The Vermont State House in Montpelier, Vermont, USA.

Vermont Legislature – Special Session Week Four

MEAN SEASON

Governor Phil Scott vetoed H.13, the second version of the FY2019 budget bill this week. The move was not surprising and results in the legislature and governor being no closer to resolving their disagreements than they were a week ago. With July 1st and the beginning of the new state fiscal year only 15 days away, the state is inching closer than ever to a government shutdown. Most onlookers still find it hard to believe the impasse will actually result in a shutdown and that something will have to give in the next two weeks. That said neither side shows any indication of backing down.

Democrats were quick to criticize the governor’s veto and both sides accuse the other of playing politics. House and Senate leaders have scheduled a veto override vote for H.13 next Tuesday. If the House sustains the veto and the bill gets to the Senate, Democrats have a supermajority and can easily override the governor’s veto. In the House, Republicans hold 53 seats out of 150, which means that if everyone is in attendance and all Republicans vote to sustain, the veto will be upheld. Timing could be tricky for the governor next week however, as attendance of the special session has been down on both sides of the isle as a result of summer trips, work and other matters that draw lawmakers away from Montpelier in June. If the governor’s supporters are absent, it would be possible for the House to override the veto. The only other attempt to override the governor’s veto this year was in April when the House failed to override the veto of S.103, a chemical regulation bill. Everyone was in attendance when Republicans were joined by a handful of Independents to sustain the veto of S.103.

The House Appropriations, Ways and Means and Education Committees met all day Friday to discuss what to do next. If the veto stands, lawmakers will have to craft yet another budget bill to authorize state spending. If the governor holds strong in his position that he will not support property tax increases and lawmakers hold strong in their position that they won’t use one-time funding to buy down property tax rates then programs may have to be cut to balance the budget. The Joint Fiscal Office and Legislative Council have been analyzing the impact of a shutdown, and in multiple memos to lawmakers have indicated that if there is no budget by July 1st, the impact on programs, program providers, beneficiaries, employees, contractors and any other entities that receive state funding would be catastrophic. The state would be unable to spend general, transportation, federal and special funds. By the end of Friday, the three committees had not produced a new proposal on how to move forward, but that is not surprising given the override vote scheduled for next Tuesday.

While the governor and lawmakers continued their stalemate, political volleys from both sides of the isle flew sky high. The governor’s campaign referred to Democratic leaders as “extremists” claiming they were fear mongering about a government shutdown. The governor also gained another possible opponent in the election with Senator John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, announcing he will run as a write-in candidate for the Democratic nomination for governor. Sen. Rodgers is a staunch supporter of gun rights and was heavily opposed to the gun safety legislation the governor signed in what feels like a million years ago (it was in April.)

It’s impossible to predict the outcome of the budget standoff at this point. Vermont is deep blue but Republican messaging around taxation has historically been quite effective. If the House pulls off a miracle and overrides the governor’s veto of H.13 the state will have a budget and lawmakers will hit the campaign trail in earnest. If not, they will be back to square one, with the clock ticking and a shutdown looming.

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