Phil Scott Pitches Shorter Session, Two-Year State Budget | Off Message

Phil Scott Pitches Shorter Session, Two-Year State Budget


Lt. Gov. Phil Scott - SEVEN DAYS/FILE
  • Lt. Gov. Phil Scott
If Lt. Gov. Phil Scott has his way, legislative sessions will be over by April 1 — more than a month earlier than the one that just ended. Scott, a Republican candidate for governor, called Tuesday for shortening the four-month session to three months.

“I believe it forces the legislature to prioritize,” Scott said. “I believe it’s doable.”

Scott also called on the state to go from a one- to a two-year budgeting process and pledged not to write or approve a budget that increases spending more than the economy grows in a given year. The Democrat-controlled legislature just approved a $5.77 billion 2017 budget that increases general fund spending by nearly 4.8 percent.

All of Scott’s pledges pose challenges.

Scott noted that during each of the last 10 years, the state economy has grown less than 1 percent. Limiting state spending to that growth rate would require cutting some programs. Scott wasn’t ready to say Tuesday which programs should be cut.

“It’s about priorities,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s going to be easy to do.”

Asked what items would not make the priority list, Scott took the same kind of sidestep that Bruce Lisman, his rival for the Republican nomination, did earlier this year. Both were unwilling to name specific services.
Scott contended there surely are savings to be found in the growing Medicaid administration budget. But what specific item would he lop off when proposing a new budget next January? “If I start at this point before it’s fully vetted, everybody will focus on the cuts,” he said. “I’ll get more refined with this as the campaign goes on.”

A two-year budget cycle would improve planning and has worked well for the state capital project budget, he said.

One of Scott’s allies wasn’t so sure that would work for the overall state budget. Vermont used to have a two-year budget cycle, said former Republican governor Jim Douglas, a Scott supporter. “It was abandoned because, frankly, the legislature found themselves amending the budget so much in the interim,” Douglas said.

And would the House and Senate agree to a shorter session, during which they would earn less pay and have less time to work on bills?

Scott contended more people would be able to run for the legislature if the time commitment was reduced. Some debates could be shorter, he said.

This year, lawmakers discussed legalizing marijuana for four months before the legislation failed. Had that debate gone just three months, he said, “I don’t know that the outcome would have been any different.”

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