MONTPELIER — The House and Senate formally adjourned the 2017 session late Thursday evening after finishing up a final budget expected to be vetoed by Republican Gov. Phil Scott.
Despite having extended the session by a week, legislators will return to the Statehouse on June 21 for a special veto session.
The ongoing budget conflict centers on Scott’s proposal to move the negotiation of teachers’ health care benefits from the school district level to the state level. The governor, Republicans and some Democrats argue that the expected annual savings of $26 million gained from switching to new insurance plans likely can’t be secured without having the state at the negotiations table. The Vermont-National Education Association strongly opposes a statewide contract.
House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, shortly before Thursday’s final session, said the governor has his mind made up.
“People are either going to vote for it or not vote for it, but it is going to be vetoed. And (education tax bill H.509) will be vetoed as well — I just got that out of the governor’s office.”
Later in the evening, Scott said on the House floor that he “regrettably cannot support the budget.”
What happens after a budget veto is uncertain.
Ethan Allen Institute President Rob Roper said he’s concerned about what happens if there’s no budget by July 1, the end of the fiscal year.
“Nobody seems to know … there are a whole lot of rumors,” he said.
Roper said there could be some kind of “continuing resolution” that would continue financing essential government services, but added it’s not clear what that would entail.
Turner noted during a caucus of Republicans that the veto session dates of June 21 and June 22 proposed by House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, seem a bit late relative to the fiscal year deadline.
On Wednesday, Darren Allen, communications director for the Vermont-NEA, attended a union rally in support of local collective bargaining for healthcare. He told True North Reports that Democratic lawmakers made a good faith effort to seek compromise with the governor but were rejected.
“What happened today is that the legislative leadership basically said enough — enough of the governor moving the goal post,” he said. “They said they had put numerous proposals out there that gave him what he said he wanted, which was property tax savings, and he rejected all of them.”
Allen accused the Scott administration of trying to undermine local bargaining under the guise of seeking taxpayer savings.
“One of the things that all of these proposals had in common is that they don’t destroy collective bargaining on the local level. So, it’s clear that the most important thing for the governor … is to destroy collective bargaining.”
Donald Tinney, Vermont representative for the national NEA board, told True North he thinks the anticipated $26 million in savings relies on too many assumptions. He said the expected 80/20 split for teachers’ premium costs is no guarantee, even with statewide negotiating.
“That would be imposing what [the Vermont School Boards Association] wants,” he said.
State Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D-Washington, who also attended the NEA rally, told True North he’s disappointed with the governor’s stance.
“The governor is being very inflexible. Those proposals would have saved the money,” he said.
State Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, said the governor’s proposal would help level the playing field at the negotiations table.
“(The school board representatives) are not trained negotiators,” she said. “They are volunteer people; they are not getting paid for this. They do an excellent job, and they are 100 percent behind this.”
In addition to the School Boards Association, the state’s Superintendents Association is also behind the governor.
On Thursday, Turner was adamant that everyone in the Republican caucus return for the veto vote.
“Every vote is going to count on this day,” he said.
Currently, Republicans have 52 members of the 150 in the house, just enough to sustain a veto.