Doug Hoffer

Doug Hoffer

VPP Officials Quoted in NYT Article on Healthcare

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Alissa Carberry, 24, a child care worker with Type 1 diabetes, said she had insurance with a $1,900 deductible and had to pay 40 percent of costs after that. CreditJacob Hannah for The New York Times

BURLINGTON, Vt. — Just a few years ago, lawmakers in this left-leaning state viewed President Obama’s Affordable Care Act as little more than a pit stop on the road to a far more ambitious goal: single-payer, universal health care for all residents.

Then things unraveled. The online insurance marketplace that Vermont built to enroll people in private coverage under the law had extensive technical failures. The problems soured public and legislative enthusiasm for sweeping health care changes just as Gov. Peter Shumlin needed to build support for his complex single-payer plan. Finally, Mr. Shumlin, a Democrat, shelved the plan in December, citing the high cost to taxpayers. He called the decision “the greatest disappointment of my political life.”

As the United States Supreme Court prepares to rule in a case that could gut a major element of the Affordable Care Act — federal subsidies for low- and middle-income people — Vermont should have little to worry about. Only states that use the federally run insurance marketplace stand to lose subsidies if the court rules against the Obama administration, and Vermont is among the 14 states that fully run their own.

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Gov. Peter Shumlin announced in December that he was shelving a plan to create the nation’s first single-payer health care system.CreditGlenn Russell/The Burlington Free Press, via Associated Press

But even though its residents’ subsidies appear safe for now, Vermont stands as a cautionary tale. Despite an eventual cost of up to $200 million in federal funds, its online marketplace, or exchange, is still not fully functional, while disgust with the system is running deep among residents and lawmakers alike.

Meanwhile, the hopes for a single-payer system, once tantalizingly close, may be lost for years. Under such a system, the government operates onehealth insurance plan for all residents, covering their medical costs instead of having private insurers do it.

“It’s just been a spectacular crash, really,” said State Representative Chris Pearson, a member of Vermont’s Progressive Party. “We’ve gone from this vision of being the first state to achieve universal health care, to limping along and struggling to comply with the Affordable Care Act.”

The bitterness stems partly from the fact that Vermont had some of the biggest elements of the Affordable Care Act in place long before it took effect. Health insurance companies here already could not refuse to cover people, or charge them more, if they had pre-existing medical conditions. The state also already had more generous Medicaid eligibility rules than most, and programs that helped lower-income people pay for private insurance, which made it less expensive for many than the new exchange plans.

To many Vermonters, the new federal law complicated a state system that had already provided good coverage and muddied the route to an even better model.

“This law, by preserving the private insurance system and treating health care as a commodity, made us do things that Vermont otherwise wouldn’t have done,” said James Haslam, the executive director of the Vermont Workers Center, a grass-roots group that has made universal, government-financed health care its central cause.

To strengthen support for such a system, the workers center is dispatching volunteers like Alissa Carberry, 24, to talk about their disappointment with the Affordable Care Act and why the state should not give up on its single-payer dream.

Continue reading the main story

The Health Care Supreme Court Case: Who Would Be Affected?

If the court rules against the Obama administration, millions of Americans could lose their health insurance subsidies.

 OPEN GRAPHIC

Ms. Carberry, a child care worker with Type 1 diabetes who earns $30,000 a year, said the insurance that her employer provided last year, from Vermont Health Connect, had a $1,900 deductible. Even after she met the deductible, she said, she still had to pay 40 percent of the cost of supplies like an insulin pump. She dropped the plan this year and switched to her partner’s insurance, which is less expensive but still onerous.

“Let’s continue to work for something better,” Ms. Carberry said.

Under the single-payer law that the Vermont Legislature passed in 2011, the state was to seek a waiver in 2017 to trade its insurance exchange for the government-run system. Most of its 625,000 residents would be eligible for a uniform package of benefits under that system, which would be financed with a mix of state and federal funds.

But Mr. Shumlin and his advisers concluded the plan would require “enormous” new taxes, including an 11.5 percent payroll tax on all Vermont businesses and a sliding-scale income tax of up to 9.5 percent. In all, he said when he announced that he was shelving it, the plan would require about $2.5 billion in additional revenue in its first year, in a state that raises only about $2.7 billion in taxes annually.

Many Vermont health care advocates say support for the governor’s plan was also seriously eroded by dysfunction in the state online insurance marketplace. Problems with that exchange had “hurt, there’s no doubt,” public confidence in the effort to achieve single-payer universal coverage, Mr. Haslam said.

