By Guy Page
Here’s a partial potpourri of this week’s Covid-19 related news.
Municipalities may require masks to be worn in public. While not wishing to impose a statewide requirement, Gov. Phil Scott said at his press conference today that he recognizes that municipalities face different public health situations, and may need the flexibility to require everyone to wear masks in public places. So he’s okay with town-by-town enforcement of mask mandates.
Gov. Scott wants school budget vote do-over. Key lawmakers don’t. Under a plan unveiled by administration officials yesterday, Vermont school budgets – even those already approved in March – would be voted on again to allow voters to trim spending approved before the pandemic struck.
Chairs of both House and Senate education committees oppose the idea. They say it would turn an already muddled funding scenario into chaos.
For Scott, it’s a way to save desperately needed money. Vermont faces a $170 billion education fund deficit, based in part of school budgets approved by voters unaware that just a week later the economy would begin to descend into an unprecedented freefall. The Legislature should consider spending reduction options before raising taxes, Gov. Scott said: “Vermonters were tapped out before the pandemic”…..“Let’s look at the spending side.”
As reported by VT Digger, House Education Chair Kate Webb (D-Shelburne) called the plan “chaotic” and Senate Education Chair Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) called it “the first genuinely dumb idea that the administration has put forward during the Covid emergency.” No related legislation has yet been proposed.
Covid-19 spreads three times slower than two weeks ago. Modeling shared at today’s press conference predicts 40 weeks will pass before the number of case-positive Vermonters doubles, administration official Mike Piecak reported at the press conference today. May 1 modeling showed a doubling in 12 weeks, the third best in the nation. The administration considers this encouraging news but still plans to gradually reopen the economy.
“Re-open Vermont” petition attracts almost 300 signatures (at last count). Guy and Colette Page of Berlin published an online petition urging Gov. Scott to safely accelerate the reopening the Vermont economy. Published Saturday May 9, the petition was shared a few times on their personal Facebook pages and sent to some email contacts. “We want Gov. Scott to understand the frustration and urgency that Vermonters of good will are feeling,” the Berlin couple said. The petition has not been shared on Vermont Daily until now because it was meant to be a private outreach, not a news event or editorial.
The petition reads in part: “You can trust your fellow Vermonters to act responsibly. We have learned much during this State of Emergency. Given full information and freedom of choice, Vermonters will act in the best interests of themselves, their families, and their communities.” The petition is still open and may be read and signed here.
Scott can extend State of Emergency as many times as necessary. How many times can Gov. Scott extend the State of Emergency? Asked by reporter Steve Merrill of NEKTV, the governor answered “I believe I could continue the State of Emergency until the emergency is over.” The SOE has been extended until June 15. This opinion was confirmed by the governor’s legal counsel moments later. The question of Scott’s SOE constitutionality has been raised by lawyer and GOP gubernatorial candidate John Klar in a campaign statement released yesterday.
Church reopenings to be announced “in the next couple weeks.” Asked by Vermont Daily, “would you consider allowing churches to meet at 25% of capacity, with safety guidelines, as you have with retail stores,” Scott answered that he expects to announce church reopening guidelines ”in the next couple of weeks….it’s on the table…. there would be strict guidelines, but it is on the table.”
If Vermont continues to show positive health statistics, hair salons and restaurants will be able to open by as soon as June 1, Gov. Scott also said.
Vermont state senator hopes for “divine intervention” to reduce $400 million-plus budget deficit. Congress act to reduce Vermont’s budget deficit? It would take a miracle, Sen. Jane Kitchell (D-Caledonia), chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, told a Senate caucus Wednesday May 13.
“We are confronted with a general fund revenue reduction of $266 million,” Kitchell said. Adding the shortfall in the education and transportation funds, the total deficit is $430 million.
She outlined three possible courses of action. “The first is the hope that we can have divine intervention and Congress will help the state, the second is we can raise revenues, and the third is that we can have very significant reductions in state government and state services or a combination of both.”
“It’s been a while since I’ve heard anyone refer to action in D.C. as divine, so thank you for that,” Sen. Chris Bray (D-Addison) commented. Kitchell responded, “Clarification, I didn’t say Congress was divine, I said we needed divine intervention,” eliciting a few chuckles.
Read more of Guy Page’s reports. Vermont Daily is sponsored by True North Media.