Wilton: Teacher's Healthcare Stalemate

May 19, 2017

Governor Scott’s proposal to save $26 million in the state education fund by reforming the health care coverage for teachers put him at loggerheads with the opposing legislative majority and the VTNEA, which has deep financial resources to influence public opinion.

Some tried to stall the proposal, arguing that this wouldn’t be a good time to attempt this reform. But all school labor contracts in the state expire before January 2018 in anticipation of grappling with the “Cadillac Tax” issue under ACA. So this really may have been a one-time opportunity to offer and act upon statewide healthcare reform for teachers in a fair and equitable way.
And it may be useful to remember that the teachers’ union fully backed the ACA and Vermont’s healthcare reforms - which have increased costs significantly.

Critics have said Scott made this proposal too late in the session. But the governor asked the legislative leadership to consider this idea when they started on the budget and tax bills more than 10 weeks ago.

Senator Tim Ashe’s offered an alternative to the Scott proposal supported by the VTNEA. But critics of the Ashe plan worried it would “tax” school boards in order to balance the Education Fund budget, which would increase property taxes, and possibly result in school deficits or teacher strikes.

The VTNEA and Democratic majority had the perception that the proposal would damage collective bargaining. But Scott’s plan holds teacher’s harmless in the transition to a statewide teacher healthcare plan, and would still provide a negotiation at the statewide level between the VTNEA and the state.

School board members have long complained that local negotiations aren’t conducted on a level playing field anyway – since the VTNEA has an estimated $5 million to spend on lawyers and lobbying.

The legislature has approved a budget without the Scott plan, which is destined for a veto. Scott has spent a great deal of political capital to persuade the public to support him in this fight to reduce costs, adhering to his campaign promise of affordability.

And in a recent on-line media survey Scott’s plan polled above 70%, which should give the legislators a reason to consider who they’ll represent in the upcoming veto session - the taxpayers or the teachers’ union.