Other state-based exchanges have experienced as much or more turmoil: Oregon and Nevada essentially shut down their marketplaces last year, requiring residents who want subsidized insurance to enroll instead through the federal marketplace, HealthCare.gov. Hawaii is also planning to switch to the federal exchange this fall, at least temporarily, after running out of money. Massachusetts was forced to rebuild its exchange last year after it failed to function, and has spent more than $250 million, mostly in federal funds, on it so far.

A number of state-based exchanges, after receiving a total of nearly $5 billion in federal establishment grants, are also encountering financial problems because they now must cover their own costs.

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Trinka Kerr, chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid, a Burlington-based group that fields hundreds of calls per month from people having trouble with the state’s insurances exchange.CreditJacob Hannah for The New York Times

But Vermont, with its initial view of the Affordable Care Act as a bridge to a single-payer system, is in a singularly unhappy position.

“There’s a backlash against all things health care reform because Vermont Health Connect has been such a bad experience,” said Trinka Kerr, the chief health care advocate at Vermont Legal Aid, which gets several hundred calls a month from people who have encountered problems with the exchange, including billing errors and even delayed access to care. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘I’ll just go without insurance,’ and we try to convince them that’s not a good plan. They don’t like the way this is working and want to go back to the old way.”

Rob Muessel, a self-employed security consultant from Shelburne, is one of those people. He said he spent hours on the phone with Vermont Health Connect representatives over the past year, trying to resolve problems. Most recently, when his daughter got a job with benefits in March, he called the marketplace to get her taken off his plan. Six weeks passed before he got a call back from an exchange employee, who had to spend more than two hours helping him redo his entire application for what should have been a simple fix.

“That just blew my mind,” said Mr. Muessel, 61. “I think it’s time to pull the plug, because it may just be an unending money pit.”

In a blistering report released in April, Douglas Hoffer, the state auditor, detailed a number of unresolved problems with Vermont Health Connect and said it would be “prudent” to develop a plan for “an alternative model for running an exchange.”

Mr. Shumlin had set a deadline of May 31 for Optum, the second vendor hired to fix a problem that has prevented thousands of Vermonters from easily changing basic information in their account, such as if they have a baby, get married or move. Workers have had to process such changes by hand, costing the state extra money and creating a backlog of 10,000 change requests. On Monday, Mr. Shumlin announced that Optum had fixed the problem, allowing such changes to be made in a matter of minutes, although customers will not be able to do so without assistance until later this year.

Optum has a second deadline, in October, to automate the process by which exchange plans are renewed from year to year. In an interview, Lawrence Miller, the state’s chief of health care reform, said the state was analyzing the costs of various alternatives, including switching to the federal marketplace, should the exchange still be broken in the fall.

Mr. Miller said he would prefer Vermont to be “tucked away in a fully state-operated marketplace until we see exactly how the Supreme Court rules” in the subsidies case. A great deal of uncertainty remains about whether people would be able to keep their subsidies if the state started relying on the federal marketplace.

Mr. Miller added that Vermont intends to remain a leader in health care reform, particularly with a plan to replace the traditional system of paying health care providers for each procedure with one that pays them based on outcomes, including under Medicaid and Medicare as well as private coverage.

Pointing out that Vermont’s was not the only state-based exchange to still be struggling, he added, “I talk to my colleagues elsewhere and, good God, this just wasn’t set up for success.”

Progressives Announce Slate of 21 Candidates

June 1, 2014; Anne Galloway; VTDigger

The Vermont Progressive Party will have four statewide candidates, three incumbent senators and 14 House candidates running for office in the 2014 election.

The Progressive party, one of four state major parties, announced its slate on Saturday — well ahead of the Vermont Democratic Party and the Vermont GOP, and the June 12 filing deadline for candidates. While the Democrats are fielding a preponderance of incumbents, the Republicans have announced some House and Senate candidates, but have yet to declare who will be running for statewide office, including the gubernatorial race. The Vermont Liberty Union Party, which gained major party status in the 2012 election, is also fielding a slate of statewide candidates and a candidate for the House of Representatives, who may be the sole contender for Rep. Peter Welch’s seat.

Progressive Party officials touted the “real growth” in the number of candidates since 2012.

