Vermont Legislature Passes Budget Compromise, Avoiding Government Shutdown | Off Message

Vermont Legislature Passes Budget Compromise, Avoiding Government Shutdown


House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Speaker Mitzi Johnson on Wednesday
Though it was anything but easy, the Vermont legislature broke its stalemate with Gov. Phil Scott and passed a budget Wednesday evening that the governor has agreed to sign.

The Republican governor and the Democrat-led legislature came to an accord a mere nine days before the current budget expires, narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. The bill they passed includes a compromise on what seemed like an intractable disagreement over how to save money on teachers’ health insurance plans.

Lawmakers adjourned shortly afterward, concluding a special veto session that started Wednesday morning.

They had returned to the Statehouse because Scott vetoed previous budget and property tax bills. The governor did so to protest lawmakers’ rejection of his proposal to create a statewide teachers’ health insurance contract. All districts are renegotiating their health care contracts this year, moving to less expensive plans to avoid a penalty created by the Affordable Care Act. Scott argued that with his administration doing the negotiating for a single consolidated contract, the state could recapture as much as $26 million.

The compromise deal — which closely resembles an alternative proposal offered by Senate Democrats back in May — requires that school districts find $13 million in savings and creates a commission to study a statewide teachers’ health care contract. The state will use those savings to reduce property taxes.

During the debate on the House floor, Ways and Means chair Janet Ancel (D-Calais) said the compromise “confirms our reputation … for fiscal responsibility … and our ability to work across party lines.” She added, “This agreement also avoids government shutdown, which is obviously a very significant accomplishment.”

But the deal, which was hatched in private by legislative leaders and the Scott administration, and finalized Tuesday night, didn’t please everyone. The House approved the bill with a voice vote around 6:30 p.m. after hours of start-and-stop debate. Rep. Kurt Wright (R-Burlington), one of several lawmakers who proposed amendments, told his colleagues, “I don’t think we came here to just be a rubber stamp.”

Once the budget made it through the House, the Senate wasted no time, passing it half an hour later with a voice vote after virtually no discussion. Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree (R-Franklin) deemed the final bill proof that “we can work together.”

“Negotiations can be tough, but I think this Senate and this administration should be proud of the efforts they put forth,” Degree said.