Following two previous attempts, Vermont lawmakers passed a third budget on Monday and sent it to Governor Phil Scott, who had vetoed the first two plans saying they violated his pledge not to raise taxes or fees. Faced with a July 1st deadline, the governor announced Monday night that he would allow the latest version of the 2019 budget to become law without his signature. The Republican discussed his decision Thursday during his first press conference since the move.
Following a special session that extended the Legislature’s work nearly six weeks, the Vermont House and Senate adjourned the biennium Friday morning.
Lieutenant Governor David Zuckerman: “The Senate will now be adjourned sine die pursuant to the provisions of JRS1.”
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson: “This session is now adjourned.”
The session ended after Governor Scott announced he would allow the third version of the state budget to become law without his signature. Scott is not particularly pleased with the final budget but says the outcome did satisfy about 75 percent of the property tax rate relief he sought. “I find myself with mixed emotions this week. On the one hand I’m satisfied with a final state budget that does not rely on new or higher taxes or fees in the general fund for the second straight year in a row. On the other hand I remain disappointed by the insistence by on raising property tax rates for non-residential payers which includes renters, business owners and camp owners. In a year we have a surplus that would more than cover that prevented increase.”
State officials faced a July 1st deadline, the start of the fiscal year. If a budget was not in place, the state wouldn’t have been able to spend money leading to a state government shutdown. Scott claims there was a deal last Friday with the House but the Speaker backed away from it. “It became clear that leadership was willing to push us to the brink of a shutdown in order to raise taxes. As Governor I could not put the health and safety of Vermonters or the stability of our economy at risk. While I do not support raising any tax rates in a year we have a $55 million surplus and growing I felt this debate had gone as far as it could responsibly go leaving me with no choice but to allow it to become law without my signature.”
In a joint statement issued after the governor announced he would let the budget become law, House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson and Senate Pro Tem Tim Ashe said: “It’s a relief that the Governor is finally willing to accept the significant compromise the Legislature worked hard to put forward.”
Ashe, a Democrat/Progressive, says the budget that now takes effect is largely unchanged from the first one that passed with tri-partisan support at the end of the regular session in May. “This is really the first governor in modern Vermont history who has politicized the education tax rates. When people talk about no new taxes they’ve historically meant taxes that would be raised by people in Montpelier like the sales tax or the income tax or the rooms and meals taxes. We do not want a Montpelier takeover of local school decision making. The administration for four and a half months took a completely disengaged approach then at the last second they drop in with these very dramatic and controversial proposals. The only odd party out of this equation all year has been the governor and his team. The administration should accept that this is a mid-point compromise.”
The 2019 state budget bill became law five days after the governor announced he would not sign it.