Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin’s selection of his inner circle early this week set an important tone for the upcoming session: one of fiscal restraint and pragmatism. That’s particularly true of his selection of State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding as secretary of administration and Susan Bartlett as special assistant to the governor — both moderate Democrats known for their conservative approach on fiscal matters.
What’s so important about those appointments is that it sets a counter to what could be the liberal tendencies of a Democrat-controlled Legislature with a sitting Democratic governor. Shumlin, in effect, is saying to his colleagues in the House and Senate: ‘We want to get things done, but we have to be fiscally responsible when doing them.’ That has to be music to the ears of any fiscal conservative.
Mesh that message with the governor-elect’s campaign promises to grow jobs, restructure critical agencies and improve efficiencies throughout government, plus balance a incoming budget with a $112 million deficit and you have an inkling of the challenges ahead. What his administration must do, he says, is create a better management team — not rely on higher taxes — as a way to restore a budget cycle that is fiscally balanced and results-based.
“We have the task in the administration of putting the state on a responsible fiscal course where we no longer are looking at unending deficits but where budget goals meet revenue,”
the governor-elect said at a press conference Monday when he named five of his administration’s team. “I’ve been really clear that I am a very fiscally cautious governor. I do not believe that Vermont’s biggest problem is that our taxes are not high enough… I do believe we are spending beyond our ability to pay our bills.”
Spaulding has impeccable credentials as a fiscal moderate from his eight years as State Treasurer and his eight terms in the Vermont Senate, along with private sector experience.
Bartlett, a senator from Lamoille County, has served for years as the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and is known for her encyclopedic knowledge of the budget as well as her ability, as Shumlin says, “to take big ideas and get them done.”
With these first announcements, the well-kept surprise was convincing Spaulding to take the post — an example of Shumlin’s willingness to be bold and his ability to be convincing — and to also find a top position for Bartlett, his one-time opponent.
More expected were his appointments of Bill Loffy, a veteran Democratic strategist, as chief of staff; his choice of Middlebury lawyer Beth Robinson as legal counsel; and naming his talented campaign manager Alex MacLean as secretary of civil and military affairs, who will also oversee communications, act as a liaison with the Legislature and help formulate policy.
If this inner circle is any indication of the 60 or so appointments Shumlin will make over the next few weeks, look forward to more candidates with high profiles, bold ideas and demonstrated abilities to get things done — made more possible by a cooperative Legislature that won’t have to fight against a recalcitrant governor. It may just be one of those increasingly rare periods in which government has the ability to work effectively and efficiently for the public good. That, at least, is the goal of Shumlin’s inner circle and one on which they will be judged.
Angelo S. Lynn