Nobody likes to give up comfortable old habits that make us feel secure and content or that are predictable and familiar. Even when the data show that those habits are bad for us (think smoking), or unsustainable (think Defined Benefit plans) we still find it hard to give them up. The time comes, though, when the smoker develops cancer or the treasury is empty, and that’s the moment of conversion. Real change happens only in crisis. So it is with the state’s response to the Great Recession – the crisis has finally hit and change, though difficult, is under way.
There is much anxiousness in and outside of Montpelier about the implications of Challenges for Change because the structure and landscape of state government itself is changing before everyone’s eyes. Previously familiar programs, benefits, budgets, eligibility criteria and client services are being restructured to meet the realities of a post-recessionary economy. While some may criticize the process for not being as ‘bottom-up’ or inclusive as is our typical Vermont-y way, the fact of the matter is that we don’t have the luxury of that time.
Credit must be given to the Legislature and its leadership for its discipline in responding to the Administration’s outcomes challenges, for making extremely difficult budget decisions without the hope of new revenues to cushion the cuts and, for working collaboratively for the benefit of Vermonters. It is a scenario that employers have been playing out for two years now. And while it’s getting better, it ain’t over yet.