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Vermont Legislature
Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

New Committee Looks To Modernize Debate On State Government Reform

The newest blue-ribbon commission created by the Vermont Legislature, shown here in Jan. 2013, is charged with finding ways to "increase government efficiency and productivity."

Lawmakers love to come up with ideas, and then appoint special committees to study them. Rarely do the voluminous reports produced by those panels lead to any major changes.

But members of the newest blue-ribbon commission created by the Legislature say they’re hopeful this one might actually improve state government. 

About halfway through last year’s budget bill, lawmakers wedged in a provision that creates what’s known as the “Government Restructuring and Operations Review Commission.”

It’s the sort of yawn-inducing title that tends to curse these sorts of special study committees. And on Tuesday afternoon, surrounded by an audience of two, the three members of the panel met for the first time. 

The futility of efforts by past study committees isn’t lost on members of this newest commission. 

“I may be a little more cynical than you think,” says John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank. “You know, I’m very aware that these kinds of groups and commissions are out there making recommendations that may or may not go anywhere.”

The Senate's Committee on Committees, the house speaker and the governor each appointed one person to the commission. Sayles was the choice of the Committee on Committees, which is made up of Senate President John Campbell, Grand Isle Sen. Dick Mazza, and Lt. Gov. Phil Scott.

The commission's legislative charge is to come with ideas that "increase government efficiency and productivity."

Recommendations from past study groups, like the Blue Ribbon Tax Structure Commission, for example, have often fallen on deaf ears in the Legislature. But Sayles says he thinks this commission might help lawmakers reframe the decades-old debate over how to reform state government.

"The end goal is about having government reflect what is happening today, [in] the modern world ... A lot of things we're doing now, we've been doing for 20 years, and we may just be doing them because that's the way they've always been done." - John Sayles, CEO of the Vermont Foodbank

Paul Costello, head of the Vermont Council on Rural Development, is Gov. Peter Shumlin’s appointee to the commission. Costello says it is worth examining whether government has evolved alongside the society it was created to serve.  

“Any state needs to look at the legacy of work that’s been done, that is often perpetuated, and also the existing exigencies and challenges of our time, that require new services or changed services for the future,” Costello says.

Former Manchester Rep. Jeff Wilson is the third member of the commission.

The commission is already a bit behind on its charge. The Legislature called on it to submit specific recommendations for the 2016 legislative session by this Thursday.

The commission has decided Feb. 16 is a more realistic deadline. And Sayles and Costello say it isn’t likely that lawmakers would be able to act on the any of the commission’s ideas until 2017.

Correction 10:55 a.m. 10/14/15 This story has been changed to correct the name of the committee that appointed Sayles to the restructuring commission.

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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