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Despite Pledge Of Openness, Shumlin Withholds Numerous Single Payer Documents

Angela Evancie
VPR File Photo
Gov. Peter Shumlin, left, said he would release "any documents you wish to look at" in a Dec. 17 press conference. Weeks later, he's withholding scores of documents about his single payer financing plan.

Last month, after announcing that he’d decided to shelve single-payer health care, Peter Shumlin said he’d provide unfettered access to any government records showing how he arrived at that choice. But the governor has now decided to withhold from public view scores of single payer documents authored by members of his own cabinet.

Since his first gubernatorial campaign in 2010, Shumlin has expressed an unwavering commitment to single-payer health care. So it came as a shock when on Dec. 17, in a press conference inside the Statehouse, the Democratic governor announced that  “in my judgment, now is not the right time to ask our Legislature to take the step of passing a financial plan for Green Mountain Health Care.”

Shumlin said unanticipated fiscal “headwinds” had conspired to drive up the cost of a publicly financed system. And the payroll and income tax rates that would be needed to fund that system, Shumlin said, were well beyond the capacity of businesses and individuals.

The sudden political reversal prompted a number of questions. Why exactly wouldn’t single-payer work? When did the governor come to the conclusion that his proposal wouldn’t fly? And did he have any reason to believe the plan was dead prior to the November election?

Toward the end of the press conference, Kyle Midura, a reporter for WCAX, asked Shumlin: Would he waive the executive privilege to internal government documents, so that the public, in Midura’s words, “can see what you knew when?”

Here was Shumlin’s response:

"There is nothing to hide on what we knew when, and so we'd be happy to show you any documents you wish to look at." - Gov. Peter Shumlin, Dec. 17, 2014

“There is nothing to hide on what we knew when, and so we’d be happy to show you any documents you wish to look at.”

In response to a records request filed by Vermont Public Radio, however, Shumlin has invoked executive privilege to withhold hundreds of pages of documents related to single-payer. The withheld documents include approximately 100 pages of emails involving the governor and his senior advisors. Those emails, according to the governor’s lawyer, Sarah London, are from senior government advisors providing “substantive policy advice” to Peter Shumlin.

The emails, London said, came from Chief of Staff Liz Miller, Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding, Health Reform Chief Lawrence Miller, now Secretary of Civil and Military Affairs Susan Allen, spokesman Scott Coriell, Health Care Reform Director Robin Lunge, and Anya Rader Wallack, a longtime Shumlin advisor on health care issues.

Shumlin is also invoking executive privilege to withhold weekly reports from members of the cabinet to the governor and his staff. Each report runs 50 to 70 pages long; the subject of those reports was not limited to single-payer, but did include information from his top health care advisors, including the people overseeing the development of the single-payer financing plan.

Shumlin has invoked executive privilege to withhold hundreds of pages of documents related to single-payer.

Shumlin says he never intended for him comments on Dec. 17 to mean that he’d release all internal communications related to single-payer.

“Now no governor ever divulges inter-staff conversations, but what we did divulge was all the data that led us to the conclusions that we came to,” Shumlin said.

Shumlin said he assumed Midura’s question referred only to documents that had been the subject of a long-running court case in which a legislator – Arlington Rep. Cynthia Browning – had sought access to worksheets, economic modeling, and other records related to the development of the single-payer proposal.

“Well as you know we had a fairly well-publicized court case … where we were asked to divulge all the data, studies and information about every detail that led us to the disappointing conclusions that we came to about public financing,” Shumlin said. “I assumed that his question was simply, are you going to continue to withhold that data? Or are you going to share it?”

Shumlin earlier this month authorized the release of more than 1,000 pages of documents. Those records chronicle the refinement of the single-payer plan over the past year, as well as alternative single-payer proposals the governor had considered.

The documents largely corroborate Shumlin’s version of the single-payer timeline.   

“Now you can disagree with the conclusion, but you can clearly, if you go through those over 1,000 pages of documents, see when we knew what, why, when, and why we come to the conclusion that we came to,” Shumlin said.

The administration did release nearly 100 pages of emails and other documents in response to VPR’s most recent request. The records show that top administration officials were still preparing for a single-payer financing recommendation just days before the governor called off the effort.

In a Dec. 2 email, Associated Press reporter Lisa Rathke asks Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell for an interview with the governor, in which she says she wants to ask the governor if he’s still “moving forward with the (single-payer) plan.”

Rathke says she also wants to ask Shumlin if “his commitment” to single-payer has “changed since the election.”

Coriell forwards the email to Shumlin, suggesting that the interview request “seems like a good opportunity to say you’re still in.”

Shumlin then responds to Coriell by saying he’ll call Rathke.

In a Dec. 3 email outlining talking points for a press conference later that week, Coriell’s lists the unveiling of financing proposal – likely on Dec. 29 or Dec. 30 – as among the main points for Shumlin to hit.

The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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