Read the whole article >>

Vt. lawmakers told whistle-blowers fear payback

February 3, 2014; Dave Gram; Times Argus

MONTPELIER — It started with what seemed like a simple request: State Auditor of Accounts Doug Hoffer wanted an exemption from Vermont’s public records law so he could protect the identities of state employees who report waste, fraud or abuse in their agencies.

But as testimony unfolded recently before the House Government Operations Committee, the subject mushroomed into a broader discussion about the concern many state employees have about coming forward to report problems in government.

Former Rep. Steve Howard, now the chief lobbyist for the Vermont State Employees’ Association, said the union surveyed members last year and found that fear of retaliation for speaking out in state workplaces is widespread.

Read the whole article >>

Minutes - November 2013 State Convention

November 9, 2013; 1:00 pm, 
Capital City Grange, Berlin


In attendance: 125 people

Welcome: Martha Abbott
Martha started the meeting at 1:15pm and thanked the VT State Employees Association for sponsoring the lunch, Elizabeth Skarie for ice cream, Tina Scanlon for organizing the raffle, the current CoCo members and Robert Millar, staff.

A special video message: Prof. Bill McKibben
Convention attendees watched a video message from Prof. Bill McKibben on the climate change crisis and the activism of 350.org. Vermont was a birthplace of the climate change movement and that movement is growing. However, he is dismayed on how little has been done in VT on climate change. In VT Legislature, home heating efficiency never went anywhere and environmental efforts were limited to shutting down wind debate. He called for a more expansive discussion and work to be more self-reliant closer to home. Best thing to do is to sever ties between fossil fuel industries and VT organizations that invest in these industries to force them to change their practices. The cities of Seattle and Portland, Sterling College and Green Mountain College, and the United Church of Christ have all divested from fossil fuels. VT should be the first state to do this. Anthony Pollina said there should be no negative investment performance impact from divesting from fossil fuel. Chevron gave largest corporate donation since Citizen United to make sure election kept climate change deniers elected.

Divesting from the Fossil Fuel Industry: 350.org & Student Activists Panel
Student panel discussed their activism at UVM and Middlebury College, along with Maeve McBride, coordinator of 350Vermont, affiliated with 350.org. Students included Sam Ghazey, UVM, Michelle Galecki, UVM, Jack Hanson, UVM, Caroline DeCunzo, UVM, Teddy Smyth, Middlebury and Greta Neubauer, Middlebury.

UVM Campaign - Nov 2012 students presented to the Board of Trustees on the idea of divestment from fossil fuels. Continued with on campus direct actions and research on process for divestment over winter. Asked all representative groups on campus to pass resolutions to support divestment. Based campaign off off 1990s apartheid campaign. During that campaign, UVM organizers created a liaison group – Social Responsibility Advisory Council – that required research on investments as a result of that campaign. Students are attempting to use this council as part of their divestment strategy. Students helped to launch responsible investors fund – an escrow fund created so donors can donate to UVM but only released once UVM divests from fossil fuels and if they don’t divest, UVM will never get those dollars. Students reaching out to major donors to donate this way to leverage divestment. Board of trustees had divestment subcommittee and working on getting all representative groups on campus to pass resolutions. Still no answer from Board. Students noted that environmental movement needs more connectivity so doing best to build out the network.

Middlebury campaign - Used fake press releases to increase awareness in beginning. 3.6% ($36 Million) of Middlebury endowment in fossil fuels. Administration had panel in spring 2013 and had financial experts say that divesting was not possible, but up against Bill McKibben on same panel who disputed that. Presented to board of trustees in spring 2013. Middlebury announced that they would not divest in fall 2013, but will put more money in endowment and think about values related to endowment investments. Trying to engage alumni to get them organized and energized.  Students noted climate change issue impacts poor, people of color, etc and made case for narrative to be more inclusive, not just for white people as reflected on campus and students are pushing for that.

350Vermont – Working on state divestment for public pensions. Progressives have been really helpful already. Chris Pearson and Dave Zuckerman introduced divestment legislation for teacher, state employees, and some municipal workers’ pensions to divest. Anthony Pollina pushed in Senate Govt Ops to get testimony and bill to move last session. VT Pension Investment Committee (chaired by Beth Pearce) got wind of legislation, hired consultant saying that we should NOT divest, claiming it was not financially viable and voted unanimously against this effort. Govt Ops know we need to divest, but don’t know how to alleviate risks of divestment. Trying to get legislation to pass this session – three rallies planned. Also working on VPIC side and working with Beth Pearce to get committee to see things differently. Asked Progs in attendance for their help this session. 20 cities committed to divesting and only 8 colleges so far – cities have democratic process and colleges facing corporate bureaucratic structures.

