Earlier in the session, one of our colleagues on the House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Woodman Page of Newport, referred to one of the changes in the Medicaid program as a big deal when explaining his sections of the budget on the House floor. The change he was referring to may or may not have been a big deal, but it was the way he said it that we all remember. It was straight forward monotone. And to have a little fun at Woody’s expense, we have used his line with several subsequent floor announcements since then.
While some of those may have been stretching the “Big Deal” term, the Governor’s veto of the state budget bill really is a big deal. This is arguably the only must-pass bill all session. It authorizes spending ($8.5 billion) for virtually all that the state government does for the coming fiscal year beginning July 1 and is referred to in Montpelier as “the Big Bill.”
It also guarantees the Legislature will return on June 20 to address this veto.
The Legislature can override his veto with a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate; sustain his veto and then pass a new budget with enough votes to override another veto; or find some middle ground with the Governor to get his signature on a new version.
Unlike the recent compromise on the debt ceiling legislation in Washington between Speaker McCarthy and President Biden, there is a real likelihood that Vermont legislative leaders will enact the budget bill, H.494, by enlisting their supermajorities to override the veto.
When the budget passed the House on May 12, some Democrats and Progressives opposed the measure as they argued for more spending, not less as the governor proposed, to continue the motel voucher program.
In Scott’s veto message he wrote, “…I’m also concerned the substantial increase in ongoing base spending, that Vermonters must bear into the future, is not sustainable. This increase — more than twice the rate of current inflation — is especially concerning because it does not include the full cost of the new programs created this year that rely on new tax revenue or will otherwise add to Vermonters’ costs, including the childcare expansion, universal school meals, the clean heat standard and more…”
When the Legislature returns on June 20, other bills vetoed will also be considered for override votes. While the list of bills in that category is not yet complete, here are some we know:
H.305 – increases in professional license fees
H.386 – allowing 16-year-olds to vote on local elections and hold office in Brattleboro
H.509 – allowing non-citizens to vote on local elections in Burlington
S.39 – increased compensation and insurance benefits for legislators
S.6 – limiting law enforcement interrogation techniques
Additionally, the new payroll tax included in the childcare bill could invite a veto on H.217. The bill was delivered to the Governor on May 31, so he has until June 6 for action. Another bill, H.165, which adds close to $30 million to property taxes for universal school meals, has not been sent to the governor as of this writing. It is unclear whether he will support the measure.
Although the focus of the legislative session later this month will be on the vetoes, especially the all-important budget, other bills, such as the expansion of Vermont’s bottle deposit system could see further action.
And while the full Legislature is on recess until June 20, the special committee on impeachment inquiry for Franklin County’s sheriff and state’s attorney, has begun meeting. If the committee concludes there are impeachable offenses for either of two officials, the House may be called back to vote on impeachment later this summer. If impeachment articles are approved by two-thirds in the House, the measure will go to the Senate for a trial. Two-thirds vote in the Senate is necessary for conviction.
I will plan another update following the June 20-22 session. In the meantime, enjoy the sunshine!
You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.
Rep. Jim Harrison is the statehouse representative for Mendon, Killington, Chittenden and Pittsfield. He can be reached at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or harrisonforvermont.com.