Category Archives: Governor

Another GOP lawmaker appears on Fox

Rutland County Sen. Kevin Mullin is the latest GOP lawmaker in Vermont to appear on Fox News to address comments by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber that have come to light in recent weeks. Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning of Caledonia County appeared on the network earlier this week.

Mullin said dealing with the fallout of Gruber’s comments is “a complicated issue.” The Shumlin administration announced Wednesday that Gruber will no longer receive payment for his work, but his team of researchers and graduate assistants will continue to be paid.

“The state’s in the position where the work is almost finished, but it’s going to be a work that the public is not going to have confidence in,” Mullin said.

During a 2011 hearing of the House Health Care Committee, then-Chairman Mark Larson read aloud comments written by John McClaughry, a former state senator and policy advisor for President Ronald Reagan. McClaughry, in his published commentary, said Shumlin’s health care proposal would lead to higher taxes, ballooning costs, poor health care facilities, disgruntled providers and long waits for care, among other concerns.

“Was this written by my adolescent children by any chance?” Gruber asks on a video recorded by True North Reports and released last week to the online site Watchdog.org.

In other videos that came to light last week Gruber credited “the stupidity of the American voter” with getting the federal Affordable Care Act passed.

Asked if Vermonters could trust Gruber, Mullin’s answer was clear. “Absolutely not,” he said.

“No one in Vermont is defending Professor Gruber. Everyone is very, very disappointed and we’re trying to make the best of a very bad situation,” Mullin said.

What would Mullin say to Gruber if given that opportunity?

“I would just let him know that he should be ashamed. That despite his obvious abilities as far as an economist and a mathematician, that the American people can make informed decisions, that it needs to be a transparent and open government and that’s not the way to conduct oneself,” Mullin said.

 

Gruber to receive no additional pay from state

MONTPELIER — Jonathan Gruber, the contractor under fire for degrading remarks he’s made in the past several years about voters and a Vermont commentator, will be expected to complete economic modeling for the state but will not receive any more pay, according to state officials.

Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller reiterated the Shumlin administration’s disappointment with Gruber’s comments on Wednesday. He also said Gruber has been informed that he will not receive further payment on the $400,000 contracted agreed to in July.

Gruber and his team have been paid a total of $160,000 so far, according to Scott Coriell, a spokesman for Gov. Peter Shumlin.

“As the Governor and I have said, the comments by Mr. Gruber are offensive, inappropriate and do not reflect the thinking of this administration or how we do things in Vermont. As we have also said, we need solid economic modeling in order to move forward with health care reform,” Miller said in a statement to the Vermont Press Bureau Wednesday afternoon. “I have told Mr. Gruber that I expect his team to complete the work that we need to provide the legislature and Vermonters with a public health care financing plan. I’ve informed Mr. Gruber that we will not be paying him any further for his part in completing that work.”

Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, has a personal services contract with Vermont that will pay him up to $400,000 to test economic models related to Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal. Another $50,000 can be used to subcontract with Moody’s Analytics for macroeconomic modeling.

The contract allows the the state to use the Gruber Microsimulation Model that Gruber developed to simulate the implementation of Shumlin’s plan and test various financing mechanisms.

Gruber, who has served as a health care advisor for the Obama administration, has also inked contracts with the federal government and other states for his unique economic modeling capabilities.

His work is now being questioned, and calls for his firing becoming more frequent, especially from Republicans in Vermont and elsewhere, because of questionable comments he has made on several occasions in the last several years.

During a 2011 hearing of the House Health Care Committee, then-Chairman Mark Larson read aloud comments written by John McClaughry, a former state senator and policy advisor for President Ronald Reagan. McClaughry, in his published commentary, said Shumlin’s health care proposal would lead to higher taxes, ballooning costs, poor health care facilities, disgruntled providers and long waits for care, among other concerns.

“Was this written by my adolescent children by any chance?” Gruber asks on a video recorded by True North Reports and released last week to the online site Watchdog.org.

In other videos that came to light last week Gruber credited “the stupidity of the American voter” with getting the federal Affordable Care Act passed.

