More Meetings But Little Movement on Statehouse Budget Negotiations | Off Message

More Meetings But Little Movement on Statehouse Budget Negotiations


  • File: Alicia Freese
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott and leaders of the Vermont House and Senate continued to meet in private Monday, attempting to reach a compromise over how to negotiate savings in teachers’ health insurance plans.

The dispute over how to implement changes in health plans prompted by the Affordable Care Act is prolonging the legislative session. Originally planned for last Saturday, adjournment was postponed until this Thursday. Scott is demanding that the budget include the expected savings, but his proposal to recoup them by negotiating a statewide teachers’ contract has met with resistance in the Democrat-controlled House and Senate.

After failing to reach agreement Friday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson (D-South Hero) and Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (D/P-Chittenden) met with one another again Monday morning — and with the governor later in the afternoon. No one, however, suggested a grand bargain was imminent.

Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley said Monday morning that the governor remains “confident” that his proposal is best, and he doesn’t plan to offer up any other solution. He has rebuffed legislative counter-proposals that would preserve collective bargaining at the school-district level. Scott has not, however, “drawn a line in the sand that it has to be this proposal,” Kelley noted.

In an interview Monday afternoon in the Statehouse cafeteria, Johnson said, “I think we’re making progress in terms of understanding where people’s bumpers are, in terms of what they’re willing to do and what they’re not willing to do.”

“There is no active [new] proposal,” Ashe said later in his office downstairs, noting that the meeting with Scott was “just to touch base.” But, he maintained, “I think in the end it’s likely we’ll find a way we all agree.”

Right now, it appears that not even he and his Democratic counterpart in the House are on the same page. Johnson observed that the House has disagreements with the Senate, too.

“I think the Senate has shown a little more willingness to raid the Education Fund,” Johnson said, alluding to its proposal to shift $8 million in teacher retirement costs from the General Fund to the Education Fund. House members, she said, feel strongly that the latter should remain whole to avoid property tax increases.

“We’ve gotten the governor to agree to that part,” she said. “I’ve not heard the Senate yet say that. Right now the Senate is still trying to spend money out of the Education Fund as part of the budget.”

Ashe downplayed the distance between the House and Senate during budget negotiations: “I think the spirit with which we’re approaching it is very similar, and we’re just trying to flesh out something that we both can stand by and that the governor will ultimately see as a wise approach for him as well.”

Scott administration officials also met with reporters for an hour Monday morning to defend the governor’s proposal. Scott has repeatedly said it could save up to $26 million, but legislative leaders have cast doubt on that figure.

Scott’s director of insurance regulation, Phil Keller, gave a slightly more nuanced assessment: “I think it’s fair to say that we have combed over these cost savings, and the cost savings are real and they’re substantial. I don’t think we can say what the exact number will be.”

Disclosure: Tim Ashe is the domestic partner of Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. Find our conflict-of-interest policy here:

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