never wavered from their request for a (13.4) percent, or $70 million increase in pay, at a time when Vermonters aren’t seeing an increase in pay, and their mantra is, ‘Give us $70 million and raise taxes on Vermonters to pay for it.’ This governor is not going to do that,” he said.
Shumlin said the union should bring additional offers to the table if they have them.
“The obvious question is, why are you walking away from the table if you’ve indicated in the press that you’ve got another offer to make?” he said.