On May 29, 2024

Weighing the good against the bad

By Governor Phil Scott 

Editor’s note: Governor Phil Scott gave the following speech at his weekly press conference, Wednesday, May 22, discussing his decision-making process with bills on his desk.

Last week, I talked about all the bills that passed at the very end of the session, which are starting to head to my desk and will continue to do so over the next several weeks.

So, I wanted to take a few minutes today to talk about how I tackle these decisions, and what I weigh, as I contemplate whether to sign a bill, let it go into law without my signature, or veto it.

Now, as you all know very well, a lot gets made over the number of vetoes I’ve issued. But the reality is, I could have vetoed many more — in the past, and what I am likely to this year.

Having said that, I want to be clear: I would rather come to agreement before a bill comes to my desk and avoid a veto altogether.

But I have a responsibility to take the time to weigh the good against the bad. If I can see the benefit to Vermonters across the state, I try to find a way to get to yes. And sometimes it takes a veto so I can finally get legislators to the table to find a compromise.

Despite what some will say, I really do try hard to meet legislators in the middle, because we actually share many of the same priorities. From addressing climate change to making childcare and healthcare more accessible and affordable, to raising wages, to making sure our kids are getting the best education possible.

Where we tend to differ is how we get there.

Sometimes the Legislature focuses so much on their goals they don’t consider the unintended consequences. And the reality is, there are almost always some negative consequences as the result of new policies.

I also believe there is often a path to reach our goals while limiting those consequences.

But to find that right balance we have to take our time to get it right; to walk before we run; and, importantly, make sure Vermonters can afford it.

Unfortunately, due to a lack of balance in the Legislature, they don’t want to hear about the consequences, limitations or barriers when it comes to their initiatives.

This means some bills end up doing more harm than good.

Another challenge we face is the Legislature doesn’t always consider the practical realities that go along with implementation. We see a number of bills pass where there was not careful consideration of what resources it will take and what a realistic timeline looks like.

This sets agencies and partners up for failure. And pits policies against each other when we don’t have the budget capacity to fund the many initiatives this Legislature passes.

Most of the time, these sweeping policies require years to implement. And yet before the legislative ink is dry on one policy, they move onto what’s next with little regard for how it impacts the last thing they imposed.

At the same time, they all come with a cost, whether that’s through new taxes and fees or unfunded mandates that put a strain on the state budget.

So, in the same way our agencies are scrambling to keep up with the Legislature’s ambitions, taxpayers are getting crushed by the ever-growing costs getting put on their shoulders. Vermonters barely get a chance to catch their breath and adjust their budgets to a new expense before another is tacked on.

And that is one of my biggest concerns. What can Vermonters really afford? The answer to this is different in every corner of the state. And that’s why the governor, who represents all communities — not just a district or county — has veto power. It’s the final “check point” on behalf of the state as a whole.

Now, there are many bills coming to my desk this year that contain a lot of good. And most of the time, there is a path to get us to the goal. But too often — especially in recent years — the compromises and warnings we offer are ignored.

So, as I’ve always done, I will carefully weigh the good against the bad to make a decision based on whether the benefits outweigh the negative impacts for our entire state. These decisions aren’t easy and they’re not always popular here in Montpelier. But I’ll take that heat when I believe I’m making the right choice for the everyday Vermonter.

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