Rebecca Holcombe served as Vermont’s Secretary of Education under two governors. She was appointed in January 2014 by Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, and kept on in January 2017 by Republican Gov. Phil Scott. She was a driving force behind Act 46, Vermont’s landmark school district consolidation law passed in 2015 that reshaped the landscape of school governance. Holcombe abruptly resigned from Gov. Scott’s administration on April 1, 2018. Two months later, she slammed Gov. Scott in a widely published op-ed, accusing him of rejecting the will of voters on local school budgets and breaking his campaign promises by increasing taxes — while saying he was lowering them. This is Holcombe’s first extended interview since leaving Scott’s cabinet. (June 6, 2018 broadcast)
Rebecca Holcombe, Vermont Secretary of Education, 2014-2018
On May 22, 2018, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott vetoed four bills passed by the Legislature, including legislation that would have raised Vermont’s minimum wage to $15 and established a paid family leave program. Scott previously vetoed legislation regulating toxic chemicals, and he is expected veto the state budget and tax bills. The Vermont legislature convened in a rare special session to address the vetoes. The state budget has only been vetoed once in state history prior to Gov. Scott’s tenure; this will be Scott’s second budget veto. What is the crisis? Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson say there is none. “This is a manufactured political battle,” says Ashe. “We have a governor who is playing off bogus plans…. If he wants to stand behind destroying our schools, that’s on him.” (May 23, 2018 broadcast)
In the aftermath of the discovery in 2016 of widespread contamination of drinking water around Bennington, Vermont, citizen’s groups have lobbied for laws to tighten restrictions on toxics. But on April 16, 2018, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation intended to help protect children from toxic chemicals in toys and other products. The Vt Senate overrode the governor’s veto, 22-8, three days later, leaving the fate of the veto in the hands of the House. The legislation, S.103, would give the Commissioner of Health greater authority to regulate toxic chemicals, provide more information to consumers about toxins in children’s products, and require testing for toxins in new drinking water wells. “In the choice between protecting kids and pleasing industry lobbyists, [Scott] went with the lobbyists,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG). Burns discusses the battle over toxics in Vermont, as well as the future of renewable power, regulating data companies, and the future. (April 18, 2018 broadcast)
On April 11, 2018, Gov. Phil Scott strode onto the steps of the Vermont State House and signed into law the first major restrictions on gun ownership in the state’s history. The move represented a dramatic about face for the Republican governor — and the culmination of a years-long organizing effort led by gun safety advocates, legislators, and most recently, thousands of Vermont high school students. Sen. Philip Baruth proposed one of the first gun control measures in 2013, only to withdraw the legislation after it received no support that year. Moments before joining Scott for the bill signing, he reflected on the long and often lonely fight to enact gun control in Vermont, and what lies ahead. We also hear from callers with their views on the new laws. (April 11, 2018 broadcast)
Five Vermont CEOs recently wrote an open letter to Vermont Gov. Phil Scott urging him to support studies for clean water and decarbonization. “We, as leaders of companies that employ more than 800 Vermonters and account for over $1 billion in sales each year, are concerned by your refusal to seek new information and analysis to address threats facing our state,” wrote CEOs Joey Bergstein of Seventh Generation, Jostein Solheim of Ben & Jerry’s, Jen Kimmich of The Alchemist, Bram Kleppner of Danforth Pewter and Mark Curran of Black River Produce. “Two critical studies which will address threats to Vermont’s economy and environment – one to identify funding to improve water quality, and one to study the economic costs and benefits of decarbonization – have received broad bipartisan support in the General Assembly. Yet you’ve declared that neither study should be funded,” the letter stated. “Hope is not a strategy.” Shortly after meeting with the CEOs, Scott issued a letter to the Legislature restating his opposition to the studies. We talk with CEO Bram Klappner about what is at stake and why businesses are speaking out. (April 11, 2018 broadcast)
In the wake of a school shooting in Parkland, Florida that killed 17 people, students from around Vermont have streamed out of their schools and into the Vermont State House to demand new gun control laws. They are part of a national grassroots student movement for gun safety saying #NeverAgain. The response has been remarkable: Gov. Phil Scott has reversed his previous opposition to gun control and now backs universal background checks, confiscation of weapons from those deemed an “extreme risk,” and raising the minimum age to 21 for someone to purchase a gun. Nationally, major retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart will no longer sell guns to anyone under 21, and serious discussion about gun control is now on the table. Students have led this movement and intend to keep up the pressure with protests, walkouts, and appearances in the State House. We speak to three student activists who traveled to the Vermont State House to demand action and say #NeverAgain. (February 28, 2018 broadcast)
Meagan Filkowski, senior, Harwood Union High School, Moretown, Vt.
Gabe Groveman, 8th grader, Twinfield Union High School, Marshfield, Vt.
Hannah Pandya, senior, St. Johnsbury Academy, St. Johnsbury, Vt.
