With two weeks left in the 2017 Legislative Session, it is time for Vermonters to really start paying attention.  After all, this is the time that just about anything can happen.

The most recent dust up came late last week when the Vermont NEA, the statewide teacher's union, blasted Governor Phil Scott for working with the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont Superintendents Association to develop and propose a new Statewide Health Benefit for teachers and school employees that will provide $26 million in savings to Vermonters.

The proposal would create a new Vermont Education Health Initiative (VEHI) plan for school employees that would cost substantially less than the current plans, while ensuring that all teachers and school employees would not pay more.  In the end, the proposal would save Vermonters $26 million to invest in other priorities.

 

To be clear, this change can only happen now.  It is a once in a generation opportunity of which we should take advantage. 

Because of the federal Affordable Care Act, school employee health benefits have been in flux for the last few years.  So, at present almost all of our state’s school employee labor contracts are open.

Why is this a Win-Win-Win proposal?

  1. It's a Win for Vermont Taxpayers
    1. This plan would capture $26 million in savings – and Superintendents believe that even more savings would be realized over time – without requiring school employees to pay more. These savings can be invested into other priorities like property tax relief; pre-K and higher education; tourism and marketing; other economic development initiatives; and more.
  2. It's a Win for our Local School Boards
    1. This plan simplifies the bargaining process for Boards with school employees.  This will free up time and energy to focus further on other education priorities;
    2. School Boards would continue to bargain other benefits, like salaries and days off, etc.;
    3. The plan ensures parity in health care costs for school districts throughout the state.
  3. It's a Win for Teachers and School Employees
    1. Employees will be held harmless and will not pay more under the new VEHI plans;
    2. The plan maintains collective bargaining rights (though it does change the dynamic) and school employees right to strike locally, AND it creates a new statewide strike option that doesn't currently exist;
    3. It achieves some important cost containment in K-12 education.

While the timing of the Governor's education savings proposals in his budget was problematic, he has been talking about these possible VEHI savings for some time now.  Given the support for the proposal from our local, volunteer school boards, and our Superintendents throughout the State, and the fact that this is our only chance to do this, I am hopeful that the Legislature sees the wisdom in enacting this statewide health benefit plan at this time as well. 

With regard to the attack on my record in the April 13th edition of the Stowe Reporter/News and Citizen, a number of people have requested that I respond.  I will simply say it has been made clear to me that the Stowe legislative seat is a top target for the Democratic Party in 2018 and that if I choose to run, I’ll be a top target for defeat.  So, the letter to the editor from the Vice-Chair of the Stowe Democratic Party was not a surprise, and is most likely, just the beginning.

Indeed, I voted against each of the bills she mentioned, and I stand behind those votes.  One was a vote against a 1% tax increase on all Vermonters who receive a paycheck.  The second was an extremely poorly crafted bill that I helped get rewritten in the Senate, and is now something I can support.  And, the third bill had, as one of our lead lawyers for our Legislature, “a trifecta of Constitutional issues.”

To be clear, I will not respond to each attack on me as they emerge through this 2017-2018 Biennium, as the people of Stowe and elsewhere know they can contact me anytime for my thoughts on an issue or my reasons for voting a certain way on a piece of legislation.  But I will take issue if I am attacked personally, as Ms. Motta did in her letter charging that “pregnant working women, victims of domestic abuse, and the sick and elderly seem to be of little concern” to me.  That is not the case at all, as everybody who knows me knows.

Once again, I will not respond to each attack on me as they emerge.  Rather, I will simply continue to do what I’ve always done: vigorously work for and represent the people of Stowe, regardless of political leanings.