In his statement, Miller said the work completed by Gruber will be verified by independent sources.

“As planned, following the completion of the financing plan, the assumptions and results will be fully evaluated by the other economists, including the joint fiscal office, who are advising the administration and the legislature on this matter,” Miller said.

Gruber declined to comment via email Wednesday.

Benning calls for Gruber’s termination on Fox

Senate Minority leader Joe Benning appeared on Fox News’ “On the Record With Greta Van Susteran” Tuesday to discuss recent comments by MIT economist Jonathan Gruber.

The chorus calling for Gruber’s ouster as a state contractor has been growing louder in Vermont this week. Campaign for Vermont, a nonprofit advocacy group that claims to be nonpartisan, directed people by Twitter to its website to sign a petition in favor of terminating Gruber’s contract. And a trio of House Republicans released a letter to Shumlin on Monday calling on the governor to do just that.

Gruber’s work is being questioned because of questionable comments he has made on several occasions in the last several years.

During a 2011 hearing of the House Health Care Committee, then-Chairman Mark Larson read aloud comments written by John McClaughry, a former state senator and policy advisor for President Ronald Reagan. McClaughry, in his published commentary, said Gov. Peter Shumlin’s single payer health care proposal would lead to higher taxes, ballooning costs, poor health care facilities, disgruntled providers and long waits for care, among other concerns.

“Was this written by my adolescent children by any chance?” Gruber asks on a video recorded by True North Reports and released last week to the online site Watchdog.org.

In other videos that came to light last week Gruber credited “the stupidity of the American voter” with getting the federal Affordable Care Act passed.

Gruber has a personal services contract with Vermont that will pay him up to $400,000 to test economic models related to Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal, often referred to as a single payer system. Another $50,000 can be used to subcontract with Moody’s Analytics for macroeconomic modeling.

The contract allows the the state to use the Gruber Microsimulation Model that Gruber developed to simulate the implementation of Shumlin’s plan and test various financing mechanisms.

Gruber, who has served as a health care advisor for the Obama administration, has also inked contracts with the federal government and other states for his unique economic modeling capabilities.

Watch Benning’s appearance on Fox below:

State to retain Gruber through end of contract

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Monday that a state contractor under fire for derisive comments he has made about American voters and a Vermont commentator will not have his state contract terminated despite calls to do so by Republicans.

Jonathan Gruber, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economist, has a personal services contract with Vermont that will pay him up to $400,000 to test economic models related to Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal, often referred to as a single payer system. Another $50,000 can be used to subcontract with Moody’s Analytics for macroeconomic modeling.

The contract allows the the state to use the Gruber Microsimulation Model that Gruber developed to simulate the implementation of Shumlin’s plan and test various financing mechanisms. The contract began in July and runs through Feb. 15, with an option to renew the contract for up to one year.

“I don’t see us doing that,” said Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform.

Gruber, who has served as a health care advisor for the Obama administration, has also inked contracts with the federal government and other states for his unique economic modeling capabilities.

The chorus calling for Gruber’s ouster as a state contractor grew louder in Vermont on Monday. Campaign for Vermont, a nonprofit advocacy group that claims to be nonpartisan, directed people by Twitter to its website to sign a petition in favor of terminating Gruber’s contract.

And a trio of House Republicans released a letter to Shumlin on Monday calling on the governor to do just that.

“This arrogant and disrespectful attitude is totally unacceptable and will undermine the entire process and debate going forward if Mr. Gruber continues. No one who speaks of Americans, and therefore Vermonters, as stupid, or who boasts of a process that has a “lack of transparency” should remain under contract, being paid by the very people he has insulted,” wrote Reps. Patti Komline of Dorset, Heidi Scheuermann of Stowe and Kurt Wright of Burlington. “In our opinion, Mr. Gruber has disqualified himself and we urge you to terminate his contract immediately. Failure to do so will only further erode Vermonters’ confidence in a process that has already left much to be desired.”

His work is now being questioned, and calls for his firing becoming more frequent, especially from Republicans in Vermont and elsewhere, because of questionable comments he has made on several occasions in the last several years.