Q&A and comments from floor - Glennie Sewell, Montpelier, urged students to be mindful of language about stopping climate change because can’t stop it, but can lessen impact. Ken Eardley, Underhill, urged debate not to get stuck in definition of what energy sources are renewable or not, focus on divestment. Peggy Sapphire, Craftsbury, noted her town is home of Sterling College and they divested. She shared copies of Progressive platform with students on environment, etc. and encouraged growing solidarity between Party and students. Ben Eastwood, Montpelier, asked what kind of outreach has been done on and off campus to build out network? A: Middlebury working on VT Gas pipeline too and realizing that students leave after 4 years and there are community members who stay behind and are impacted. Trying to get students in frontline communities impacted by pipelines. UVM reaching out to other activists groups and hope to go beyond fossil fuels, ex: divest from Monsanto. Liz Blum, Norwich, asked do you consider nuclear power to be a fossil fuel? A: Middlebury students said nuclear is not part of campaign; they are focused on top 200 fossil fuel companies with reserves in the ground. But they are happy VT Yankee shut down. Nuclear is based on fossil fuels for start, so it is indirectly a root cause of fossil fuel cycle.

CoCo Updates: Coordinating Committee
Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Chair of the Elections Committee, provided an update. Committee formed in early summer and started up door knocking trainings this fall (Winooski in October and Burlington in September). Looking to replicate the training in more places and use it for candidates in 2014, as well as volunteers and campaign managers. Training also helps us build lists, build skills, seek out and find more volunteers. If interested in hosting a training or joining committee, contact Emma.

Martha noted several CoCo members helped to coordinate party reorganization work on town and county level. Took a lot of effort, but we organized more towns than last cycle.

Selene Colburn, Chair of the Communications Committee, gave an update. Committee is newly formed and looking first to build up support around corporate donation petition campaign with communications strategy and using social media. Committee will also look to use virtual meetings and project management tools to do work virtually, looking for volunteers. Richard announced his public access TV – Progressive Thought – would love to have more folks on the show, please contact him. See Selene to join the Communications Committee.

Joe Sherman, Montgomery, made an announcement. He is an author and interested in writing on climate change and how to talk with kids about that issue. Contact him if you have thoughts.

Corporate Donations Petition Update: Robert Millar
Robert Millar, staff, and Selene Colburn, CoCo member, updated Convention on Corporate Donations Petition Campaign. Progressive Party doesn’t accept any corporate money. Other two major parties (Republicans and Democrats) take a lot of money from corporations (ex: Mansanto, Fairpoint, ATT, Green Mountain Power). In response to Citizens United and increase of corporate money in elections, Party decided to launch this petition. In VT, candidates can still take direct corporate donations, one of few states. Petition puts statewide candidates and parties on spot to call for getting corporations out of campaigns. Petition directed to Ds and Rs and their statewide candidates to agree to remove corporations out of elections. Looking for organizational cosponsors. Party will start 2014 with a public signature drive to align with the 2014 election cycle. Asked people to sign online.

Peggy Sapphire, Craftsbury, asked what happens for a P/D endorsed candidate and if they take corporate donations? Martha said Party would need to discuss that. Another attendee asked does signing the petition require the signer to not vote for those candidates who take corporate donations? Martha said no, just calling on major parties and candidates to say no to corporate money. Rep. Cindy Weed said she ran as a P/D and she said Dems never gave her money.

Chair Remarks
Martha reflected on 12 years of leadership and commended group of party members who have helped build this party. She thanked several people for their mentorship and support. She offered thoughts on future of party – focus on economic issues that face Vermonters and will galvanize average Vermonters, focus on what we can agree on and try not to get sidetracked. Republicans are shrinking and Democrats are beginning to monopolize and candidates will seek progressive endorsement to distinguish themselves. Has confidence in new leaders within party, but seasoned leaders need to stay engaged in party. And made a request for donations – we will have more impact when we have more resources.  Other Party members then thanked Martha with a round of speeches and announced $6500 had been raised leading up to Convention in honor of Martha’s leadership.    

