Democratic State Representative Cynthia Browning, who has a Phd. in economics from the University of Michigan, blasted the administration of Governor Peter Shumlin, a Democrat, for its lack of transparency and reliance on an expansive definition of executive privilege in hiding the details of its financing plans for Vermont’s proposed single-payer health care system from the public.
The Shumlin administration’s push for a single-payer system, Browning says, is driven by political opportunism, and the state’s $280,000 contract with controversial MIT economics professor Jonathan Gruber is part of that politicization.
“The concern,” Browning told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview on Monday, “is that the Shumlin administration, which wants to sell its single-payer plan, has hired an economist who supports a single-player plan. Surprise, that economist is likely to provide them with a report that supports their argument. We won’t see all of what Gruber did to provide the information the Shumlin administration will use to advance its political agenda–and we may never see any results that were adverse to it.”
“In essence,” Browning said, “the Gruber contract is likely to turn out to be an exercise in economic propaganda, not an objective analysis of the financial impact of the Shumlin administration’s single-payer plan.”
“This is why I have been so eager to get ahold of the financing plans so that I could try to analyze them as a skeptical economist who works for Vermonters, not the [Shumlin] administration,” Browning added.
Browning, a former professor of economics at Bates, Smith, and Williams, has been asking the Shumlin administration to share those details with her since March, but they have resisted her request at every opportunity.
“As an economist,” Browning told Breitbart News, “I am very concerned that this new program [Governor Shumlin’s single-payer health care system] might not be reliably and sustainably financed, which would be a disaster for Vermonters as both patients and taxpayers.”
“[W]hatever we do has to be based on economic realities, not political opportunism,” Browning added.
“The Administration has asserted executive privilege over the reports, draft scenarios, and other plans as they stood in March,” Browning told Breitbart News. “They have asserted executive privilege over materials that have been shared with people not on the Governor’s staff, including several members of the legislature, which is a separate branch of government.”
The Shumlin administration’s claims of executive privilege are a huge overreach, Browning says.
“To my mind this assertion extends the dark shadow of executive privilege too far. The doctrine of executive privilege is intended to benefit the citizens of the state by allowing government officials to have frank discussions and consider alternatives in developing effective policies. It is not intended to protect officials from embarrassment and inconvenience. It is not intended to allow officials to evade their legal responsibilities, even if their political supporters are willing to allow them to do so,” Browning said.
When the Shumlin administration denied her initial requests to obtain details about its single-payer financing plan, Browning filed a lawsuit asking Vermont’s judicial system to force the Governor to provide that information. That lawsuit, filed in May, has yet to receive a ruling in Vermont’s Superior Court.
“All the briefs and motions for my lawsuit (docket #272-5-14) were filed by 9/4/14,” Browning told Breitbart News. “The judge has not yet ruled on it, despite the fact that the statute clearly states that such cases should ‘take precedence’ and be handled ‘at the earliest practicable date and expedited in every way.’ My attorney filed a request for decision 11/21/14.”
“If a ruling had come down favorable to my complaint a month or so ago, I would have immediately filed a public records request for the alternative financing plans that were provided to Jonathan Gruber for use in his regression analysis. This would have been useful in the general discussion of this issue by Vermonters,” Browning said.
In responding to Browning’s lawsuit, the Shumlin administration set forth an expanded notion of executive privilege. That notion, never seen before in the state of Vermont, made its way at the last minute into the state’s contract with Gruber. The executive privilege language was apparently slipped into the contract by Assistant Attorney General Michael O. Duane when he approved it on July 15, 2014.
A source familiar with Vermont’s contracting procedures told Breitbart News that the Attorney General’s office approval of the Jonathan Gruber contract was deficient because it failed to review the document “as to form,” which is required by Vermont law. If proven, this could call into question the entire validity of the contract.
Specifically, our source says the Attorney General’s office “failed to ensure that expectations of the parties and payment plans are clear and enforceable,” because of the contract’s omission of details required by the 2008 State of Vermont contracting standards under “payment provisions.” The contract also had a dearth of information required under “Description of the Work.”
Breitbart News requested comment from Duane, Chief Assistant Attorney General William Griffin, and Attorney General William Sorrell, but none have responded to our inquiries.
There is also concern about the Attorney General’s office’s last-minute inclusion of language that asserted the same expansive notion of executive privilege set forth in the arguments presented by the Shumlin administration in its legal briefs opposing Browning’s lawsuit. The additional executive privilege language in the Gruber contract, the source told Breitbart News, was likely added to give the Shumlin administration an excuse to hide the details of Gruber’s work from the public.
That concern appeared to be proven true on Sunday, when the state of Vermont finally released 2,400 pages of emails between Gruber and Vermont bureaucrats. Those documents were redacted substantially based on the Shumlin administration’s novel and judicially untested claims of executive privilege.
The Shumlin administration’s pattern of ignoring Vermont’s laws concerning open government and the release of public records is also evident in its failure to respond to State Auditor Douglas Hoffer’s request for billing details on the Gruber contract.
“Vermonters particularly deserved to know about these plans before the election, so they could question candidates about them,” Browning noted.
“However, at this point,” Browning said, “with the Administration’s announcement that they will reveal some sort of financing plan by 12/31, even a favorable ruling is likely irrelevant. I consider that the delay in adjudicating this complaint has been a disservice to Vermonters and possibly contrary to the intent of the statute.”
“It is easy to claim to be a believer of transparency and accountability in government, as Governor Shumlin has done. It is hard to live up to these principles, and in my opinion, the Governor has failed that test. I will work to ensure that future Governors may be required to do better,” Browning concluded.