Dr. Jonathan Gruber

Dr. Jonathan Gruber

During a 2011 hearing of the House Health Care Committee, then-Chairman Mark Larson read aloud comments written by John McClaughry, a former state senator and policy advisor for President Ronald Reagan. McClaughry, in his published commentary, said Shumlin’s health care proposal would lead to higher taxes, ballooning costs, poor health care facilities, disgruntled providers and long waits for care, among other concerns.

“Was this written by my adolescent children by any chance?” Gruber asks on a video recorded by True North Reports and released last week to the online site Watchdog.org.

In other videos that came to light last week Gruber credited “the stupidity of the American voter” with getting the federal Affordable Care Act passed.

Shumlin denounced Gruber’s comments on Monday but said Gruber will continue to test potential financing options for his health care proposal. Shumlin will reveal a financing proposal to lawmakers and the public in January.

“I share the dismay and outrage about his comments, and for me it’s not just what he said, it’s that he actually thinks this stuff. It’s not the way we do things in Vermont. It’s repugnant to everything that we do in Vermont and I’m shocked,” Shumlin said.

A clause in Gruber’s contract with the state says he “may advise the Governor on policy matters related to the project to assist the Governor in deliberations and decision-making related to the project.” Shumlin said Gruber has played no role in shaping policy, however.

“It’s our plan, not his. It’s our policy, it’s our hope for the future and it’s our plan. We’ve used him as a calculator not a policy advisor,” Shumlin said.

The governor said he has “never met him in my life,” but did participate in at least one group conference call regarding health care policy with Gruber. Shumlin said he could not remember if Gruber spoke during that call.

Another clause calls for weekly meetings, either in person or by conference call, to review progress on contract work. Michael Costa, the tax expert who has taken the lead role in developing Shumlin’s financing plan, said Monday those meetings have mostly taken place by telephone. Gruber has not been to Vermont since before the contract was signed, according to Costa.

Despite the comments, Gruber will be expected to finish out the contract, which is already about 90 percent complete. Shumlin said he is “grateful” Gruber’s work will soon end, but the work is needed to ensure the single payer health care proposal will not harm the state’s economy.

“He is, in effect, the calculator of the options that we put forth to replace premiums with a system that is based on ability to pay. We gave him a series of options that we thought might work,” Shumlin said. “He is, in effect, our calculator. He does not do policy for us.”

“He is one of the very few people in America that has a calculator that will give us information that we can believe in,” he added.

Wright, in a statement about the GOP House members’ letter to Shumlin, said allowing Gruber to continue working will hurt Shumlin politically.

“Governor Shumlin won a razor-thin plurality on Election Day … signaling a lack of confidence from Vermonters on a whole host of issues. This crisis of confidence will certainly be magnified if Mr. Gruber continues in any capacity, and I believe will lead to further erosion of public support for the Governor and his policies,” Wright said.

Gruber’s analysis is critical to meeting statutory requirements, however, according to Shumlin.

“His comments are repugnant and unimaginably disappointing. I certainly wouldn’t consider him for future work, but we certainly need him to complete the work that we paid him to do,” Shumlin said. “I’m grateful that this project with him his wrapping up soon. I don’t like working with people that say things like that about the rest of us.”

Gruber, reached by email Monday, declined to comment.

“Thanks for the opportunity to respond but I have no comment at this point,” he wrote.

Official tally shows Shumlin wins plurality; Milne has today to challenge

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

MONTPELIER – An official tally shows Gov. Peter Shumlin received 2,434 more votes than Republican challenger Scott Milne during last week’s election.

Wednesday morning, the Canvassing Committee – consisting of representatives from the state Democrat, Liberty Union, progressive and Republican parties – met at the Sec. of State’s Office to sign off on official voter results, which confirmed the unofficial results that have been posted online for the past few days.

Shumlin received 89,509 votes, compared with 87,075 for Milne, which gave Shumlin a 1.3-percent edge over his closest competitor. Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano finished third in a field of seven with 8,428 votes.

