Labor

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Anticipated State Revenues Are Down in Economic Report

Posted By on Thu, Jan 19, 2017 at 2:32 PM

Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Terri Hallenbeck
  • Gov. Phil Scott and the legislative money committee chairs listen to economists Tom Kavet and Jeff Carr on Thursday.
Economists told the state’s Emergency Board on Thursday that Vermont is likely to see less money coming in over the next two years than previously thought.

For fiscal year 2017, which lasts through June, the state can expect to see $24.6 million less in general fund revenues than had been anticipated. For the 2018 budget, Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders were told to expect $7.7 million less than previously thought. And in 2019, expectations were curtailed by $10.4 million.

To handle the blow in the current 2017 budget, Scott’s financial team doesn’t seem to be sweating the details. Finance Commissioner Andy Pallito said he is proposing to tap into various reserve funds and areas where spending was less than expected.

The 2018 figures are being built into Scott’s much-anticipated first state budget, which he will release next Tuesday. “We were forecasting this,” he said. But he bemoaned, “We’re starting with less revenue than last year.”

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Monday, December 19, 2016

Opinion
Walters: State Treasurer Refutes Scott’s Pension Idea

Posted By on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 at 10:32 AM

Rep. Don Turner speaks with Treasurer Beth Pearce - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rep. Don Turner speaks with Treasurer Beth Pearce
Republican governor-elect Phil Scott remains interested in shifting public-sector pension plans from “defined benefit” to “defined contribution,” an idea Vermont labor unions say is a nonstarter.

Well, he’s interested in his own elliptical way.

“Yeah, sure, we want to take a look at that,” he told Seven Days last week. “We’ll continue to have that conversation and debate the issue and make our case for why that might be good to consider for future hires. But we’ll take a look.”

Commitment, Phil Scott style: “Have that conversation,” “debate the issue,” “consider,” and, not once but twice, “take a look.” All in one paragraph.

As long as Scott plans to “take a look” at that, Democratic state Treasurer Beth Pearce plans to fight back.

Currently, members of the Vermont State Employees’ Association and Vermont-National Education Association — the state’s largest public-sector unions — enjoy defined benefit pensions: They are guaranteed certain retirement benefits. In a defined contribution system, employer and employee pay into a retirement account, but no specific benefits are promised.

Scott touts defined contribution as a way to cut the cost of public sector pensions. But Pearce argues that it will reduce pension security without saving money — not in the short term, not in the long term.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Scott Names Former Burlington Police Chief Commerce Secretary

Posted By on Fri, Dec 16, 2016 at 4:36 PM

Mike Schirling - MATTHEW THORSEN/FILE
  • Matthew Thorsen/File
  • Mike Schirling
Governor-elect Phil Scott named former Burlington police chief Mike Schirling his commerce secretary and tapped central Vermont small business owner Lindsay Kurrle to lead the Department of Labor.

Scott made the announcements Friday afternoon as he slowly fills cabinet positions ahead of his January 5 inauguration.

Schirling, who retired from the police force in 2015, has been executive director of the economic development and technology nonprofit organization BTV Ignite for a little more than a year.

Scott cited Schirling’s innovation and leadership experience in hiring him to run an agency that will be under particular pressure to produce results. Scott campaigned on a promise of generating economic growth.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Opinion
Walters: Scott Pension Proposal Riles Labor Unions

Posted By on Tue, Dec 13, 2016 at 9:01 PM

Governor-elect Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Governor-elect Phil Scott
Governor-elect Phil Scott is advocating a fundamental change in pension plans for members of public-sector labor unions — one that is steadfastly opposed by the unions themselves.

Currently, public school teachers and state workers receive “defined benefit” plans, which establish certain retirement benefits to be received by each worker. Scott favors a “defined contribution” plan, in which the state and the employee would contribute set amounts, which might or might not cover the cost of a retiree’s golden years.

Scott would allow current staffers to keep their defined benefits, while future workers would fall under a defined contribution system. But as far as Vermont’s two biggest public sector unions are concerned, the notion is a non-starter.

“We are steadfastly opposed to the idea and will continue to be,” says Doug Gibson, a spokesman for the Vermont State Employees’ Association.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Senate Narrowly Supports Administration’s Privatization Initiative

Posted By on Tue, Apr 26, 2016 at 5:35 PM

Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) argues against privatization of the Office of Risk Management. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) argues against privatization of the Office of Risk Management.
 The Vermont State Employees’ Association had hoped Tuesday to stop the Shumlin administration from outsourcing work now done by state employees in the Office of Risk Management — but came up two votes short in the Senate.

The Shumlin administration has been exploring whether it could save money if it contracted with a private company to process worker compensation claims and advise on work safety. Secretary of Administration Justin Johnson said state officials solicited information about the cost and services that private companies might offer. The responses suggested potential savings ranging from 35 to 55 percent, Johnson said.

