Vermont Governor Phil Scott presented his $5.9 million budget plan to a joint session of the Vermont Legislature Tuesday afternoon. But statehouse leaders say the governor has merely outlined concepts without clear details or guidance.
Since he was first elected in 2016, Republican Phil Scott has vowed not to raise taxes or fees and he reiterated that promise during his budget address. “I present you a balanced budget that makes strategic investments to grow the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable. And for the second consecutive year it does not raise taxes or fees.”
The Senate and House leaders gathered with the heads of fiscal committees shortly after Governor Scott’s speech to offer their assessment of the plan.
House Speaker Democrat Mitzi Johnson said they don’t know much more about the budget than what they heard in the speech. “We heard I think a lot of general principles and general ideas. So the administration of course is welcome to come into our committees and start laying out some of the specifics behind some of those proposals. And in the meantime we are already hard at work at you know looking at the budget and some of the priorities and what Vermonters need.”
Senate Pro Tem Democrat/Progressive Tim Ashe said many of the successes and new initiatives the governor touched on are actually long-existing programs. “This budget presentation largely is a carry forward of the vision that has been in budgets that we have passed in… (Speaker Mitzi Johnson overlaps: “For years.”) …recent years. And even many of the new initiatives are actually continuations of policies that some of the legislators in this room have been working on. So that’s why there are a number areas we look forward to working with the governor. But we didn’t hear much talk about what’s going to happen if these federal cuts maintain. We didn’t hear much about how the administration is going to work with the Trump administration to undo a lot of the potential damage that will be wrought as a result of this so-called tax bill. So there’s a lot of room to work together and I think an appreciation on our side that the budget largely reflects legislative priorities from the past.”
The lieutenant governor is elected separately from the governor in Vermont. Progressive/Democrat David Zuckerman says the lack of detail is typical of a budget speech, but feels the governor’s fiscal proposal is based on successes of the past. “You know I think the Governor is in a very fortunate position in that with the expanding economy, with the framework that was put in place by the prior administration and the legislature over many years, we’ve now got a situation where some of the human services expenses have been declining which gives him the flexibility to use those resources for actually some very good things. But to take credit for not raising new revenues when revenues are sort of falling into his lap I think is a little bit of politics without giving credit where credit was due. Ultimately I think investing in our future is important. I don’t think doing that through cutting our services for our kids is a very good way to do it.”
Pro-tem Ashe agrees that it’s not unusual to have few details in a governor’s budget presentation. “What we’ve been presented with, at least what it appears from the speech, is last year’s budget with some new initiatives around the edges. And that’s not unusual. And so on a whole range of areas we’re going to work very well with the administration. The forensics bed for instance. We don’t have all the details. We’ll work together because that’s been a priority I think for anyone working in mental health. On the workforce front we set in motion last year a work group to come up with some good strategies which I think in part were referenced in today’s speech. I think that the discussion on the education front is a different challenge because there is no proposal on the table right now from the administration. One of the complaints last year in the legislature was you couldn’t seem to find anyone in the administration to engage with on some of these issues. So I think it is a better starting point.”
Legislative leaders declined to predict which of the governor’s initiatives would likely be successful or fail during the session.