With such a narrow margin, Milne has the right to request a recount, and has until the end of the day to do so.

Neither candidate received more than 50 percent of votes overall – Shumlin received 46.4 percent to Milne’s 45.1 percent – which leaves the final decision in the hands of the Legislature in January.

Milne not ready to concede

BURLINGTON — Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne canceled a news conference he had planned for Wednesday morning as his race against incumbent Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin remained tight.

Instead, Milne issued a statement around 10:00 a.m. saying he would wait for the final numbers to be reported before making any further comments.

“What is clear is that the majority of Vermonters do not agree with the path that we are on. We are going to wait for the final numbers,” Milne said. “I am incredibly grateful to all of the Vermonters who cast their ballots on my behalf yesterday. I owe it to my supporters and all Vermonters to see the totals before we make any further statements.”

Scott Milne

Scott Milne

Milne was at the Sheraton Hotel in Burlington Wednesday morning but did not come down to the lobby where the media had assembled for his expected news conference.

Shumlin, a two-term incumbent, maintained a narrow lead over Milne, a Pomfret businessman, throughout Tuesday night and in to Wednesday morning. Milne was trailing Shumlin by about 2,300 votes Wednesday morning with 273 of 275 precincts reporting, according to an Associated Press tally.

Shumlin has 89,687 votes to Milne’s 87,354 votes, according to the AP’s numbers.

Shumlin issued a statement around 11:40 a.m. saying it is “clear” he has the lead.

“We’ve taken a close look at the numbers. While I will await final counts and further statements from Scott Milne, it is clear we are ahead and I’m confident that I’ve received the most votes. Serving as governor has been the greatest privilege of my life and I will be proud to continue leading this great state. I understand how close this election was and I want Vermonters to know that I will be working hard for each and every one of them,” he said.

What looks to be an extremely narrow margin of victory for Shumlin likely scuttles the governor’s dream of implementing a single payer health care system in Vermont, and likely damage any future political ambitions he holds.

Shumlin was unable to pull away to a comfortable margin even with a large boost in Burlington, where Shumlin beat Milne by about 4,000 votes. Voters were clearly discontent with Shumlin, who received far less support than other Democrats running statewide.

Milne, whose campaign spending — $211,000 to Shumlin’s nearly $900,000 — paled in comparison to the governor, entered the race for governor late and was expected to be easily defeated by the governor. But he appeared to be benefiting from discontent with Shumlin and a strong GOP wave that was sweeping across the country.

Gov. Peter Shumlin

Gov. Peter Shumlin

An October poll showed Shumlin’s approval rating nearly underwater with 45 percent approving of his performance as governor and 41 percent disapproving. Shumlin has faced more than a year of bad press as Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online insurance marketplace mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act, continued to struggle and lack core functions.

And a land deal Shumlin made last year with a neighbor with intellectual disabilities appeared to still be resonating with some voters.

Shumlin, throughout the campaign, continued to tout his proposal for a single payer health care plan for the state that he hopes to launch in 2017. He has promised to deliver a financing plan to lawmakers and the public in January, two years after Act 48, the law laying the foundation for his plan, called for it to be revealed.

Voters, however, seemed to be more interested in hearing about property tax relief and plans to reform how the state funds its K-12 public education system.

Libertarian Dan Feliciano, who was embraced by some conservatives who were dissatisfied with Milne, had received 7,989 votes, or about 4.35 percent. Some Republicans had urged Feliciano to drop out of the race to boost Milne’s chances of victory. Feliciano could be seen as spoiling a major upset if Milne cannot close the gap with Shumlin.

Election Day live updates

Barre
3:35 p.m.
With less than four hours before polls close, Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne is making a final push for Washington County voters, but he had to leave his biggest sign behind.

Milne and supporters held signs and waved to motorists in downtown Barre near the “Youth Triumphant” statue, but the campaign’s largest sign remained in the back of a pickup parked on the street nearby.

The sign – measuring approximately 4 feet 6 feet – had been out on the triangle of grass that marks the end of North Main Street until a city official came by and told him he had to remove it, Milne said.

