Shumlin Cites 'Executive Privilege' In Withholding Health Care Records

Mar 20, 2014

A Vermont lawmaker wants access to a trove of government documents that might shine a light on what taxes the Shumlin Administration would use to pay for single-payer health care. But the governor’s office says it will keep the records hidden from public view.

Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, filed a public records request with the Agency of Administration last week seeking access to internal documents related to single-payer financing. But she got word this week that the administration has denied the request.

Robin Lunge, director of health care reform for the Shumlin Administration, says the materials Browning wants to see are exempt from the state’s open records law, under the doctrine of executive privilege.

Lunge says the public financing documents are still a work in progress, and that revealing them now could damage the health care reform effort.

“That’s an important process, because it doesn’t benefit anybody to rollout half-baked ideas that haven’t been thoroughly thought through and vetted and thoroughly researched and analyzed,” Lunge says. “So the material that we would not provide would fall into this latter category of really stuff that’s a work in process.”

Browning’s request focuses on emails, memos, draft reports and other documents created by Michael Costa, the administration’s deputy director of health care reform. Costa was brought on to put together a financing plan showing what taxes will be used to support the single-payer system. He was due to present financing options before the end of the 2014 legislative session, until Shumlin pushed back the timeline earlier this month.

Browning says she’ll pursue other avenues to obtain the information. She has asked legislative council to draw up a resolution requiring the administration to deliver a public financing proposal, and is also looking at the possibility of a legislative subpoena.

Browning likely won’t find support from her Democrat colleagues, but Republicans have indicated they’re ready to line up behind the cause.

In his letter to Browning denying the bulk of her request, Costa says the materials in question fall under the constitutional doctrine of executive privilege “because they reflect communications in the course of the governor's decision-making process that may be withheld to protect and facilitate the governor's consultative and decisional responsibilities.”