Gov. Peter Shumlin won’t introduce tax options to pay for a universal health care system this year, despite promising on several occasions that they would be presented to lawmakers before the end of the legislative session.
“We’re not ready, it’s as simple as that,” Shumlin said at a press conference Monday.
Making the transition to universal health care is the most important move to improve job growth and Vermonters’ prosperity in the state’s history, Shumlin said.
“All I’m saying is let’s get this right. That’s more important than meeting some arbitrary deadlines,” he said.
However, all deadlines at this point are self-imposed, because Shumlin missed the statutory requirement to present financing options in January 2013.
Shumlin stressed the complexity of the transition to Green Mountain Care, the state’s planned publicly financed universal health care program, adding that it requires reforming the delivery of health care as well as how it’s paid for.
“This is not like flipping a switch,” Shumlin said several times during the press appearance.
But Republicans have accused Shumlin of playing politics with his financing plans, and said he’s putting off the tax options until after the upcoming election.
“The administration chose to ignore the law’s deadlines, leaving the cynical among us to observe that this is all a political stunt, conveniently spread out over three election cycles,” wrote Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, in a commentary in VTDigger earlier this year.
Republicans have yet to field a serious challenger for Shumlin’s job, but they note that supporting what is widely expected to be the largest tax increase in state history could hurt Democrats in down-ballot races.
Having greater detail on the taxes Shumlin would use to pay for Green Mountain Care could give them more fodder, but it’s also possible not releasing those details could yield plenty of talking points for Republicans as well.
Shumlin may have provided his critics with another one Monday.
Asked if he could name two other options besides the widely discussed payroll tax that could pay for, or help to pay for, universal health care Shumlin said, “Sure, bubble gum and lollipops.”
As recently as Feb. 27, Michael Costa, the administration’s health care financing expert, told lawmakers on the House Ways and Means Committee that he expected they would enumerate financing options in the spring.
Asked in the hallway after delivering his testimony when specifically that would be, Costa said, “I’m not sure, to be candid.”
Shumlin said the decision to delay unveiling the finance options was made over the past several weeks.
“We have a very good business advisory group … that’s helping us to put together a package that will work for Vermonters as well as for businesses,” he said. “As we’ve gotten into the weeds of the various details that need to be ready to lay out a menu of options, there’s pretty broad agreement that we’re just not there yet.”
“I’m saying to my team, ‘don’t spend a lot of time getting committees that won’t even be the same committees working on something that isn’t going to be voted on anyway, and that we don’t have the answers for yet,’” he said during an interview on “Vermont Edition.”
Shumlin was adamant Monday that he didn’t believe waiting to lay out the financing options would set back plans to launch Green Mountain Care.
“We’re going to take the time we need to get it right without slowing down, I hope, the goal of having this done on January 1st, 2017,” he said.
The Legislature has a number of committees looking at all aspects of the transition to Green Mountain Care, and that’s been the case throughout the session, Shumlin said.
But Janet Ancel, D-Calais, who leads one of those committees, said Shumlin’s decision to put off the financing plan might change how she allocates her committee time.
“We’ve spent two to three hours a week on health care all session, and my thinking has been that the more knowledge my committee members have the better,” said the Ways and Means chair. “I think the only thing I need to reassess is if we should keep doing that this session.”