Milne campaigns in Barre Tuesday afternoon. (Josh O'Gorman/staff photo)

Milne campaigns in Barre Tuesday afternoon. (Josh O’Gorman/staff photo)

Milne said the official told him he was allowed to display hand-held signs only. Mayor Thomas Lauzon – who endorsed Gov. Peter Shumlin in October – did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Milne spent Tuesday morning campaigning in Windsor County before coming to the capital area.

“I think the higher the turnout in Washington County, the better it will be for me,” Milne said.
-Josh O’Gorman

Photos by Stefan Hard

Montpelier
3:15 p.m.
Things were running smoothly about lunchtime at the polling place at Montpelier’s City Hall, where City Clerk John Odum said compared to two years ago, a presidential election, when voters were lined up on the stairs all the way through to the back of City Hall, it was orderly and well-paced.

Two years ago, for the Presidential election, the lines were down the stairs, and snaked through the back of City Hall — and a voting machine malfunctioned, complicating things, recalled Odum.

With less traffic coming through, and no mechanical issues to report this year, Odum said things were going extremely smoothly.

There were many early votes cast, said Odum, who said turnout through the morning hours had been “steady, not enormous.”

Montpelier’s City Hall was a busy place – with many candidates campaigning out front of City Hall, candidate signs everywhere around City Hall, even the back door, and many parking meters blocked off, and reserved for voting only.
-Amy Nixon

East Montpelier
2:45 p.m.
Voting was busier on Election Day morning than Town Clerk Terri Conti expected, she said.

“It’s actually busier than I thought it was going to be, it’s been steady and consistent,” she said.

By mid-morning, just a few hours in, about 25 percent of the town’s about 2,000 registered voters had come through the polling place. With people checking in, many busy behind curtains filling out their ballots, and several on their way to drop their ballots in the box, the official polling place was bustling.

Stopping into East Montpelier Elementary School to vote on Tuesday was, for many town residents, the first time they had seen the inside of the recently completed $8 million renovation to the school.

That taxes are due in two weeks, a chance to actually stop into the brightly-patterned school and see the top-to-bottom renovation, even from a quick look coming in the side door to the polling place, gave voters a feel for the renovation project their tax dollars underwrote, noted Conti. She said people were making comments about how nice the school turned out.

“People are very impressed with the new school,” said Conti, noting the due date for taxes is creeping up this month. “It makes it an easier pill to swallow,” she said of the increase in people’s taxes to cover the school renovation bond.

Election Day, Conti said, “Is my favorite day; you get to see everybody,” she said, getting up to hug someone. “I love my job.”
-Amy Nixon

Montpelier
2:15 p.m.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Ivan Shadis, the youngest of the candidates from Montpelier hoping to land a state representative seat for Washington County 4, said the day for him was “spectacular.”

“It’s a day I’ve really been looking forward to for a long time,” said Shadis, 26, wearing a winter cap and warm flannel shirt, standing with a handmade sign bearing his name in front of Montpelier City Hall.

“It’s particularly rewarding to see my supporters,” smiled Shadis, a city native who ran as a Progressive, challenging incumbents Mary Hooper and Warren Kitzmiller, both also at City Hall mid-day Tuesday.

The back entrance to Montpelier City Hall on Tuesday. (Amy Nixon/staff photo)

The back entrance to Montpelier City Hall on Tuesday. (Amy Nixon/staff photo)

Several of Shadis’s supporters, including some family members at City Hall pulling for him, made him feel valued for the issues he brought to the forefront as a young candidate. Shadis raised issues about housing costs being too high, obstacles in finding decent-paying work, and called for a progressive tax to help improve the picture for those struggling to make ends meet in Vermont.

Of feeling his message was heard, Shadis said, “That itself has made this day spectacular.”

Shadis said he knows a number of people who were “reticent about politics,” at the start of the campaign, who have become impassioned and involved since and that means a lot to him.

