Sen. Joe Benning, speaking, as House Minority Leader Pattie McCoy looks on.
Republican legislative leaders hailed Vermont Gov. Phil Scott's budget address as part of a new climate in Montpelier — an atmosphere of cooperation instead of confrontation.
Their first press conference of the new session was far different in tone from past Republican events. "There's a new wind blowing in the Statehouse," Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) said. "We have the opportunity to address problems and not be labeled as the party of 'No.'"
Republican lawmakers called the Friday morning presser to give their reaction to Scott's budget speech, delivered Thursday afternoon. They praised the Republican governor's speech as a responsible approach to finding common ground with the Democratic majority.
They offered no criticism of Scott's proposals to expand revenues in some areas — an apparent abandonment of the governor's past opposition to any new taxes or fees. In his budget address, Scott called for extending sales tax enforcement to online "marketplace vendors" that sell other companies' products, tightening enforcement of the rooms and meals tax for online booking services, and imposing the 92 percent tobacco tax on e-cigarettes.
"We're not increasing taxes," Benning said. "We're modernizing our tax structure. Ten years ago, nobody knew what 'vaping' was. We've seen an explosion of youth using vaping products. That's not a good thing."
In recent years, legislative Republicans' press conferences often consisted of complaints about Democrats' lack of consideration for Republicans on both policy and process. Now? "We're not trying to alienate the other side," Benning said. "We want to work together."
This change in approach may reflect a desire for civility in politics, or it may simply be a pragmatic reaction to VTGOP losses in the November elections and the new Democratic supermajority in the House. Whatever the motivation, it appears that leaders in both parties want to strike a different tone in 2019.