There is a lot going on in the legislature, but I want to look briefly at two particular topics. The first is Governor Scott’s proposals around education funding. The second is the ongoing recount issue for a legislative race.
Topic 1 The governor’s budget address was the forum for several bold proposals on education funding. General response has been an significant lack of support. Everyone agrees on the goal of cost-effective education, but how we get there is by no means clear. School boards and supervisory unions generally feel blindsided by both his proposal to require/urge school budgets to be level funded next year, and to move school budgets votes away from Town Meeting to May 23. Another proposal is to move Pre-K, the state college system, and education pension obligations into the Education Fund, which is funded primarily by property taxes.
Level funding is problematic when numbers of students, special ed needs, staffing, and maintenance all change yearly and many schools cut to the bone in their last budget by deferring needed upkeep and purchases. Next year’s budgets have already been established and submitted for Town Meeting day. Suddenly rejecting all that work for new budgets and a later date is not popular, especially with so many mergers underway.
Topic 2 The move to conduct a recount in the Orange-1 House race has unfortunately become highly, and unnecessarily, partisan, with spin doctors working overtime. I strongly support the recount and here is why. That district is a 2 seat district. The first place finisher clearly won, but the runners-up ended 8 votes apart, a 0.2% difference, and well worth a recount given that there were serious questions about whether absentee ballots were treated the same way in all towns.
A recount generated several new problems including needing to “force” ballots into the reader. In addition, this House district include parts of two senate districts. The tabulator used in the recount was from Orange County where they vote for one senator, so ballots from Caledonia County where they vote for two senators were initially rejected by the machine as “over votes” causing a lack of confidence in the recount results.
On appeal, a judge ruled that she did not have the authority to order a hand recount so the plaintiff appealed to the legislature to resolve the uncertainties of the election. The Vermont Constitution is clear on this topic, giving the House the authority and responsibility to “judge of the elections and qualifications of their own members.” This is a process in place since the founding of Vermont.
The Government Operations Committee has passed a resolution supporting a recount and on Wednesday the House will take up the issue. To me this issue is NOT about which individual ultimately wins the seat, it is about the integrity of the electoral system, about having a process that counts all the votes and accurately reflects the will of the voters. Regardless of the outcome of this recount, there will be needed changes made to election laws to avoid these kinds of problems in the future.