“It’s a bit of political culture that I can feel proud to have put some work into,” Shadis said with a smile. He said he plans to stay involved — and be back. “This is our town,” he said of the need for younger voters to be heard.
-Amy Nixon

Barre
1:10 p.m.
Why not me?

One Barre voter, disappointed by the Republican Party’s failure to field a candidate for Secretary of State this year, apparently asked himself that question while filling out his ballot today.

“I wrote myself in,” he said before strolling out of the Barre Municipal Auditorium.
-David Delcore

Barre
1 p.m.
There were a couple of morning lulls, but voting was otherwise steady at the Barre Municipal Auditorium this morning.

At noon 1,097 of the Granite City’s 4,950 voters had cast ballots – a figure that included more than 400 of the 477 early and absentee ballots that were in hand when the polls opened five hours earlier.

With five hours to go and most of the absentee ballots already accounted for, the pace of voting will have to pick up considerably to match the turnout in the last mid-term elections. In 2010 a total of 2,772 Barre voters participated in the November election.
-David Delcore

Barre Town
11:52 a.m.
Finding parking was occasionally challenging for voters and a mid-morning power problem briefly disabled one of the vote tabulating machines, but today’s election otherwise got off to a smooth start in Barre Town.

By 11 a.m. 776 of the town’s 5,492 registered voters had made the trip to Barre Town Elementary and Middle School where school was in session and the parking lot was filled to capacity.

According to Town Clerk Donna Kelty the 776 voters who cast ballots in the first four hours after the polls opened in the school gymnasium did not include 677 early and absentee ballots that had been requested from her office in the weeks leading up to the election. Kelty said two “super huge boxes” of those ballots were being processed.

Kelty said a “power failure” that briefly idled a vote tabulating machine around 9 a.m. Was quickly resolved.
-David Delcore

Barre
9:30 a.m.
Nearly 450 Granite City voters didn’t wait until today to cast their ballots.

When the polls opened at the Barre Municipal Auditorium at 7 a.m. City Clerk Carol Dawes had roughly 400 voted ballots in hand and was waiting for about 50 more to be returned.

Dawes said 447 of the city’s 4,950 registered voters either voted early or requested absentee ballots.vote-button

Still, Dawes described today’s early turnout as “medium-steady.”

In the first 30 minutes 192 voters cast ballots and by 9 a.m. that number had swelled to roughly 275, not counting the absentee ballots that were being fed into the voting machine by poll workers.

-David Delcore

Follow tweets about the election below:


Natural gas pipeline protesters arrested

MONTPELIER – Police arrested 64 people protesting the proposed natural gas pipeline Monday night after some refused to leave the office of Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Several hundred people gathered on the Statehouse lawn Monday afternoon to protest the expansion of Vermont Gas’ pipeline into Addison County, and while some stayed outside, others entered the nearby Pavilion Building, which houses Shumlin’s office.

According to a statement from state police, protesters “proceeded upstairs without authorization and occupied the lobby of the Governor’s office on the fifth floor. Other protestors remained on the first floor of the building, near the elevators.”

According to reports, the protesters wanted Shumlin to withdraw his support for the next stage of the gas pipeline, which will extend into Addison County, beneath Lake Champlain and to the International Paper plant in Fort Ticonderoga, N.Y.

While the Pavilion is open until 5 p.m., police gave protesters until 6:30 p.m. To vacate the building. At 7 p.m., police began escorting protestors outside, where they received a citation for misdemeanor unlawful trespass, which carries a maximum penalty of three months in prison and a $500 fine.

According to police, the arrests occurred “without incident.”

In a statement, Shumlin addressed the incident.

“Peaceful protest is a right deeply embedded in our democracy. I support the right of all sides to be heard, and appreciate the protester’s decision to act respectfully with state staff and law enforcement tonight,” Shumlin said. “While I agree that climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing our state, nation, and world, I disagree with the protester’s position on the natural gas pipeline, which I believe will help hasten our state’s transition away from dirtier fuel oil and help our economy.”

josh.ogorman@rutlandherald.com

Milne makes “The Daily Show”

GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne made his debut on “The Daily Show” Wednesday night in host Jon Stewart’s closing “Moment of Zen” clip. It features Milne incorrectly stating where he was born as he introduced himself at a recent debate sponsored by Vermont PBS.

