Vermont GOP governor reconfirms veto plans; Dems stand firm
MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Republican Gov. Phil Scott and Democratic leaders in the House and the Senate appeared on Wednesday to be headed toward a contentious special session after the governor reconfirmed his plan to veto the budget bill and the property tax bill.
Scott on Wednesday discussed his plan for the special session, which would begin May 23. He said he is hopeful that the two sides will be able to iron out an agreement, but he added that he plans to stand firm on his promise to avoid any increase in taxes or fees.
“If we put it all together and understand that I’m not going to sign anything with a tax or fee in it, then we can make progress,” Scott said.
But Democratic leaders said they do not plan to back down from their position.
“Your practice of vetoing the budget is bad governance,” Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe said in a letter addressed to the governor on Wednesday.
Ashe noted that all seven Republicans in the Senate and a large majority in the House voted in favor of the budget. He said the current budget bill would save the state $100 million over time.
If both sides cannot come to an agreement next week there is the possibility of multiple special sessions before the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
The battle over property taxes comes down to a disagreement over how the state should use one-time funds, a combination of increased tax revenue and a settlement with the tobacco industry. Scott would like to see this money used to pay down future property taxes, but Democrats would rather the money be used to fund future pension obligations.
The governor said his plan would help make Vermont a more affordable place to live, but Ashe said the governor’s plan amounts to “governing on a credit card.”
Scott also said he plans to veto two pieces of legislation important to the Democratic majority: a bill that would require employers to offer paid family leave and a bill that would gradually raise the state minimum wage from $10.50 an hour to $15 an hour.
The disagreement comes after a legislative session in which Scott partnered with Democrats on a number of issues the national Republican Party has been reluctant to touch, including marijuana legalization, gender-neutral restrooms and restrictions on the purchase of firearms. Scott, who said he plans to file his re-election paperwork next month, denied he is playing politics with the state budget.
But former Middlebury College professor Eric Davis said Scott’s speeches this year have hinted that Scott hopes to make a fiscal record a key aspect of his campaign after taking on issues that may anger some of his Republican base.
“He wants to run for re-election on the idea that property taxes went up as little as possible under his governorship,” Davis said.
Scott, at the Vermont Fuel Conference in Killington on Monday, said he was left with no choice but to issue the vetoes for the budget bill and the property tax bill. He said the bills passed by the Legislature would violate his promise to avoid new taxes. He had been hinting at the vetoes for months.