Vermont Legislature Adjourns Despite Budget Veto Threat
The Democratically-controlled Vermont Legislature adjourned late Saturday despite state budget and property tax bill veto threats from the Republican governor.
The Vermont Legislature intended to adjourn on Friday but representatives were at the Statehouse Saturday to complete the budget and other bills before concluding business for the biennium. The House and Senate adjourned late in the evening.
But lawmakers will have to return to Montpelier before June 30th because Governor Phil Scott promised during a speech on Monday to veto the budget. The Republican said he will not accept any budget that raises taxes and fees.
Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman, a Progressive, released a statement Saturday criticizing the governor for what he called a void in leadership. “I want government to function well. And it is very frustrating when the governor again proposed last minute major policy that really disrupts the process and doesn’t really amount to the goals that he sets forth.”
As he did last year, Governor Scott presented an education funding package to the legislature in the waning days of the session. Zuckerman says the scale of changes the governor is attempting take more time and effort than the governor is willing to commit. “He’s a wonderful person. I very much enjoy his company. But he is trying to match political platitudes that he’s put out to the public with policy that’s really hard to accomplish. It’s not the kind of thing you resolve in a week or two. And the Legislature has a set timeline. The Governor knows that. He’s been a part of it for over ten years. And he’s the leader of the state. It’s his responsibility to put forth that type of agenda in specific detail much earlier in the session.”
Vermont Senate President Pro-Tem Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe says the governor had long planned to veto the budget. “He said he would veto the bills before they were even written. We find ourselves in a totally unprecedented situation where budgets, tax bills and policy bills that are being voted on with massive bipartisan support the only odd party out here appears to be the governor. So we throw our hands up and say what is, what is the problem here? And the problem seems to be that this governor instead of being engaged, interacting with the Legislature from day one, issues veto threats on day one, sits out the process and then waits until the end to score whatever political points he perceives are to be gained here.”
Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis finds the governor’s veto plan is as much political as it is substantive on fiscal matters. “Everyone’s running for re-election this year. The Governor hasn’t officially declared his candidacy but he’s made it plain that he would like to serve another term. He’s had some criticism from fellow Republicans over things like the firearms legislation he signed earlier this year. So I think one of the things that he wants to do is get back into good graces of the Republican leaning voters in Vermont by holding a firm line on matters relating to fiscal conservatism. So the governor’s actions can be explained as much by him trying to position himself for the next election as they can the substance of the issues.”
The legislature adjourned without scheduling a veto session so the governor must call a special session. Davis says the budget and tax bills must be passed by June 30th, before the beginning of the state’s next fiscal year. “My guess is that the legislative leadership and the governor will do some negotiation over the next few weeks before the full House and Senate comes back in hopes that the special session can be as short as possible.”
Senator Ashe says the special session has not yet been scheduled.