State warned in June that exchange faced disconnection

MONTPELIER — State officials knew in early June that the state’s online health insurance marketplace faced possible disconnection from the federal data hub because of ongoing security shortcomings, according to documents obtained through a public records request.

Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson received a letter, dated June 10, from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services explaining that Vermont Health Connect could be disconnected from the federal data hub by Sept. 8 if security shortcomings were not resolved.

State officials eventually took the exchange site offline on the evening of Sept. 15, but did so voluntarily, according to Lawrence Miller, a special advisor to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the state’s chief of health care reform.

According to CMS’ letter, the Vermont exchange fared poorly in two quarterly reviews, which prompted the warning and threat of disconnection.

“[B]ased upon CMS’ evaluation of your quarterly (plan of action and milestones) for the past two reporting periods, ending January 31, 2014 and March 31, 2014, we have identified a significant number of open high security findings and/or open moderate findings that potentially could present risk to the security of the Hub,” the letter states.

Lawrence Miller

Lawrence Miller

The letter acknowledged progress the state was making in addressing security threats, but set a deadline of Sept. 8 to complete that work. It noted, however, that the state “will be disconnected from the Hub and required to submit new security documentation to regain the (Authority to Connect)” if improvements were not completed.

“CMS continues to monitor your mitigation strategies and corrective action plans related to your system’s connection to the Hub, and thus believes that the connection to the Hub continues to be secure. As a result, CMS is not immediately disconnecting your state from the Hub, but provides notice pursuant to Section 18 of the Master Interconnection Security Agreement between the parties dated September 20, 20013, that the open high and/or moderate security findings must be addressed … or your state’s (authority to connect) will be terminated,” the letter states.

Miller said Thursday that he could not discuss the threats identified by CMS, but said they are “potential weaknesses.”

“It’s not necessarily identified weaknesses. It’s potential weaknesses,” he said.

According to Miller, the state’s chief information security officer had regular communication with CMS over the next several months. It initially appeared that the state would be granted additional time to complete security improvements, Miller said.

In an email dated Sept. 3 and sent to Larson, Kirk Grothe in CMS’s Office of Information Services, said he believed the state would need until Nov. 3 to complete the required security improvements. However, he also noted that he “was not able to commit to the extended timeline.”VHC

Miller said it initially appeared based on conversations with CMS that the state would be granted additional time. However, it became clear over the next two weeks after Grothe’s email that more time would not be granted. Miller said he and other officials then decided to take Vermont Health Connect offline voluntarily because they knew the deadline would not be met and an extension would not be granted.

“They clearly had an elevated anxiety level from earlier in the year. If nothing had changed, every indication we were getting from our contacts was, ‘Oh yeah, if it takes you a couple more weeks, given the fact that you’re switching over from CGI, you’re working on it, it should be fine.’ And then it wasn’t,” Miller said. “It was a pretty easy decision to say, ‘We don’t have to talk anymore. We’ve got it. We’re going to do this.’”

Miller said officials decided it would be “just silly” to try and accelerate the process of boosting security to meet the Sept. 8 deadline. Officials were also trying to improve other functions on the site while transitioning from original contractor CGI to its new contractor Optum.

“We had the security stuff and we had the performance improvements and the website revisions and were in the middle of the transition from CGI to Optum,” he said. “We were looking at whether we could finish within the time period that we were talking about. We said, ‘No, this isn’t going to happen.’”

Despite learning in June of the security issues, state officials did not disclose the problem until Sept. 16, when Miller, Larson and Shumlin held a news conference to announce that the site was taken offline the previous evening. Miller said he and other state officials were told by CMS that disclosing the potential security threats could encourage hackers to attack the site.

“I have no discomfort with the fact that we did not put that out there based on our conversations with CMS on how to handle these things. You don’t talk about this stuff, period,” he said.