Break/Raffle Drawing

Town Meeting Resolutions: Martha Abbott
Martha reported on a town meeting resolution for party members to use in March. Health care resolution came out of state committee meeting discussion in May and CoCo presented language today based on financing mechanism that state legislature will put forward this session. This resolution would help connect the dots by having towns ask how single-payer would impact their town budgets. Easy way to get people to talk about this issue. This resolution is not a formal Prog campaign, just an option/tool to use. Anyone who is interested should contact party leadership and we can connect those interested.

Notes from the Auditor’s Office: State Auditor Doug Hoffer
Auditor Doug Hoffer reported on recent audits from his office on: 1) state employees workers’ compensation program ($8M a year, didn’t do claims audit, looked at whether state was doing its work to prevent workers’ comp issues). Cuts in state government make reducing workers’ comp claims hard; many departments did not implement safety fixes because they don’t have resources. 2) Agency of Transportation, looked at Bennington Bypass project and it was done within budget and on time. Another paving project was very late and over budget. If contractor is late, contract includes a penalty on contractor, but state only charges cost of overrun when late, not other delay costs such as overtime and this always happens in every AOT contract. 3) Bidding process for fuel prices – 5% more than cost included in contract, but if more than that when project actually happens, state pays extra cost. This cost us $14M over last 10 years because of this process. Pushing AOT to get real cost figures vs. artificial cost formulas that have caused this cost. 4) Corrections health care costs and looking at overseeing contractors’ cost. No one can estimate actual cost so they make it uncapped and this went $4M over. Working to create more oversight of contractors and maybe bring back state employees to do that work vs. private contractor. 5) State employee cell phones - $200-300K overrun, state management doesn’t oversee this. Each department oversees this and should have consistent policies. Administration said they would take all Doug’s recommendations.

Forthcoming reviews/audits of: 1) Mental health contractors - we spend $300M on these services each year and need to look at whether we are monitoring the services and they are meeting performance requirements. 2) State liquor stores – private stores, but state administers store. What does sale of alcohol have to do with state’s purpose? Doug will look at other models that might work better for state. 3) State energy plan for state infrastructure – will look to reduce energy expenditure on state buildings and vehicles, etc. Because state is very decentralized, suspect there are potential cost savings. In the future reviews of: 1) Tax department – collections are flat, receivables keep rising, how aggressive have they been on people underreporting 2) Special education cost - $300M a year, concerns about expenditure and how funds are being used.

Doug noted that his office gets a lot of whistleblowers and ideas on what to investigate. Auditor can’t keep whistleblowers names confidential in VT, no law protects them. State employees have protection on paper, VSEA doing survey on this issue and most say they will never report because they would be retaliated against by boss. Looking for VT Legislature to deal with whistleblower issue.

Announcement by Shawn Jarecki, Pittsfield, Rutland County Chair, VT rep for Lawyers Guild event – legal observer training and civil disobedience training at Chandler Music Hall in Randolph coming up.

Point of order by Ed Stanak, Barre, regarding the platform. Bylaws Article 3 Sec 5 says primary role of Convention is to adopt and revise the platform – last time we did that was Nov 2011 based on website. Revision of platform is not on agenda. He suggests a platform committee be formed, but there is no annual meeting again until Nov 2014. This is a problem because he feels the platform should be tweaked ahead of legislative session to give Progressive legislators more guidance.

Martha responded, process of having dozens of people wordsmith at Convention has not work so have set up a committee in past. Can form another committee of state committee members and present modified platform at a future state committee meeting (not annual meeting). Also encouraged people to talk to legislators now and not wait for platform to change.

Ed questioned this process based on process outlined in by-laws. Peggy Sapphire, Craftsbury, noted that when she chaired platform committee in past, they realized we need to renew platform every two years under state law. Peggy willing to help with this process to update/review platform.

Barry Kade, Montgomery, suggested we could suspend this meeting and take up again at a future meeting so Convention could continue. Peggy Sapphire seconded. Tabled item until end of meeting.

Legislative Priorities for 2014: Progressive Legislators
Sen. Anthony Pollina, Rep. Chris Pearson, Sen. Dave Zuckerman, Rep. Sandy Haas, Rep. Cindy Weed, Rep. Susan Hatch-Davis all gave updates based on their committees and issues they are putting forward in January. Sen. Zuckerman working on GMO issue again and looking at private school vs. public school mandates and what inhibits teachers from being effective in classroom. Rep. Haas working on reduction of mental health issues and barriers for Vermonters in corrections system. Sen. Pollina will focus on issue of divestment from fossil fuels, “pay it forward” college funding concept, increasing state funding for education, and state bank issue. Rep. Weed will focus on labor bills, including paid sick days. Rep. Hatch-Davis will focus on paid sick days, early education organizing, changing the minimum wage to a livable wage. Rep. Pearson will focus on health care transition issue and how to get us to single-payer, also working on an economic bill of rights bill and continuing work on myriad climate change bills.

