Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin held a post-legislative session press conference in Burlington on Monday.
The presser was sparsely attended. Only three reporters were present to hear Smith and Shumlin, both Democrats, recount their triumphs, many of which are a by-now-familiar refrain: They had solved the $155 million budget deficit, devised a plan for restoring the bankrupt Unemployment Fund, agreed to shut down Vermont Yankee on schedule, passed a jobs bill, reorganized the judicial system, raised the cap on the federal tax credit pass-through for corporations, and invested in broadband, loans for business and job training.
“I would say promises made, promises kept,” Shumlin said. “We balanced the budget without raising taxes on Vermonters who are feeling overburdened.”
Smith took a different tack, emphasizing the Legislature’s decisions to keep key programs for needy Vermonters in place, despite a $54.5 million reduction in spending on services for children, the elderly and disabled.
“The thing we can be most proud of is that we kept our commitment to each other,” Smith said. “The true test of state government is making sure that those in need are taken care of.”
All this, they said, was achieved in a bipartisan spirit. Shumlin emphasized their collegial relationship with Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.
“We learned from last year we’re better off working together than being divided,” he said.
The conversation quickly turned to the campaigns. One reporter asked whether the session will be a boon or hindrance on the campaign trail, given the anti-incumbent mood of the national electorate.
“I’m not sure you’re going to see a strong anti-incumbent feeling in Vermont,” Shumlin said. He attributes the public well of animosity toward Washington to a sense that politicians “suffer from spine flu.”
“They won’t do anything,” Shumlin said. “What Vermonters want is leadership, and we provided that leadership.”
Smith said the Legislature found solutions to difficult problems and made investments in renewable energy and transportation infrastructure.
“I think that’s a record we can take to Vermonters,” Smith said.
When asked about legislative approval of a capital gains tax rollback of roughly $3 million in fiscal year 2011 and $10.9 million in fiscal year 2012, they were careful to emphasize the plan was developed by the Democratic leaders in the Ways and Means Committee – not the governor’s office. They called it a “carveout” to businesses in Vermont that was “limited in scope.”
“It was meant to make sure investments in Vermont businesses were rewarded,” Smith said.
The press conference ended with a pep talk on Vermont’s business climate.
“There’s a reason to be bullish on Vermont,” Smith said. “Our investments … in the long run are going to pay off in Vermont.” Other states, he said, are taking a short-term approach to their fiscal problems. “They’re failing to make the necessary investments, and in the long run they’ll pay for that.”
At this juncture, the spirit of bipartisanship didn’t restrain Shumlin, who is one of five Democratic candidates for the gubernatorial primary, from taking a partisan jab at the Republican governor, and ending with a line or two from his own stump speech.
“I sense people are getting tired of the doom and gloom message from the Douglas-Dubie team,” Shumlin said. “I’ve never sold my product by telling people how terrible it is. I think Vermonters are tired of being told their state is a terrible place to make a living.”
Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a Republican candidate for governor, has faced criticism from some Democrats for running this New York Times website ad questioning the state’s commitment to business: “Vermont ranks 47th best state for business. Is that good enough? Yes or No.”