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Monday, June 25, 2018

Scott Blinks in Vermont Budget Battle, Will Allow Third Bill to Become Law

Posted By on Mon, Jun 25, 2018 at 5:07 PM

Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), left, speaking with Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) - TAYLOR DOBBS
  • Taylor Dobbs
  • Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden), left, speaking with Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden)
Updated on June 26, 2018.

Gov. Phil Scott announced late Monday night that he will allow the legislature's latest budget plan to become law, a decision that will prevent a July 1 government shutdown.

"I’m left with no choice but to allow [the budget] to become law without my signature," Scott said in a statement Monday evening.

The budget is largely the same as the one Scott vetoed June 14. The House passed the proposal Friday, then revoted on it Monday — and approved it again — after allegations of a procedural error. The votes came after a compromise deal that would have ended the impasse fell apart Friday.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

Walters: Vermont House Approves Resolution Opposing Family Separation

Posted By on Fri, Jun 22, 2018 at 6:30 PM

  • Vermont Legislature
  • Rep. Gary Viens
The state House approved a resolution Friday condemning the Trump administration's recently reversed policy of separating members of immigrant families who cross the border seeking asylum.

The resolution also expressed "a profound hope that the family separation policy will not be reinstated," and that federal authorities would reunite separated families "immediately."

The measure had 90 cosponsors. The final tally was 106 in favor and 17 against, with the dissenting votes all coming from Republicans. There was no floor debate before the vote, but some members rose to explain their votes afterward. The longest statement in opposition came from Rep. Gary Viens (R-Newport), a retired U.S. Border Patrol agent.

"Any time parents and children come to the United States illegally, they are processed," he said. "They have two choices: Family members can admit they crossed the border illegally and return home, or face detention and prosecution."

Viens continued, "It's terrible what's going on, but it was the parents' decision that led to the separation, not the government's."

The 16 other no votes came from Reps. Lynn Batchelor (R-Derby Line), Steve Beyor (R-Highgate Springs), Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester), Thomas Burditt (R-West Rutland), Bob Frenier (R-Chelsea), Doug Gage (R-Rutland City), Marianna Gamache (R-Swanton), Rodney Graham (R-Williamstown), Bob Helm (R-Fair Haven), Mark Higley (R-Lowell), Marcia Martel (R-Waterford), Constance Quimby (R-Concord), Carl Rosenquist (R-St. Albans), Brian Savage (R-Swanton), Brian Smith (R-Derby) and Warren Van Wyck (R-Ferrisburgh). 

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Walters: Scott, Legislature Still Talking Past Each Other

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2018 at 5:07 PM

Administration Secretary Susanne Young addresses three Senate committees - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Administration Secretary Susanne Young addresses three Senate committees
Three Vermont Senate committees met Wednesday morning to begin work on the legislature's third version of a budget bill, the first two having been vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. By day's end, the three panels had approved a proposal that moves slightly in Scott's direction — but only slightly.

"I would not predict a veto," Administration Secretary Susanne Young said after the hearing. "But this new proposal is not substantially different from the last one."

The most recent budget, H.13, would have held residential property tax rates level but would have not stopped a 5.5-cent statutory increase in nonresidential rates from going forward. The committees' new plan reduces the nonresidential rate by one penny.

The Appropriations, Finance and Education committees convened jointly due to severe time constraints. If there's no budget on July 1, state government would be forced to shut down. And so far, the Scott administration has refused to disclose contingency plans for that eventuality.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Walters: Vermont House Fails to Override Scott's Budget Veto

Posted By on Tue, Jun 19, 2018 at 3:46 PM

House Minority Leader Don Turner speaking to reporters after the veto override vote - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • House Minority Leader Don Turner speaking to reporters after the veto override vote
The Vermont House failed to override Gov. Phil Scott's latest budget veto Tuesday afternoon in a vote that broke almost entirely along partisan lines. A two-thirds majority was needed to override; the final tally was 90 yes, 51 no.

Every Republican present voted to sustain their governor's veto, including those who had previously voted "yes" on the budget bill. Only three Republicans were absent.

There was no debate before the roll call. It appeared that all sides knew how the vote would turn out and saw no reason to delay the inevitable.

Legislative leaders crafted the budget bill, H.13, to include the vast majority of a new spending plan while setting aside the few areas of disagreement with Scott. It would have lifted the pressure of a pending government shutdown, which would happen on July 1 in the absence of a budget. But the governor vetoed the bill because, he argued, it would have done nothing to prevent a statutory increase in nonresidential property taxes. (Democratic leaders have said they would have addressed the automatic increase in separate legislation.)

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Friday, June 15, 2018

Scott Vetoes Vermont Budget as July 1 Shutdown Looms

Posted By on Fri, Jun 15, 2018 at 2:00 AM

Gov. Phil Scott in April - JOSH KUCKENS
  • Josh Kuckens
  • Gov. Phil Scott in April
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the latest iteration of the Vermont state budget on Thursday, sending legislators back to the drawing board as a July 1 government shutdown looms.

The governor's veto came as no surprise. He had warned legislators that he would oppose any tax increase. The bill, H.13, would have resulted in an automatic 5.5 cent property tax increase on nonresidential landowners. Earlier Thursday, both Scott and legislative leaders appeared to dig in at separate press conferences about the spending bill stalemate, which has lasted more than a month.

Scott had until midnight Thursday to sign or veto the legislation. He announced his decision around 8 p.m.

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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Walters: Governor and Legislature Still at Odds Over Taxes

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2018 at 3:59 PM

Sen. Jane Kitchel, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe and Sen. Ann Cummings - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Jane Kitchel, Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe and Sen. Ann Cummings
In back-to-back press conferences Thursday, Gov. Phil Scott and leaders of the Vermont Senate made clear that a compromise budget agreement remains elusive. The two sides have little more than two weeks to strike a deal and avert a possible government shutdown on July 1.