Watch for updates from Party to help weigh in to help with bills.

Party Platform
Martha suggested a motion be made to suspend the Convention to reconvene at the next state committee meeting to address platform issue raised earlier in the meeting. Ben Eastwood, Montpelier, quoted the state statue and said that major parties must adopt a platform on or before 4th Tuesday of November (even year). He moved to table discussion until the Chair calls a meeting to address platform. There was some confusion on when platform last addressed. Chris Pearson, Burlington: If people want to change platform or by-laws, submit it to leadership and it starts process. Barry Kade, Montgomery, withdrew motion from earlier in the meeting because state statue requires action in even year. Tony Smith, Wolcott, asked how the state statue works with what Chris Pearson says. Martha, state law says 2014 is the rule, not odd years. Peggy Sapphire, Craftsbury, said party members can provide revisions anytime, not just in even years, and the Coco can create a committee to review the platform. No vote was taken.

Motion by Tom Kingston, Colchester, Second by Ben Eastwood, Montpelier to adjourn state convention. Unanimous approval at 4:12pm.

STATE COMMITTEE ACTIONS: Robert Millar 
Robert Millar called State Committee to order at 4:12pm.

Election of Officers & Coordinating Committee
 - Candidates:
Chair: Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Winooski, nominated by Chris Pearson, Burlington
Vice Chair: Selene Colburn, Burlington, nominated by David Zuckerman, Hinesburg
Secretary: Chris Brimmer, South Ryegate, nominated by Nancy Potak, Greensboro
Treasurer: Martha Abbott, Underhill, nominated by David Zuckerman, Hinesburg
Vice Treasurer: Katherine Sims, Lowell, nominated by Marjorie Kramer, Lowell

At Large: 6 seats
Caryn Connolly, South Royalton, nominated by Liz Blum, Norwich
Mari Cordes, Lincoln, nominated by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Winooski
Corey Decker, Fletcher, nominated by Phil Bronz, Bakersfield
Ben Eastwood, Montpelier, nominated by Jeremy Hansen, Berlin
Richard Kemp, Burlington, nominated by Kyle Silliman-Smith, Burlington
Lee Madden, Brattleboro, nominated by Tim Kipp, Brattleboro
Adam Norton, Burlington, nominated by Chris Pearson, Burlington
Nancy Potak, Greensboro, nominated by Marjorie Kramer, Lowell
Becky Raymond, Middlesex, nominated by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Winooski

Glennie Sewell and Peggy Sapphire counted ballots. Election results: All officers ran unopposed. 6 At Large Seats elected: Caryn Connolly, Mari Cordes, Corey Decker, Lee Madden, Adam Norton, and Nancy Potak.

Discussion: CoCo Subcommittees


We did not address this item.

Submitted by Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, Secretary 11/13/13

Press Release: Progressive Party Concludes 2013 Reorganization With A Bang

On Saturday, Progressives gathered at the Capital City Grange in Berlin for the final stage of the 2013 reorganization process, their State Convention.  Over 125 people attended the event and 73 ballots were cast by State Committee Delegates in the election of a new Coordinating Committee at the Convention.  To put those numbers in perspective, only 58 ballots were cast in the hotly contested races for leadership at a State Republican Party meeting earlier the same day.

Emma Mulvaney-Stanak of Winooski was elected State Party Chair; Selene Colburn of Burlington was elected State Party Vice Chair; Chris Brimmer of South Ryegate was elected State Party Secretary; Martha Abbott of Underhill was elected State Party Treasurer; and Katherine Sims of Lowell was elected State Party Asst. Treasurer.  The following At-Large Coordinating Committee members were also elected: Caryn Connolly of South Royalton, Mari Cordes of Lincoln, Corey Decker of Fletcher, Lee Madden of Brattleboro, Adam Norton of Burlington, and Nancy Potak of Greensboro.

