Rep. Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Sen. Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) earlier this week
Updated at 7:55 p.m.
Unable to find common ground with Gov. Phil Scott, Vermont legislative leaders announced Friday evening that they have postponed session adjournment until next Thursday.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) emerged from the Republican governor’s ceremonial office around 6 p.m., having made a last-ditch attempt to come to an agreement on the budget.
The sticking point: How to recoup up to $26 million in savings from teacher health insurance plans. The Scott administration wants to negotiate a statewide teacher's contract for health insurance. Ashe and Johnson, meanwhile, have said they won't meddle with the collective bargaining process, preferring to let local school districts negotiate on their own.
Ashe told senators that they will resume business Wednesday at 10 a.m. and hope to conclude the session the next day.
Up until Friday evening, Johnson and Ashe had maintained that the legislature was on track for adjournment Saturday.
“The governor’s position has been very fixed,” Ashe told reporters afterward. “We haven’t really seen any counterproposals… We keep asking for them to engage and it hasn’t happened yet, so at this point it just seemed the best thing to do was to put the brakes on for a bit.”
During a separate interview with Seven Days after the announcement, Scott suggested his hardline stance was, in fact, flexible. “It doesn’t have to be a statewide teacher contract but we have to be able to accomplish the savings.” And, he said, “Their mechanism for recovering that [$26 million], I don’t think is workable.”
It also appears the House isn’t in lockstep with the Senate. Johnson suggested to reporters that Ashe had initiated the postponement. “The Senate effectively instructed their budget conferees to wait,” she said. “Without the negotiating partners with the Senate on the budget and a very hard line from the governor on some issues, we needed a little more time.”
Asked whether the razor-thin vote in the House on the governor’s proposal had undermined the legislature's hand in negotiations, Ashe said, “It definitely does change the shape of the discussion when it comes to working with the House.”
Terri Hallenbeck contributed to this report.
Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.