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.
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: sevendaysvt.com/disclosure.