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Vermont House Passes First Quarter 2021 Budget

Vermont House Chamber
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Vermont House Chamber (file). Legislators are meeting virtually during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Vermont House deliberated and eventually passed a transitional budget for the first quarter of 2021.  But there was some confusion over a number of amendments that had been added to the bill.
The Vermont House this week deliberated H.961 which allocates first quarter fiscal year 2021 state appropriations, federal Coronavirus Relief funds and “other fiscal requirements.”  House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson clarified what members were reviewing as deliberations began.  “We’re not at second or third reading. We are in the middle of the Senate proposal of amendments. And you heard an amendment from the Appropriations Committee. Now the member from Arlington wishes to substitute the amendment from the member from Montpelier. So that’s where we are now.”

There was immediate confusion whether an amendment had been offered on the floor.  Cynthia Browning: “Madame Speaker I don’t believe I’ve presented my amendment on the floor of the House. I only presented it in the all caucus.”
Speaker Johnson:  “Does the clerk recall?”
House Clerk William MaGill: “The member from Arlington did present her amendment after the member from Montpelier had presented.”  
Speaker Johnson:  “So I believe the amendment has been offered. The debate is now open.”

Arlington Democrat Cynthia Browning explained why she offered a substitute amendment.  “The problem with the, what I will call the Hooper amendment or the Appropriations amendment that I seek to replace, is that it makes an allocation of limited resources when we don’t even know what our resources will be.”

Browning’s amendment was defeated.  Several other amendments were then offered. One of the most contentious would in 2021 change legislators’ pay formula to be based on salary increases paid to Vermont’s five constitutional officers. Northfield Republican Anne Donahue says it’s an inappropriate time to include such a proposal. “It’s about looking at the past five years and saying we got half as much as we would’ve if we had been  linked to the constitutional officers.  It’s about looking at members folks who can’t serve because there’s an inequity. And those are actually really good reasons to look at this and address it. I just strongly believe that it’s not necessary now, that’s in the midst of a pandemic, that’s in the midst of an economic crisis and it just doesn’t feel very good to be talking about pay increases in that context.”

Burlington Democrat Jill Krowinski countered the amendment does not guarantee a salary change.  “We are not getting a pay increase with this vote. What we are doing is setting up a process and a conversation. So this makes sense that we are setting up a process. This doesn’t give us a raise.”

When House lawmakers prepared to take their final vote to move the budget to the Senate there was more confusion among the members including Lyndon Republican Martha Feltus.  “Are we voting on the entire budget and then with these additional amendments that came later on?”
Speaker Johnson:  “Basically kind of yes but officially no. Representative from Starksboro.”
Democrat Caleb Elder:  “We just passed the bill for the budget and if this fails it doesn’t change that it just goes forward with only sections, the sections that we passed. Is that correct?”
Speaker Johnson:  “It goes forward with the underlying Senate proposal and the two sections we passed.”
Republican Eileen Dickinson:  “This is Representative Dickinson. So the motion is to pass the budget with the pay act, with the two amendments. A no means you get the budget and the pay act without the two amendments.”
Speaker Johnson:  “You are half right.”

House members approved the budget with amendments and returned the bill to the Senate for further consideration.