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Second Vermont Budget Bill Passed Despite Veto Threat

Vermont Statehouse 2018
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont Statehouse 2018

The Democratically-controlled Vermont House passed a revised 2019 budget bill on Tuesday but Republican Governor Phil Scott may veto the compromise measure if the Senate also approves the measure.
The House voted 83 to 40 in favor of a budget bill touted by Democratic leaders as a compromise that will avert a government shutdown on July 1. Vermont Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe says that chamber should take up the budget measure on Thursday.  “Generally the bill does a few things. As far as I understand it passes the budget which more or less is exactly like the one we had a unanimous vote on in the Senate. It would adopt a flat residential property tax rate, which is something the Governor has wanted to do, so in some way it’s a movement towards, a continued movement towards compromise with the Governor.  And it makes some important income tax changes so that people aren’t overtaxed as a result of the federal tax changes and in doing so it returns $30 million to taxpayers. So we think that this is a good bill because it will prevent government from even having a specter of a shutdown. But we will do our last due diligence before taking any action.”

A statement from the governor’s office notes that Governor Scott will not sign any bill that increases taxes.  It says the current plan “…will result in a $23 million increase to statewide property tax rates….”    Ashe says the governor is wrong.   “The bill does not raise any taxes and the governor’s team knows that that’s not true but they’re saying it. It is absolutely untrue that the bill includes a tax rate increase. It’s not in dispute. So the Governor can put out one press release, one hundred press releases, it’s still false.”

Middlebury College Associate Professor of Political Science Bert Johnson says the quibbling depends on perspective.  “The difference in this bill as I understand it has to do with residential property taxes versus non-residential property taxes so we’re going down to real narrow details here on what we’re parsing. But I think that’s the distinction.”

Johnson believes the budget stalemate is based more on Governor Scott’s no tax pledge.  “Phil Scott is placing a high premium on holding the line on his no tax increase pledge.  And I think he has decided that the clearer he can make that line the better it is for him. He doesn’t want to muddy it at all by saying I’ll accept some things and not other things.  One of the key issues here is the Republicans in the Legislature and what they do and how closely they’re going to adhere to the Scott Administration’s position. And that remains to be seen.”

The legislature had adjourned its regular session on May 12th after passing a $5.8 billion budget that was subsequently vetoed by the Republican governor. The special session began on May 23rd.

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