The advocates who have been pushing for paid family leave, free health care for young adults and other progressive initiatives had a clear choice in the race for governor: Democrat Sue Minter. Their candidate lost, however, advocates are now recalibrating a legislative strategy that will require them to win buy-in from Republican Governor-elect Phil Scott.
Scott was pretty clear about two things on the campaign trail. He won’t raise new revenues, and additional government mandates on Vermont businesses will be off the table under his administration.
That’s something of a problem for the people pushing for publicly-financed health insurance for Vermonters age 26 and younger. It’s also a high hurdle for advocates behind the push for paid family leave, which would require mandated payroll deductions from both employees and the businesses they work for.
Lindsay DesLauriers, state director of Main Street Alliance of Vermont, a business group pushing for mandated paid family leave and publicly-financed health care for young adults, is undaunted.
“Governor-elect Phil Scott has been laser-focused on economic development in Vermont throughout his campaign, and these two proposals are both great economic development opportunities for Vermont,” DesLauriers says.
Minter made paid family leave one of the centerpieces of her gubernatorial bid, and she signaled openness to providing universal health coverage to children and young adults, no matter their income level. That plan is known as Dr. Dynasaur 2.0, and is named after the child health insurance program it aims to expand.
“Phil Scott, he’s pro-business, he’s pro-family, and that’s exactly what these proposals are,” DesLauriers says.
DesLauriers says what’s good for workers will be good for business. Sure, the plans will require raising new revenues, or involuntary deductions from businesses and the people they employ. But DesLauriers says the programs will contain health care costs for businesses, and improve employee retention – things she says will improve the bottom line for Vermont companies.
Darren Allen is communications director for the Vermont-NEA, a group pushing hard for both paid family leave and Dr. Dynasaur 2.0. The Vermont teachers union endorsed Minter, and the national NEA poured $75,000 into a super PAC supporting her candidacy.
“It came down to our board’s belief that Sue Minter was more directly aligned with the interests of our members,” Allen says.
Allen, though, says the union thinks it has a potential partner in Scott. Scott’s gubernatorial agenda might have included a pledge to hold the line on new taxes.
“But at its heart it’s an economic prosperity agenda, it’s an economic development agenda,” Scott says.
And Allen thinks advocates can make the case to Scott that paid family leave and publicly-financed health care for young adults are worth bending on some of his campaign pledges.
“I think that when governors or presidents lay down markers, once they actually get in office, they find that those markers may not be as easily attainable as they think,” Allen says.
Both DesLauriers and Allen say they’re looking to collaborate with the incoming governor.
“What won’t work is beating him over the head with it and trying to claim that he’s obstructing anything. I don’t think that’ll work, and I don’t think that’ll be our approach,” Allen says.
Waterbury Rep. Tom Stevens, a Democrat, says the return of divided government in Montpelier definitely alters the legislative calculus for programs like paid family leave and Dr. Dynasaur 2.0. But he says the avenues for compromise are open.
“It has the opportunity to be drawn up in a way that we may find support from the new governor on this,” Steven says. “I mean, he hasn’t ruled it out completely.”
Stevens says advocates and lawmakers will have much better sense of where prospects stand when Scott begins announcing appointments to his cabinet.
“And until we see who is in the administration and who we’re going to be working with on these issues in the administration," Stevens says. "It’s too soon to say they’re both dead in the water."
Scott, for his part, says he’s open to conversations with the forces behind paid family leave and Dr. Dynasaur 2.0.
Many Democratic and Progressive lawmakers will also be pushing for an increase in the minimum wage next year, something Scott also opposes.