Gov. Phil Scott called Wednesday for an end to political rhetoric over the issue that led to an impasse with the Vermont legislature — and at the same time, he dutifully repeated his own political talking points.
"I think we have to get beyond the rhetoric and the name-calling and look at the issue itself," he said at a press conference during which he signed S.50, a bill to increase access to telemedicine services in Vermont. "The issue" was his insistence on statewide uniformity in public school teacher health insurance — an issue that's a deal breaker for the teachers' union and its Democratic allies.
Scott's comments came the day after he formally vetoed two bills: the annual budget bill and a property tax bill that includes language on teacher health care. His veto message emphasized his political talking points and slammed the Democratic legislature for, in his view, failing to maximize savings and seeking an unnecessary tax increase.
Scott also sought to tamp down Tuesday's kerfuffle between his staff and Bill MaGill, clerk of the House of Representatives. According to MaGill, the governor's office delivered a single letter vetoing both bills. Tuesday, MaGill asserted that according to the Vermont Constitution, each veto must have its own letter. MaGill said he returned the two-veto letter for amendment.
The Scott administration reacted with something close to fury, characterizing MaGill's action as without foundation. Scott spokesperson Rebecca Kelley branded it a "hyper-political" act, VTDigger.org reported. Scott's legal counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson, weighed in with a letter claiming that MaGill had no grounds for his refusal.
"The Clerk of the House has no authority to refuse to accept a bill returned by the Governor with written objections, or in any way limit or restrict the Governor's authority to communicate those objections," Johnson wrote.
"I didn't reject anything," MaGill said in a phone interview Wednesday. "All I asked was to fix what they had done. It was a procedural misstep that they needed to fix."
MaGill insisted that he originally received a single letter containing both vetoes. Afterward, he said, "I looked at veto letters from 1830 on, and no governor had ever submitted two vetoes in one letter before."
Kelley suggested Tuesday that there was no difference between the first and second veto communications.
After MaGill returned the first communication, she wrote in an email, "We redelivered the veto memos and objections this afternoon, along with Jaye Pershing Johnson’s memo in response to the Clerk’s claims [referenced above], and the veto memos were subsequently accepted."
This appears not to be true. A copy of the original communication obtained by Seven Days refers to both bills — H.509 and H.518 — in the opening sentence, and then goes on to explain the veto in a five-and-a-half page, single-spaced letter.
The second communication, as posted on the House Clerk's website, consists of two separate letters. One announces the veto of H.509, and the other addresses H.518. Otherwise, the two letters appear identical to each other and to the missive sent back by MaGill.
At his press conference Wednesday, Scott undercut his spokesperson's words and implicitly supported MaGill's account.
"I know Bill. I don't believe that it was political in nature," Scott said. "I think he was just stuck on the fact that he thought it should be one way. I mean, everyone has their own ways of doing things. I think we were on firm ground as well. Regardless, we changed one sentence in the beginning on both letters, and that satisfied the problem."
When asked about his staff's robust reaction to MaGill Tuesday, Scott said, "Well, everyone gets involved in the situation and I think emotions take over and so forth."
Perhaps he could tell his own staff to cut out the politics, since he's asking his opponents to do the same.
Clarification: This story was updated June 9 at 6:24 p.m. to clarify that Rebecca Kelley suggested that there was no difference between the first and second veto communications.