Watching Special Interest Muscle Overwhelm Public Policy

by Rob Roper

The budget battle in the state house between Governor Scott and Democratic Leadership appears to be devolving into a fight over the VTNEA (Teachers’ Union) and political power rather than sound policy.

Governor Scott wants to save property taxpayers an estimated $26 million by taking advantage of a one time opportunity created by the Affordable Care Act (ObamaCare) requiring all teachers to drop their “Cadillac” health insurance plans and move onto the Vermont health exchange. Teachers would not be harmed, nor would funding for student programs. The School Boards Association supports the plan, as do the Superintendents. Sixteen Democratic house members broke with their party leadership to vote for the governor’s plan because, from a policy perspective, it makes a lot of sense.


The VTNEA jerked the choke chain it has clipped around the necks of state Democratic leadership and said no.  (See WCAX’s story, Teachers Union Warns Democrats to Stand Firm Against Gov. Scott.) The union does not want to end the practice of bargaining for healthcare benefits with scores of local school boards and, instead, bargain in one place one time with the Administration.

Why? Because the union’s job is to extract the maximum amount of money from the taxpayers while minimizing the amount of work its members are required to do to capture that cash. (No judgment here, it’s their job to represent their member’s interests. But it’s legislators’ job to represent their constituents – all of them.) The union takes advantage of the current system by winning a big benefits increase one district, then using that deal as a benchmark for everybody else in the next bargaining period. Costs to taxpayers keep ratcheting up.

This lucrative dynamic for the union, and others like it, is what the Democratic leadership is being paid to protect. (NEA Candidate & Party Expenditures 2016.)

What we are watching is a very powerful special interest group exert way too much influence over public policy makers. It is why since passage of Act 60 in 1997 the cost of K-12 education in Vermont has doubled despite losing roughly 25,000 students (over 20% of the total). And, also why one party has been able to consistently dominate state elections. One hand washes the other.

Today Democratic Leadership upped the political ante, moving legislative language into the budget bill that would create a $35 million housing bond that would finance affordable housing. This is a priority for Scott, so if he vetoes the budget he will also be vetoing his affordable housing program. But here the thing: It’s not just Governor Scott who wants lower property taxes and more affordable housing. Most Vermonters want these policies too.

Rob Roper is president of the Ethan Allen Institute. 

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Carol Frenier May 19, 2017 at 1:43 am

Very well put, Rob. That’s the essence of the case.


Jim Bulmer May 19, 2017 at 9:23 pm

We’ve elected a bunch of gutless hypocrites. Preelection, it’s all about living within our means, lowering property taxes, then once elected it’s to hell with the tax payers, my constituents, we’re going to support the VTNEA because they are so powerful they could cost me my job. Will it ever end????


j paul giuliani May 19, 2017 at 11:31 pm

Bought and paid for.


paul hudson May 20, 2017 at 12:00 am

Hi, my friend Paul Giuliani is right. I’ll add that education costs and an affordable housing bond have no business in the same Bill. This practice deprives the people and their representatives the right to have each of these issues decided on their merits. The practice of coupling issues must stop; lest all of us lose our voice in Montpelier and in VT.


Judy Livingston May 20, 2017 at 2:14 pm

VTNEA is the number 1 enemy to education in our state. When I served in the Legislature, they would threaten my seat if I continued my policy positions.
Is this Vermont, or Detroit?


David Duell May 24, 2017 at 1:18 pm

When will you elected officials start to look out for the middle class Vermonter. Do you realize we are all tapped out by your continued taxation, fees, and charges. You even have allowed GMP to charge a donation fee on us. Why live in Vermont, it’s a State of continued raising taxes and fees. A State just for the rich. What would George Akin think of you all.


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The Ethan Allen Institute is Vermont’s free-market public policy research and education organization. Founded in 1993, we are one of fifty-plus similar but independent state-level, public policy organizations around the country which exchange ideas and information through the State Policy Network.

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