Tag Archives: Peter Shumlin

Administration seeks $17 million more in cuts

MONTPELIER — The Shumlin administration announced Wednesday it is seeking $17 million more in mid-year budget cuts to account for poor revenues.

The announcement follows a $31 million rescission in August. Administration officials said Wednesday that the state’s economic recovery is ongoing but revenue has not rebounded as economists had previously predicted. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin forewarned earlier this month that additional budget cuts were likely.

“Prudence dictates that our administration take steps without delay to ensure spending does not exceed available revenues,” Jim Reardon, commissioner of Finance and Management, said in a statement Wednesday. “The sooner we take action, the less painful the reductions will be.”

Outgoing Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding, who will step down in January, said the state does not plan to use reserve funds to cover the budget gap. State officials will also not look to cut its debt service or retirement contributions, he said.

Officials expect another revenue downgrade in January as revenue continues to miss projections. Through October, the general fund was $12 million off target, officials said, even after the $31 million budget rescission in August.

Increases in employee health care and other benefits has put an additional $3.5 million burden on the general fund.

Spaulding said further reductions will be challenging, but pledged the state will continue to provide services to Vermonters “in a fiscally responsible manner.”

Reardon said Attorney General William Sorrell has confirmed the administration’s assertion earlier this month that it can cut up to 1 percent of the state budget without legislative approval. As a result, the state is seeking $6.7 million in additional cuts. The administration did not specify Wednesday where it will seek the reductions.

The administration is also preparing to cut an additional $5.3 million in January through the annual mid-year budget adjustment that will be approved by lawmakers.

Another $1.5 million will be sought in “efficiency savings” that were already authorized in the current budget. Reardon said the administration is requiring agencies to account for those savings to ensure the full reductions are met.

And $3.5 million in reductions is “related to current-year health care and other benefit increases that occurred after passage of the FY 15 Budget last session,” according to the administration. The administration did not make clear how the savings will be achieved.

“The Administration is acting promptly and proactively to plan for all of these reductions to the current year budget,” Reardon said in a statement. “We fully expect to comply with legal requirements to accomplish this, and to work with the Legislature to meet these total planned reductions. Planning for further cuts is hard but necessary work in this environment of slower than projected growth.”

Reardon said agencies and departments have to submit reduction plans to the Department of Finance and Management by next Friday.

Officials expect to face another budget gap in the 2016 fiscal year budget of at least $100 million. Shumlin told reporters earlier this month that he hopes to address the shortfalls in the current budget and the 2016 budget without raising taxes.

State releases amended Gruber contract

State officials released an amended contract with MIT economist Jonathan Gruber Tuesday evening, lowering the maximum amount payable to $280,000.

Gruber had a personal services contract with Vermont that was to pay him as much as $400,000 to test economic models related to Gov. Peter Shumlin’s universal, publicly-financed health care proposal.

But his work has come under fire, and a number of high profile Republicans have called for the contract to be terminated because of the questionable comments Gruber 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.

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.

State officials announced last week that Gruber had agreed to forego any further payments for the work he was contracted to do. However, graduate assistants will continue to be paid and carry out work on behalf of the state.

Some Republicans had maintained that the original contract required official changes, and said Gruber’s “handshake agreement” with Lawrence Miller, Shumlin’s chief of health care reform, was not sufficient.

The amended contract reflects the change change in pay for Gruber.

See the contract below:

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.

S&P revises outlook on state’s bond rating

MONTPELIER — Standard & Poor’s revised Vermont’s AA+ general obligation bond rating outlook Monday to stable, down from positive, based on the state’s economic outlook.

Robin Prunty, S&P’s lead credit analyst for Vermont, said the revision is due to the state’s slow pace of economic growth, despite above-average income levels and low unemployment.

“The outlook revision reflects Vermont’s slower-than-average economic recovery, which continues to pressure the budget, in our view,” Prunty said in a release.

A positive rating indicates expected economic growth over a two-year period, according to S&P, while a stable rating indicates little to no growth is expected in that timeframe.

StandardPoorsThe revision was made despite “strong financial and budget management policies that have contributed to consistent reserve and liquidity levels over time.” The S&P report outlining the revision also noted “significant pension and other post-employment benefits … which remain sizable relative to those of state peers despite some recent reform efforts.”

The report cites “weak” demographic trends in Vermont relative to the region and national trends. The estimated 2013 population in Vermont of 627,000 residents is just 0.1 percent more than the 2010 level, according to S&P.

Economic growth is lagging, according to the report.

“Vermont’s pace of economic recovery has been uneven and more recently, growth has lagged the U.S.; we expect this to continue,” the report states.

Vermont’s October revenues were $7 million, or 11 percent, off the mark. Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said his administration is considering further revisions to the state budget to balance the state’s budget based on the revenue stream.

“The October revenues were disappointing and we’re continuing to do well in the sales tax, rooms and meals tax, in fact they’re up. We had a lot of visitors come to Vermont not only last winter but throughout the leaf-peeping season,” Shumlin said at an unrelated news conference Monday.

But the state’s income tax continues to falter, he said.

“We continue to see poor performance in the income tax, and that’s really the concern. So, my job is not only to try to figure out what that trend means, try to figure out where it’s going and what’s driving it, but also to make any adjustments that might be necessary so that we balance the budget,” Shumlin said

The administration made a $31 million rescission to the budget in August, and another one will likely be needed, according to Shumlin. He said his administration is trying to determine if another rescission is needed before lawmakers tackle the annual mid-year budget adjustment early next year.

“I would be surprised if one is not necessary if the revenues continue to perform as they have for the last couple of months,” Shumlin said.

The report states that Vermont has “a very strong budget management framework,” and if that leads to higher reserve levels in the future, the rating could be revised upward. An improved position with pension and other post-employment benefits could also result in an upgrade.

Conversely, the report states that a worse reserve and benefits position could lead to further downgrades.

“Although we do not envision it at this time, given Vermont’s history of proactively managing its budget and recent actions to address post-employment liabilities, substantial deterioration of budget reserves or a deteriorating liability position could negatively pressure the current rating,” the report states.

UPDATE: The original headline and lede have been changed to reflect that the state’s bond rating has not been downgraded. Rather, the outlook on the state’s rating for general obligation bonds has been downgraded from positive to stable.

Read the report below:

Unofficial results give Shumlin plurality by 1.26 percent

The Vermont Secretary of State’s office posted unofficial results of Tuesday’s mid-term election Saturday morning showing that Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin has won a plurality of votes over Republican challenger Scott Milne by a 2,434 vote margin.

The results show an increase of about 300 votes from the tally The Associated Press revealed earlier this week.

The results will not be official until early next week when they are certified by the state’s Canvassing Committee.

According to the Secretary of State’s results, Shumlin received 89,509 votes, while Milne received 87,075 votes. Libertarian Dan Feliciano received 8,428 votes.

Shumlin’s votes account for 46.36 percent of the votes. Milne’s tally represents 45.1 percent of the vote. Because no candidate received 50 percent of the vote, the newly elected Legislature must choose a governor when the new legislative biennium kicks off in January.

Milne is currently considering requesting a recount. He is entitled to a recount, if he wishes, under state law because the margin between the first and second place finishers is less than 2 percent.

Milne is also considering making his case to lawmakers that they should choose him as the next governor based on how their individual legislative districts voted. Milne has said he will announce his plans when the state’s election results are official.

Unofficial results posted Saturday by the Secretary of State's office

Unofficial results posted Saturday by the Secretary of State’s office

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.

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

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.