If there's one thing to know about Gov. Peter Shumlin's legislative chops, it's this: When you're playing checkers, he's playing chess. And he's probably just a few moves shy of taking your king.
Which makes it hard to imagine the governor didn't anticipate the tripartisan shit-storm kicked up by his proposal to fund child care subsidies for low-income Vermonters by cutting a popular tax credit used by other low-income Vermonters.
The debate is still young, of course. Shumlin only announced his plan last Thursday during his inaugural address and likely won't reveal many of its details until next week's budget address. Who knows? Maybe it'll catch fire once we know more about it.
That said, it's never too early to get all cynical and suspicious-like. Does Shummy have some ulterior motive in putting forward a plan that would surely rile up Montpelier's chattering class? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, we here at Off Message are happy to provide... (drum roll please)...
The Cynic's Guide to Shumlin Conspiracy Theories:
(Note: The following utterly unproven theories are listed in increasing order of likelihood)
1. He didn't anticipate the backlash. Unlikely. This ain't amateur hour, folks.
2. He likes the backlash. Every now and then, Shumlin feels the need to send the message that, as a self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, he's happy to throw his fellow lefties under the bus. Heck, provoking the Progs makes him look great in the eyes of Vermont's business community and middle-of-the-roaders.
3. He's playing every governor's favorite game: Distract the legislature. Advanced by Rep. Chris Pearson (P-Burlington), this theory posits that setting up a funding fight "is a distraction, because I think we're likely to see cuts to human services and other programs we think are vital. Maybe if we're fighting amongst ourselves, we'll be too distracted to notice the big cuts he announces next week."
4. He really likes the idea. Okay, this one isn't that cynical, but it's certainly possible! Perhaps Shumlin genuinely believes that the state match to the Earned Income Tax Credit has grown too expensive over the years and is ripe for reexamination. Maybe he really thinks the state can get a bigger bang for its $17 million by directing that money toward child care subsidies.
Agency of Human Services Secretary Doug Racine advances that argument: "The proposal would reduce one benefit and move the money into another benefit program — in this case, a child care program — which we feel is a higher priority given the limited dollars and will help families with young kids get quality child care and stay in the work force."
5. It's a ploy to get legislators to come up with their own funding source for child care subsidies. If legislators drop the burden on another group, Shumlin can blame them for the funding source and take credit for the program. Racine himself adds credence to this theory when he says, "If the legislature wants to examine other options, I say go for it."
Sen. Anthony Pollina (P/D-Washington) subscribes to this theory.
"On the one hand, he gets ahead on the issue. He's now the governor pushing for child care and early childhood education," Pollina says. "He positions himself as a leader and then he throws out something that forces the rest of us to come up with a reasonable funding mechanism."
Not satisfied by our conspiracy theories? Propose your own in the comments section.