In addition to the elections, those in attendance viewed a video message from Professor Bill McKibben, participated in a panel discussion with college students from UVM and Middlebury who are leading fossil fuel divestment movements at their schools, and heard from many elected Progressives about their priorities for 2014, including State Auditor Doug Hoffer (D/P).

Newly elected Progressive Party Chair Emma Mulvaney-Stanak had this to say:

“I'm excited the new Party leadership reflects some of the new and young leaders who have emerged within the Party in recent years. I am honored the State Committee chose me to be their new Chair.  I can’t thank Martha Abbott enough for her years of service as Chair and look forward to continuing to work with her in her new role as Treasurer, and with all the new members of the Party’s Coordinating Committee.

“As a lifelong Vermonter, I have seen the Progressive Party grow from a Burlington-focused party into a truly statewide, major party, which has changed the way we do politics in Vermont.  As Chair, I intend to continue that growth by focusing on building the Party's capacity to run strong candidates for office and to push the core issues of our platform. I will also focus on recruiting young people and women to run for office and to get engaged in the Party.”

Press Release: Oversight of State cell phones is deficient, resulting in under-utilization & opportunities for savings

MONTPELIER, VT – A new report from the State Auditor’s Office finds problems with the State’s purchasing and oversight of cell-phone services. State Auditor Doug Hoffer said, “The State’s current system is decentralized and does not have consistent policies and procedures to ensure that resources are optimized. As a result, we found potential savings of almost $300,000.”

The report notes that the Department of Buildings and General Services contracts with cell phone providers on behalf of all State agencies. However, decisions related to cell phone purchases and management of their use are handled by individual State entities, meaning there is no central responsibility to track utilization and total spending. The objectives of the audit were to determine 1) whether State-issued cell phones are underutilized and 2) if State agencies and departments could reduce their costs for State-issued cell phones.

In 2012, charges for 3,080 state-issued cell phones totaled $1,646,995. After reviewing phone records, the audit team found that “9% of state-issued cell phones were not used at all and 20% had limited use.”[1]

These little used phones cost the State about $272,000.

Many State entities manage voice minutes via cell phone pools to avoid overage charges for exceeding monthly voice minute allowances.  The pools enable sharing of voice minutes among all cell phones within a pool. The State had 115 cell phone pools in 2012, and these pools purchased a total of approximately 11 million voice minutes. The audit team found that over 5.1 million minutes went unused (47% of the total).
In addition, of the 2,899 cell phones with bundled voice and data service plans, 42% used no data or less than 25,000 KB of data per month. This suggests opportunities for additional savings by switching to lower cost monthly service plans that more closely reflect actual usage (i.e., voice only). Hoffer stated that “The extent of under-utilization of the services purchased represents lax oversight and a significant waste of taxpayer money.”

The Department of Information and Innovation has a statewide policy for security of mobile devices and the Department of Human Resources has a statewide policy addressing personal use of state-owned wireless communication devices.  However, the State lacks a statewide policy that addresses other aspects of cell phone management, such as determination of criteria for business need, periodic review of usage levels, and consideration of continued business need.

Responsibility for most of the decision making relative to cell phones resides at State agencies and departments.  Based on the responses of 42 out of 45 surveyed State entities, less than half have policies or procedures for managing cell phones; only 19% had written criteria to guide decisions regarding who should be assigned a cell phone; and about 10% had written policies addressing monitoring cell phone costs.  Without consistent cell phone management practices and continuous monitoring of cell phone use, the State risks paying for cell phones and services that are not needed.

We made various recommendations to the Secretary of the Agency of Administration and the commissioners of the Department of Information and Innovation and the Department of Buildings and General Services.  Among others, these recommendations included: 1) developing statewide guidelines addressing aspects of cell phone management and 2) requiring State agencies and departments to document their policies and procedures related to cell phone management.

We are pleased to report that the Secretary of Administration agrees with our recommendations. Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding added, “We have been looking forward to the Auditor’s report and plan to use it as a springboard to establish a comprehensive statewide framework governing the purchase, acceptable usage, and management of not only cellular devices…but also statewide land use as well.”[2]

See the full report here.

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[1] Limited use was defined as averaging less than 100 voice minutes and less than 25,000 kilobytes of data per month. This equates to five minutes of phone calls, two emails with attachments and less than two websites viewed per business day. For context, the most prevalent service plan purchased by the State is for 400 voice minutes with unlimited data usage.

[2]November 1, 2013 e-mail from Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding.

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