Scott ‘fairly certain’ that a veto session is on the way

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The governor does not foresee an easy end to the legislative session as the Democratically controlled House and Senate forge ahead with bills he opposes.

“I am fairly certain that we’ll need a veto session in June,” Republican Gov. Phil Scott told WCAX reporter Neal Goswami in an interview, an excerpt of which Goswami posted to Twitter.

Scott sent a letter to lawmakers in March outlining which bills he opposed and why. They have expended little effort to make changes that would make those bills more palatable to the administration, which refuses to support any legislation that would create new fees, taxes or generally raise the cost of living or of doing business in Vermont.

“The Governor has been clear on his opposition to bills that will saddle Vermonters with new or higher state taxes and make Vermont less affordable, so given the Legislature continues to advance proposals that will do just that, he has said he does anticipate needing a veto session in June,” Rebecca Kelley, his spokesperson, said in an email. 

Those bills include raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2024, creating a new fee for cleaning up public waters, and holding companies liable for causing or contributing to toxic pollution.

The administration has signaled that it may consider new taxes and fees next year — after the next gubernatorial election — at least on the issue of generating funds for pollution reduction in Vermont’s lakes.

However, the governor has not budged this year, insisting that many Vermonters simply cannot afford higher taxes or new fees for government services, and need to keep as much of their earnings as possible.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said earlier this month that he would “love to not have a veto session,” but wasn’t sure that was possible. Ashe said again on Tuesday that on certain issues, legislators were not going to back down.

“We’ll continue to try to clean up the state’s waters, protect consumers from negligent companies like Equifax, take on the pharmaceutical industry, raise wages for thousands of people who’ve been stiffed by the economy,” and to prevent cuts to programs that serve disabled Vermonters, Ashe said in an email.

“If the Governor chooses to veto all of that, that’s his choice and we’ll take it from there,” he said.

Another point of contention as lawmakers have entered the final two weeks of the scheduled legislative session has been school funding, a dispute that has in many ways mirrored the showdown that led to a veto session last year.

Scott suggested last week that a solution might be found using one-time funds to cover the school budget without raising taxes this year. He also wants legislators to agree to longer term cost-containment proposals such as a statewide teacher healthcare benefit and increased student-to-staff ratios, the outlines of which the administration presented to lawmakers on Tuesday.

Up to this point, details on what the administration wants have been scarce, Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said in an email.

“It’s nearly May and we’re still waiting for the Governor’s proposals. He’s been talking all session about broad ideas, but has not shared his plan to get there,” she said. “It’s getting very late to introduce proposals, and it’s too early to talk about a veto session.”

On the school spending front, Johnson has said using one-time funds would only create a bigger problem next year. The wheels are already in motion for significant savings, she said. The combination of ongoing school district consolidation, greater financial responsibility at the local level, and a special education overhaul are going to deliver significant savings and relieve the burden on taxpayers in the coming years, she said on Monday.

Kelley said Tuesday that dismissing the use of one-time funds for schools, which legislators proposed last year, was “inconsistent at best, intentionally misleading at worst.”

“It’s unfortunate to see that instead of learning from the opportunity they squandered for taxpayers last year, the Legislative majority has, again, reflexively rejected the many system reforms the Governor has put on the table to prevent an increase in statewide property tax rates for a second consecutive year,” Kelley said.

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