The state subsequently requested bids, he said. The binding offers submitted reflected the same levels of savings, he said. The bids are under review.

The state spends $1.8 million to operate the Office of Risk Management, Johnson said. The office has a dozen employees, he said. Privatizing the operation could save the state at least $500,000 a year.

That is the amount of savings that the Senate Appropriations Committee included in its version of the budget to run state government next year.

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Friday, February 26, 2016

House Joins Call for Divestment from Coal and ExxonMobil

Posted By on Fri, Feb 26, 2016 at 5:32 PM

Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a  resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Rep. Mary Sullivan (D-Burlington), lead sponsor of a resolution calling for pension funds to divest fossil fuel stocks, addresses the House.
In a largely party-line vote, the House approved a resolution Friday urging the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee to take steps for the state’s pension funds to divest their coal and ExxonMobil stocks. The vote: 76-57.

The resolution supports the call for divestment that Gov. Peter Shumlin made in his State of the State address in January. He appealed directly to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee earlier this week.

Treasurer Beth Pearce has argued that decisions about how pension money is invested should be based on financial factors, not politics. But after Shumlin addressed the investment committee, she and VPIC agreed to look into possible divestment of coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The House resolution focused on both the climate change and financial arguments for divesting from fossil fuel assets. It noted, for example, that a growing number of coal companies are filing for bankruptcy.

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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Committee Hustling Toward Vote to “Ban the Box”

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 7:51 PM

Sue Bette, owner of Bluebird Barbecue, testifies in support of a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring a job applicant to disclose a criminal record. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Sue Bette, owner of Bluebird Barbecue, testifies in support of a bill that would prohibit employers from requiring a job applicant to disclose a criminal record.
Gov. Peter Shumlin used an executive order last spring to remove questions about criminal records from applications for state jobs, thereby giving all applicants a fair chance of being considered for employment openings.

Now the House Committee on General, Housing & Military Affairs is considering a bill that would ban private employers from requiring job applicants to disclose their criminal history on the initial job application. The bill would allow employers to query applicants later in the process, such as during interviews. That approach would let applicants explain their records and possibly provide character references.

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Treasurer and Pension Panel Will Vet Shumlin's Divestment Proposal

Posted By on Tue, Feb 23, 2016 at 12:10 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin speaking to the Vermont Pension Investment Committee on the issue of divestment.
Gov. Peter Shumlin won a promise from the state treasurer and the Vermont Pension Investment Committee that they would consider his call for divesting from coal and ExxonMobil stocks.

The governor proposed divestment in his State of the State speech in January. Treasurer Beth Pearce has pushed back, saying that decisions about pension investments should be based on financial criteria, not political considerations.

But after Shumlin made his pitch to the pension investment committee Tuesday morning, citing financial — as well as moral — reasons to divest from coal and ExxonMobil, Pearce said, “I am committed to a full vetting of the issues.”

Representatives of organizations lobbying for divestment welcomed the thawing in the stance that Pearce and the panel had taken. “I see it as progress, although not as fast as any of us who support this want to see,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Paid Sick Leave Bill Is on Its Way to the Governor

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 5:49 PM

Reps. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton), Helen Head (D-South Burlington) and Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) confer with Damien Leonard, one of the legislature's lawyers, about the paid sick leave bill. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Reps. Willem Jewett (D-Ripton), Helen Head (D-South Burlington) and Tom Stevens (D-Waterbury) confer with Damien Leonard, one of the legislature's lawyers, about the paid sick leave bill.
The House voted 81-64 Wednesday to go along with the Senate version of a bill that would require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers. Lawmakers gave the bill final passage only after extended debate.

The vote fell largely along party lines, with most Democrats supporting the measure and Republicans objecting.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has already pledged to sign the measure.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Senate's Paid Sick Leave Bill Won't Exempt Small Employers

Posted By on Wed, Feb 10, 2016 at 5:54 PM

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell
The Senate passed a paid sick leave bill Wednesday. Despite the efforts of Sen. Bill Doyle (R-Washington), the bill will not exempt small employers from having to offer paid sick leave.

Last Thursday, Doyle forced a second Senate vote on that issue. Since then, Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell (D-Windsor) found a strategy — and the votes — to block the exemption.

While senators initially rejected a small-employer exemption, they approved an amendment that gave employers with five or fewer workers an extra year after the law went into effect — January 2017 — before the mandate would apply to them. But Doyle later asked for reconsideration, saying he had changed his mind about the rejected exemption.

Campbell bought himself some extra time to respond to this unexpected development by getting senators to agree to delay reconsideration of the exemption until this week. Wednesday afternoon, he proposed that instead of voting on the pending exemption amendment, the Senate consider his amendment calling for a study. He proposed that the Department of Labor research what sick leave benefits small businesses already offer, and effects of the mandate. The report would be due next January — a year before small employers would have to start offering paid sick leave.

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