Democrats respond to governor’s address

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas’ plan to lower income tax rates caught many Democrats by surprise. They were generally supportive of the idea, but wanted to learn more of the details. But Democrats had criticism for what they said was Douglas’s failure to propose any major plan to extend health coverage or to lower the cost of health care.

VPR’s John Dillon has more on the Statehouse reaction to the governor’s speech:

(Dillon) As a Progressive and a Democrat, Burlington Mayor Peter Clavelle has long been a champion of tax reform. He’s now running for governor, and he sat in the House chamber when Governor Douglas rolled out a sweeping proposal that would lower the income tax rate for many Vermonters.

Clavelle says he agrees with the fundamentals of the plan.

(Clavelle) “Of course, I’ll have to look at the numbers but to the extent that there’s a recognition of the importance of the ability to pay in tax policy, that’s good news.”

(Dillon) Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch, the Democratic leader in the Senate, was also pleasantly surprised by the governor’s tax plan.

(Welch) “The income tax I like. Actually, I’d give the governor real credit. He totally caught us by surprise. We didn’t know that was coming.”

(Dillon) But Welch and other Democrats were much more skeptical about other parts of the governor’s speech. They raised questions about the Douglas proposal to expand school choice. And they said the administration needs to offer a more comprehensive plan to control health care costs and extend coverage.

Jericho Representative Gaye Symington is the House Democratic leader:

(Symington) “I never heard a strong commitment to make sure that every Vermonter has access to health care. And that is a bottom line issue. And I was quite disappointed there wasn’t more in that in his proposals or that there wasn’t real substance to his proposals for health care. Health care is a huge issue for our economy and for Vermonters and I would have expected more.”

(Dillon) The first days of the Legislature are often the most harmonious of the year. In this congenial atmosphere, the Democrats have pledged to work with the governor on the tax proposal and other issues.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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