Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, opted not to represent her party as the gubernatorial candidate to challenge Gov. Peter Shumlin for reelection this November, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in running for the state’s top office down the road, or at least grabbing the political spotlight when she can. That seems obvious from her op-ed released at the end of last week challenging the Democrats’ estimation of their own performance this biennium.
While Gov. Shumlin called the past two years “one of the most productive in recent memory,” and House Speaker Shap Smith called it “incredibly productive,” Scheuermann presented the Republicans’ counter: “But does this predictable self-congratulatory back-slapping tell the real story,” she asks. “Unfortunately no. It belies the lack of real results in the areas most important to the working families, and overall economic vitality, of our state.
“A more accurate characterization of the two-year session is one of missed opportunities and challenges unmet,” she continued. “While there were some positive developments and some important legislation passed, the issues many Vermonters wanted so desperately for us to address were not.”
The Stowe Republican was obviously not referring to the minimum wage hike that will benefit Vermont’s struggling 25 percent of the population. Nor was she referring to expansion of preschool to include all of Vermont’s three and four-year-olds — one of the best predictors for a successful life of learning, nor of scholarships or other aid to help ease the high cost of higher education, or a host of other positive legislation passed in the past two years.
Rather, the “issues” in Scheuermann’s view, primarily refer to reforming how the state finances education — which takes the state back to the battle of property-rich towns vs. property-poor towns and resentment over the state Supreme Court’s decision that prodded the Legislature to pass Act 60 and Act 68. Scheuermann, along with other representatives from property-wealthy towns, have been harping on a theme (not unlike “trickle down economics”) they hope the general public will one day come to buy: that the high per pupil costs Vermont pays for education are a direct result of those two flawed laws and the panacea is to change the funding formula to something that doesn’t tax rich towns so unfairly.
It is a flawed argument. Getting a handle on school costs is the issue, not shifting those costs to others via a variety of different taxes. Furthermore, the process by which to reach resolution of the issue is not to complain about what is, but to propose what should be.
The legislative process allows, in fact demands, representatives to propose solutions that solve hometown problems. It is not up to the representatives of towns that have benefited from Act 60 and Act 68 to propose alternatives to solve Stowe’s perceived slight. Rather, it is up to Scheuermann and others to propose a better formula that would still meet the constitutional test of fairness. And yet, since Act 60 was passed in 1996, no concrete alternatives have passed muster. Why? Because it is difficult to do without proposing some pretty hefty taxes — most likely on income, and that’s not something she or any Republicans want to embrace.
What Scheuermann really means when she says the Democrats and Gov. Shumlin have failed to address the issue is that they haven’t done the tough work for her, and all others who oppose Acts 60 and 68. It’s also understandable. If Scheuermann were to propose what’s needed, she would be an advocate for a mix of property taxes, much higher personal and corporate income taxes, and a higher sales tax — all so we could reduce the taxes on those nice homes in Stowe. Or is that not a winning platform for a statewide candidate?
It’s a tough nut to crack that every proponent of school finance reform faces. But if Scheuermann is to lead her party, taking the initiative to develop a better formula will be the first step to demonstrate her political courage.
Nor is that the only issue the Stowe Republican ducks. She takes pot shots at Vermont’s health care reform efforts, which is certainly fair game and the governor is open to criticism, but what is her alternative? Would she maintain the status quo, which would certainly bankrupt the state in a decade or so, or does she have a hidden agenda she has yet to share?
Which brings readers to understand the assumed role of today’s political opposition: to criticize the opposition’s lack of progress, whether real or imagined, while remaining reluctant to provide solutions for fear of alienating voters by the measures they would have to impose. The underlying truth here is that politicians look best when they are not in power, because once in power, the measures they have to employ are unpopular.
Ironically, while ducking the issues is the safe move politically, it’s not until the opposition hones real answers to difficult problems that voters respond. What the public likes about Gov. Shumlin is that he tackles tough issues rather than fearing the political fallout that is sure to come (health care reform, school consolidation, opiate addiction come to mind). He sometimes goes where fools rush in, but it’s an honest effort to reach a better end. Scheuermann (or any other Republican challenger) must adopt the same courage and pragmatism in her politics, if she is to gain traction on the statewide stage.
Angelo S. Lynn