Vermont Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, the lone third-party lieutenant governor in the country, often finds himself at odds with Republican Gov. Phil Scott. Zuckerman argues that Scott is not keeping his promise to protect the most vulnerable while cutting budgets. Zuckerman also discusses his support for a $15 minimum wage — despite acknowledging that it will be difficult for him to afford with his own employees on the organic farm that he operates with his wife. Zuckerman discusses why he serves and how Vermont must lead on having a just economy. (February 14, 2018 broadcast)
Gov. Phil Scott says he is committed to the goal of having Vermont meet 90 percent of its energy needs with renewable power by 2050. But Vermont is moving in the opposite direction: Renewable Energy Vermont says that in 2017, there was a 50 percent drop in new net metered solar projects. Are new state policies killing renewable energy? And how is Pres. Trump’s new tariff on solar panels affecting the renewable sector? (February 7, 2018 broadcast)
Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director, Renewable Energy Vermont
Dan Kinney, co-founder and member-owner, Catamount Solar
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott promised not to raise taxes, but he is now presiding over the largest property tax increase in memory. What happened? Gov. Scott says that schools spend too much. But Rep. Dave Sharpe, chair of the Vermont House Education Committee and a former teacher, dismisses this charge and says the tax hike was brought on by Scott’s policies. Sharpe also discusses new plans for how to fund education, and expresses skepticism about the governor’s proposal to provide free college to members of the Vermont National Guard — and no one else. (February 7, 2018 broadcast)
Rep. Dave Sharpe, chair, Vt House Committee on Education
Vermont’s economy is growing slowly, but income inequality has deepened. That’s the conclusion of the State of Working Vermont 2017 report issued by Public Assets Institute. The report shows that 1 in 9 Vermonters — including 16,000 children — live in poverty. Paul Cillo, founder and president of Public Assets Institute, discusses these issues and explains how Vermont faces record property tax hikes in 2018, a crisis resulting from Gov. Phil Scott’s actions last year. (January 10, 2018 broadcast)
Paul Cillo, founder and president, Public Assets Institute
Sen. Patrick Leahy has represented Vermont in the U.S. Senate since 1974 . He is the longest serving senator in the U.S. Senate. Philip Baruth’s new biography, Senator Leahy: A Life in Scenes, chronicles how Leahy, a Catholic and a Democrat, was never expected to win his 1974 election. Leahy was Vermont’s first Democratic senator and won several subsequent elections by razor-thin majorities. Baruth is a professor of English at UVM and a Vermont state senator. He served as Vt. Senate majority leader from 2012 to 2016. Baruth discusses Leahy’s legacy, elections and oppositional roles under Pres. Bush and Reagan. Baruth also talks about Vermont politics and his assessment of Gov. Phil Scott’s first six months. (August 2, 2017 broadcast)
Philip Baruth, author, professor, Vermont state senator
This spring, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the state budget after the legislature rebuffed his last minute demand for the state to to strip local school boards of the right to collectively bargaining health care benefits with teachers. Scott also vetoed the Legislature’s marijuana legalization bill. The standoff over these issues forced the Legislature to stay in session two weeks longer than anticipated and required a one-day veto session last week. The result? Scott signed a budget almost identical to the budget he vetoed. The budget includes penalties for school districts that may result in property tax hikes. No deal was struck to legalize marijuana. Advocates discuss the politics of the veto session. (June 28, 2017 broadcast)
Dave Silberman, Middlebury lawyer and pro bono drug policy reform advocate
Darren Allen, communications director, Vermont NEA
Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe discusses Gov. Phil Scott’s veto of Vermont’s first-in-the-nation legislative marijuana legalization and the governor’s attack on teachers’ unions. “Perhaps we were too optimistic that there would actually be compromise,” he says. “I can imagine what might follow next is some type of proposal related to state employees, right to work laws which have gained currency in other states. …We will do everything that we can to stop that.” (May 24, 2017 broadcast)
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott’s 2016 attempt to weaken the collective bargaining rights of teachers has a familiar ring. In 2010, Republican governors won elections in Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan, in each case taking over from Democratic governors. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder surprised many by immediately attacking teachers’ unions. Another Vermont Conversation discussed Gov. Walker’s battle with unions. Today, we talk with leaders of teachers’ unions in Ohio and Michigan for the national dimension of this issue. (May 24, 2017 broadcast)
Michael Charney, former vice president, Cleveland Teacher’s Union
Amanda Miller, president, Kalamazoo Education Association
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean discusses President Trump’s failure to repeal Obamacare, the Clinton-Sanders schism in the Democratic Party, what it will take for Democrats to win again, Gov. Phil Scott’s first 100 days, and why he believes that today’s Republicans can’t govern. (March 29, 2017 broadcast)
Vermont voters overwhelmingly rejected Gov. Phil Scott’s call to slash education spending, as 91 percent of school budgets were approved on Town Meeting Day. We discuss the politics of school budgets in Vermont, the impact of education cutbacks, the controversy around independent schools, and future of school district mergers. (March 8, 2017 broadcast)
Gov. Phil Scott has proposed a budget that key Vt. legislators charge is out of balance, raises property taxes, is unconstitutional, and impossible to implement. Is Gov. Scott’s first budget irreparably broken? Paul Cillo, president of Public Assets Institute and a former House majority leader, discusses the politics and dollars of the new budget, and what lies behind the new politics of resentment, nationally and locally. (February 8, 2017 broadcast)
The Vermont Business Roundtable, along with VBSR and others, released a report, Vermont’s Early Care and Learning Dividend, which details the return on investment that Vt stands to gain by increasing public investments in high-quality early care and learning programs. The report found that investing in a high-quality, affordable early care and learning system would yield net benefits to Vermont’s economy of $22 million a year. These benefits would continue to accrue over the working lifetime of the children receiving that care, totaling $1.3 billion over the next 60 years. This equates to a return of $3.08 for every dollar invested. Gov. Phil Scott has expressed support for investing in child are, but has proposed funding it by taking money from K-12 education, which the Legislature has nixed. Has the governor punted on child care? What’s the future for early childhood education in Vermont? (February 8, 2017 broadcast)
Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has proposed a radical change in how education is funded and governed. In his first budget address on Jan. 24, 2017, Scott proposed mandating level-funded budgets for all schools, pushing back school budget voting nearly three months, and funding early and higher ed by cutting $50 million currently allocated to pre K-12 education. Two education advocates debate the proposal and its impact on local control of education in Vermont.