Lawmakers criticize timing of cabinet shake-up

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(Host) A shake-up at the top of the Douglas administration has heightened tensions at the Statehouse. Democratic legislators have criticized the cabinet reshuffling. But Governor Jim Douglas says the lawmakers should mind their own business and let him do his job.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) It’s been a week since the administration shakeup. Human Services Secretary Charles Smith was assigned to lead the Administration Agency, while Mike Smith left that agency to take over Human Services. Douglas also moved Corrections Commissioner Steve Gold and assigned Finance and Management Commissioner Rob Hofmann to take over Corrections.

Senator Susan Bartlett chairs the Appropriations Committee.

(Bartlett) “I don’t think this was particularly well thought out. I don’t think the timing was thought out at all. I don’t think the implications of the change on personnel and people receiving services were thought out.”

(Dillon) Bartlett says she’s not criticizing Douglas’s appointees, whom she says she likes and respects. But she points out that her committee is writing next year’s budget and that the new administrators may not be familiar with the nuts and bolts of their agencies.

(Bartlett) “Who do we have a serious conversation with if we need to stop some services because we don’t have enough money? What are the priorities and how did you reach those priorities?”

(Dillon) But Douglas said the Legislature should quit complaining about the changes and focus on the work before them. He pointed out that lawmakers have passed just two bills this year.

(Douglas) “I really hope the Legislature focuses on the important agenda before the people of our state: joining with me to fix the Medicaid problem, taking up the health care reform measure that I’ve presented to them for their consideration, working hard to balance the budget without raising the tax burden for the people of Vermont. I think it’s important for legislators to get down to business and do the work of the General Assembly and let the executive branch administer state government.”

(Dillon) Lawmakers are asking tough questions about the governor’s plan to negotiate a federal block grant for Medicaid. Senate President Peter Welch and House Speaker Gaye Symington put the administration on notice that the Legislature won’t approve the plan if it shortchanges Vermont. Peter Welch:

(Welch) “This is a high risk thing, the global budget. And we want to give the governor latitude to come up with something creative. But we want to be clear, from the legislative perspective, what we think needs to be, questions that have to be answered about the bottom line. How much money is it for Vermont? Is it less than before or more than before?”

(Dillon) The administration hopes to win more flexibility under the five-year block grant. Douglas said lawmakers will be involved and that he hopes to get approval from the federal government by April 1.

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

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