Republicans have no votes to spare in bid to uphold Scott’s veto

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By , VTDigger.org

Don Turner
Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, speaks to House Republicans during a caucus at the Statehouse on Wednesday, May 30. Photo by Colin Meyn/VTDigger

House Republicans are missing at least two members heading into a Tuesday vote to override the governor’s budget veto, putting them on the brink of losing their ability to prevent a Democratic-led effort to negate the veto and pass the budget into law.

Minority Leader Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, said the GOP would have at most 51 members, the exact number needed to block the veto override if all 150 members are present. It was not clear Monday what Democrats were expecting for turnout

“It’s gonna be a challenge,” Turner said, adding that he believed all Republicans who did show up would vote to uphold the veto and support the governor.

“The caucus has held together all year and in this case I hope we can do it one more time, but I understand people have lives, having surgery and so on, so what are you going to do?” Turner said. “It’s a very important issue but it’s not life or death.”

Turner said Rep. Chuck Pearce, R-Richford, and Rep. Eileen Dickinson, R-St. Albans, would miss the vote, Dickinson because she is on vacation and Pearce because he had surgery on Monday. Another member was still recovering from surgery but planned to make it to Montpelier for the vote, he said.

“I don’t want to risk people’s health over [the vote], but it’s pretty important to me, it’s pretty important to the governor, and it’s important to Vermonters. They can’t afford any more property taxes,” Turner said.

“I’ve done everything I can to get everyone there, but I can only do so much,” he said.

Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, could not be reached Monday evening.

Republicans need more than a third of votes to block the override attempt, meaning that if Democrats are missing members of their own caucus, or Progressive and independents allies, Republicans could still succeed with less than 51 members present.

Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference in Woodstock earlier this month. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger

The governor handed down an unprecedented second budget veto of the legislative session last week, brushing aside concerns about a pending government shutdown if a spending package is not in place by July 1. His campaign called Democratic leaders “extremists” for allegedly stoking fears over a shutdown in order to pressure the governor.

Democrats refused to schedule a veto session after the first veto in May, meaning there was no override attempt. Republicans did vote as a united block to uphold the governor’s veto of a divisive toxic liability that some of them had previously supported.

Scott called lawmakers to return for a special session a month ago, hoping to reach a compromise on education funding that would keep taxes level. However, four weeks later he remains deadlocked with Democrats over the non-residential property tax rate.

The governor met in private with Johnson and Senate leader Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, on Friday, the first direct talks in weeks. Ashe and Johnson had previously pledged to only negotiate in a public setting. Ashe could not be reached Monday.

Rebecca Kelley, Scott’s communications director, confirmed the meeting. She said “it was cordial and gave the three of them an opportunity to touch base following the veto of H.13,” referring to the second budget proposal.

The administration has argued that with more than $55 million in unexpected revenue currently in play, there is no reason that Vermonters should see a tax increase this year.

Democrats argue that artificially buying down tax rates this year using one-time money will only exacerbate the state’s education funding problem next year, making it harder to return to organic rates and emboldening the governor in future efforts to cut school spending.

Both sides say capitulating on that point would mean giving up their only piece of leverage to keep the other side at the table for negotiations on other points of dispute, such as a statewide teacher health care plan and changes to the tax system.

Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, is among the Republicans who have supported both budget proposals. However, he said he intended to support the governor’s veto, in part because he was proud of the governor for signing controversial gun regulations earlier in the session — and because he realized Scott could not afford to back down on the tax fight.

“Another reason why is because sticking together gives us a little bit of juice,” Baser said of Republican leverage when trying to push policy forward. “The Democrats sort of run the show, and we have no juice if we don’t back the governor.”

Baser said he expected Scott’s veto to be sustained, but had “full confidence” that the governor would reach a deal with Democrats before the June 30 budget deadline.

“I think you will be writing a story in about two weeks about the interesting way that things got settled,” he said. “I would be exceedingly surprised — and disappointed and upset — if by the end of next week things didn’t sugar themselves out just fine.”

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