Miller said he has “every reason to believe” the site will be back up before the open enrollment period begins on Nov. 15. The Nov. 3 target identified by CMS is no longer valid, he said, because the work has been combined with other site upgrades.

“That had been what the technical assistance folks at CMS concluded was a reasonable date,” he said.

Larson was dismissed from oversight of Vermont Health Connect last month by Acting Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen. Miller is now responsible for the site’s operations.

 

Read the letter from CMS to former Department of Vermont Health Access Commissioner Mark Larson.

 

Read emails between state officials and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services obtained through a pubic records request concerned the state’s decision to take Vermont Health Connect offline.

 

Shumlin adds another $100k, spends big on TV ads

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s Oct. 1 campaign finance report shows he raised more than $100,000 in the past few weeks. Most of his campaign contributions came from larger donors. The report also shows that Shumlin has spent more than $200,000 on television advertisements.

Read the report below:

DCF report seeks staff and training

MONTPELIER — A report released Wednesday based on an internal review of the Department for Children and Families does not recommend restructuring the agency, but does seek immediate boosts to staffing, additional staff training and better collaboration between the department and its partners.

Acting Agency of Human Services Secretary Harry Chen and DCF Commissioner Ken Schatz presented the plan to Gov. Peter Shumlin Wednesday. Shumlin had requested an internal review in May following the deaths of two toddlers under the department’s supervision.

Two-year-old Dezirae Sheldon of Poultney died in February and 15-month-old Peighton Geraw of Winooski died in April. Both deaths were ruled homicides and murder charges were filed.

Officials said Wednesday “that DCF should strengthen its approach to integrated services, rather than engage in a major reorganization aimed at splitting up the department.”

The report also calls for increased staffing to improve operations and programs, improved training for staff, continued review of department policies and practices, better collaboration with other state agencies and partners and better transparency and communication internally as well as with the Legislature and public.

Additionally, the department should better align management resources “to enable the DCF Commissioner to focus more time on the core mission of the department: protecting vulnerable children and families.”

Chen and Katz have scheduled a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

The review began under former Secretary Doug Racine, who was fired by Shumlin, and former DCF Commissioner David Yacovone. Input for the report was sought from the public, law enforcement, families, legislators, child and family advocates, agency staff and stakeholder groups.

A full story will appear in Thursday’s editions of the Herald and Times Argus.

 

Feliciano releases tax return

Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano released his 2012 and 2013 tax returns Tuesday, showing income of $239,796 in 2013 and $174,773 in 2012. He filed jointly with his wife, Carol. Feliciano’s occupation is listed as consultant, while his wife’s is listed as “Greatest Mother.”

The couple paid $23,741 in federal taxes in 2012 and $35,424 in 2013.

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, who is seeking a third two-year term, has released his 2013 tax return, showing $721,000 in income. He also released a list of his assets, which total more than $10 million. Shumlin did not release his 2012 return and indicated to reporters at an unrelated news conference Tuesday that he did not intend to release it.

Republican candidate Scott Milne said he plans to release his tax information on Oct. 15.

 

 

Shumlin releases tax return, assets

Gov. Peter Shumlin’s campaign has released his 2013 tax return and a list of his assets. According to the return, Shumlin earned about $721,000 in 2013, including $128,000 from the state. He made $167,000 from capital gains and about $350,000 from real estate.

According to the campaign, Shumlin has more than $10 million in assets. He owns 16 properties valued at a combined $3,867,702. He owns six vehicles and various farm equipment valued at $128,000. His various investments are valued at $6,487,382.

 

 

 

Poll: Shumlin leads Milne by double digits

Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin is leading Republican challenger Scott Milne 48 percent to 36 percent, according to a poll released Friday by Rasmussen Reports.

According to Rasmussen, the survey of 700 likely voters in Vermont was conducted Aug. 28 to Aug. 29 by. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. Field work was conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC.

The poll did not include Libertarian candidate Dan Feliciano. Although Milne easily secured the GOP nomination in Tuesday’s primary, Feliciano was able to secure double digit support thanks to an aggressive write-in campaign. He will appear on the general election ballot as the Libertarian nominee.