Veto Threat Looms as Vermont's Legislature Adjourns

MONTPELIER, Vt. - The house and senate moved forward with its business, passing a property tax bill and the budget early Friday morning. Neither included a statewide teacher health care contract, a proposal the governor has insisted on, all signs now suggest a likely veto.

Less than 24 hours after his proposal was ignored by lawmakers, Governor Phil Scott was standing firm.

"I intend to veto H. 518 and H. 509 the property tax yield bill... Their plan didn't assume any savings that I could see, I mean there wasn't any secure way of achieving those savings,” said Scott.

For weeks the governor has been touting a plan to save $26 million for taxpayers through a statewide teacher health plan. According to the Scott administration, the state expects $75 million to be saved in 2018 when new health plans begin through the Vermont Education Health Initiative. The plans will offer lower premiums, but higher out of pocket costs. Scott’s proposal would send $49 million back to the teachers those higher fees. Scott’s hopes are that the remaining $26 million would be used to reduce property tax rates.

Democrats say his proposal came to the table far too late and that negotiations stalled.

"Teacher's health care is an idea that the governor proposed literally as legislators were packing up there bags to go home,” said Sen. Tim Ash, D- Senate President Pro Tempore.

The house and senate budget is slated to make significant investments in higher education and affordable housing. The property tax yield bill will lower rates by a penny and a half.

Ashe says it also would create an opportunity to explore a potential statewide teacher health plan in the future, with setting an expiration date of 2019 on all contracts.

"That gives us time over the next few months to think about whether or how to do a statewide health benefit and then as we would develop that statewide health benefit we can then transition all at the same time,” Ashe explained.

But the governor still intends on vetoing both. During a conference call with reporters Friday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson called the threat of a veto “Washington-style politics”.

"Threatening to veto a budget because he didn't get what he wanted on a different bill is stooping pretty low,” said Johnson.

Shortly after those comments were made, he governor refuted them at his own press conference.

Scott said, "I do not want to turn this into this political theater that we are seeing in DC right now, that's not Vermont, so I believe I can win on the merits of this proposal.”

Assuming the governor chooses to veto the budget, lawmakers will return for a veto session on June 21st and 22nd to try and hammer out a deal.

If there is no budget by July 1st, the start of Vermont's fiscal year, there could be shutdown of state government. Johnson said the legislature would likely pass several short-term resolutions to maintain operation and to avoid a shutdown while negotiations continued.

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