In Email To Employees, Tax Commissioner Addresses 'Anxiety' Over Government Shutdown

Jun 21, 2018

In an email sent Monday evening to rank-and-file employees at the Vermont Department of Taxes, Commissioner Kaj Samsom said their anxiety over a government shutdown is unnecessary, and that political forces — along with the media — are responsible for the unfounded alarm.

Samsom began his email by saying he’d heard during a meeting Monday that “there is some anxiety among staff about the talk of a government shutdown and the impact on our operations.”

“I want to be clear that a shutdown is not something we need to be worrying about at this point, and it pains me to think that any Tax employees are feeling stress about this and I hope to alleviate some of that stress,” Samsom wrote later in the email. “It is extremely unlikely that there will be a government shutdown.”

Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the two state budgets lawmakers sent him this year. With 9 days left in the fiscal year, the Republican governor and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate are still at odds over the issue of whether or not to raise property tax rates next year.

And if they don’t resolve their budget impasse before the end of the June, the state could be thrust into an unprecedented government shutdown.

Samsom, however, told tax department employees they needn’t worry about that outcome.

“Why am I so confident we will avoid a shutdown? 1. Nobody in the statehouse or in the Administration wants a shutdown . Truly,” Samsom wrote. “Everyone agrees it is not necessary and is a terrible thing.  While the word ‘shutdown’ is thrown around a lot, nobody uttering that phrase really will let it happen, and they all recognize that fact.”

Samsom says employees’ anxiety over a shutdown stems from “opportunistic/political messaging.”

“It’s a shame it is used as a political tool, and it is a shame the media gobbles it up and amplifies it,” Samsom wrote. “… It may be ugly in the next ten days, and there may be last minute deals, but I am confident that we will have a budget that allows us all to come to work on Monday July 2nd because nobody wins politically or otherwise if the Government isn’t operating on July 1.”

"It may be ugly in the next ten days, and there may be last minute deals, but I am confident that we will have a budget that allows us all to come to work on Monday July 2nd." — Tax Commissioner Kaj Samsom

Vermont Public Radio was made aware of the email by a critic of the Scott administration. Samsom provided the correspondence almost immediately after VPR requested the document.

State Treasurer Beth Pearce, the Vermont State Employees Association, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe are among those calling on the Scott administration to develop a contingency plan in the event of a government shutdown.

Samsom isn’t the only administration official upset by the public consternation over the prospect of a shutdown.

“There are many people that are utilizing this as a scare tactic so to speak, to frighten Vermonters,” Scott said at a press conference last week. “And I don’t think Vermonters have anything to fear.”

Scott’s re-election campaign went a step further. In an email to supporters last week, the Scott campaign alleged that “[a] small number of extremist Democrat and Progressive party leaders, and their political allies, are trying to scare Vermonters about a government shutdown.”

“Don’t believe them,” the campaign email said.

When Scott vetoed the state budget last year, he appeared more sensitive to the anxiety that the prospect of a government shutdown would provoke. During the same 2017 press conference in which he announced he’d be vetoing the budget and tax bills, Scott also made clear he would not allow a government shutdown to occur under his watch.

If necessary, he said in 2017, he’d capitulate to lawmakers and sign a budget before the end of the fiscal year.

Scott, however, has made no such pledges in 2018. And he’s said that in issuing that assurance last year, he gave up too much bargaining leverage with Democrats in the Legislature.

While Scott has thus far refused to guarantee there won’t be a government shutdown, he said last week there’s a good reason he’s so optimistic it won’t come to pass.

“Neither [I nor Democratic legislators] wants the government to shut down,” Scott said last week. “I certainly don’t. They don’t either. So when you have that common thread, then it shouldn’t happen.”

Samsom, who’s been closely involved with the administration’s talks with lawmakers, told employees in his email that if the “dynamic changes, and it looks like a deal will not be reached by July 1, I will send further information.”

“Until then,” Samsom continued in the email, “I encourage you to be skeptical of the political and media noise about a shutdown.”