No one knows for sure what a shutdown would mean because there's no precedent in Vermont history. "The [Vermont] constitution is clear," Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) said at a Statehouse press conference. "We cannot spend money we haven't appropriated."

The governor, speaking at a press conference at Elmore State Park, refused to discuss whether his administration has prepared contingency plans, even as state employees and recipients of state funds grow increasingly anxious. "I'm confident we'll come to an agreement," Scott said. When another reporter raised the contingency question, he said again, "I'm confident we'll come to an agreement."

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Walters: Vermont Senate Fast-Tracks Budget Bill

Posted By on Thu, Jun 7, 2018 at 6:03 PM

Sen. Randy Brock (center) explains his budget amendment to fellow senators Ginny Lyons and Mark MacDonald. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Sen. Randy Brock (center) explains his budget amendment to fellow senators Ginny Lyons and Mark MacDonald.
The state Senate on Thursday made quick work of passing H.13, a budget bill that encompasses the vast majority of the budget approved by the legislature in May, but excludes areas of disagreement with Gov. Phil Scott. He is likely to receive the bill on Saturday, which would give him until next Friday to sign or veto it. The governor has already promised a veto.

The bill would set homestead property tax rates at this year's level and allow nonresidential rates to rise by 5.5 cents. The latter portion has attracted the governor's opposition; he continues to oppose any increase in property tax rates. Majority Democrats argue that the bill does not actually include a tax increase; it merely allows current law to set the nonresidential tax rate. And if signed by the governor, it would avoid a potential government shutdown on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The process took only a single day thanks to a suspension of Senate rules, which was approved on a 21-4 vote. Senators Carolyn Branagan (R-Franklin), Randy Brock (R-Franklin), Brian Collamore (R-Rutland) and Dave Soucy (R-Rutland) were the dissenters, while two members of the Republican caucus were absent and one — Sen. Richard Westman (R-Lamoille) — voted with the Democratic majority.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Vermont House Approves Budget as Governor Digs In

Posted By on Tue, Jun 5, 2018 at 5:43 PM

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
The Vermont House gave final approval to a new budget Tuesday, and the Senate is expected to do the same later this week. But while it was pitched as a controversy-free proposal, the bill appears destined for yet another gubernatorial veto.

Gov. Phil Scott, who rejected the legislature’s first budget last month, opposes its second attempt because the proposal wouldn’t prevent an increase in the nonresidential property tax rate.

His objections didn’t stop the House from voting 83-40, along party lines, for the new budget. Before doing so, lawmakers rejected several amendments designed to meet the Republican governor’s demand that property tax rates stay level.

Rep. Scott Beck (R-St. Johnsbury) proposed keeping rates level by using about $33 million in one-time general fund money to pay for Act 46 school district merger incentives. That money would be paid back to the general fund in later years. Last week, the House voted down a similar proposal from Rep. Cynthia Browning (D-Arlington).

Democrats suggested the amendment would simply postpone a tax increase, which would occur when it came time to pay the money back. “We don’t like the idea of turning it into a loan. We think that’s bad policy,” said House Ways and Means chair Janet Ancel (D-Calais).

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Walters: Vermont House Advances Budget Bill

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2018 at 7:03 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • Mitzi Johnson
After a long Friday of meetings, floor debates and two consecutive fire alarms, the Vermont House advanced a budget bill that would exclude areas of disagreement with Gov. Phil Scott, who had vetoed the legislature's original budget over concerns about property taxes and school spending.

The vote was 86-44, and broke essentially along party lines. The bill must gain approval on a second vote, to be taken on Tuesday. It would then move to the Senate, most likely next Thursday.

And at the end of all this is a near-certain gubernatorial veto.

Scott has insisted on two key points: Using onetime money to prevent increases in either homestead or nonresidential property tax rates, and enacting a five-year plan to curtail school spending. The House bill would keep homestead rates at current levels, but allow an increase in nonresidential rates mandated by existing law.

In a memo to legislative leaders sent on Thursday, Administration Secretary Susanne Young expressed the governor's opposition to the bill because it would only keep homestead tax rates level. She wrote that under the bill as it stood, "meaningful and good faith conversations on preventing an increase for the non-residential payers cannot occur."

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Walters: House Democrats' Budget Workaround Hits Heavy Water

Posted By on Wed, May 30, 2018 at 6:31 PM

Rep. Kitty Toll (D-Danville) - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Rep. Kitty Toll (D-Danville)
The Vermont House failed on Wednesday to advance a budget bill designed to avoid a state government shutdown. The Republican minority blocked immediate action on the bill, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott signaled he would likely veto it.

The bill would essentially pass almost all of the budget Scott previously vetoed — except for the school funding provisions to which he objected. It passed the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday; action on the House floor Wednesday would have required a rules suspension, to which House Republicans did not agree.

Scott continued to insist on his school funding plan, including the use of $44 million in onetime money to keep property tax rates level and a package of measures designed to rein in school spending. Those include higher student-to-staff ratios, statewide bargaining of teacher health care benefits, reforms in special education funding and further consolidation in the public school system.

If there's no budget in place by July 1, the start of the new fiscal year, state government would be forced to shut down. Citing the ongoing standoff, House Democratic leaders put together a budget that omits the areas of disagreement and would lift the pressure of a July 1 deadline. "Vermonters are not well served by a shutdown, or by the possibility of a shutdown," said Rep. Janet Ancel (D-Calais), chair of the House Ways and Means Committee.

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