By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
All was quiet last week at the State House with the full House and Senate off (except for some committee meetings on Friday, June 15), waiting on what Gov. Phil Scott would do with the new budget, H.13. As expected, Scott vetoed it last Thursday June 14, ending what legislative leaders had hoped would avert a government shutdown on July 1.
Scott objected to the bill, not because he disagreed with the spending plan, but because it included an increase in statewide non-residential property taxes if a new tax agreement is not reached in the next two weeks.
The governor has been consistent since January that he would not sign any bill that raised taxes or fees on Vermonters. Now with increased state revenues, he is more determined than ever on this front. Legislative leaders argue that most of this year’s surplus should be used towards future pension liabilities and that property taxes should increase as it was voters that passed higher school budgets. There is a clear philosophical difference between the two branches of government.
The latest budget veto was expected as evidenced by the immediate statement released by Speaker Johnson and Senate leader Ashe calling the veto disappointing. Unfortunately, until we face the deadline (July 1), it seems neither side in the debate is willing to cede ground in the education funding arena. While there are a lot of headlines about a potential government shutdown, I believe it will be averted, as it is something that all involved want to avoid. Potential compromises have been proposed, but thus far not accepted by either side. In his veto message, Scott said, “I do not want to see any disruption in government services, and I believe the Legislature shares this goal as well.”
The House will return this week to attempt an override of the veto on Tuesday, June 19. I expect to be voting to sustain the veto (supporting the governor’s position) as I strongly believe we must do everything we can to avoid tax increases and bring balance to the entire process of taxes and spending. And that is one of the reasons I am running for a new term this fall.
The latest rejection of H.13 gives Scott 11 vetoes in 2018, tying former governor Howard Dean’s total in 1994. With the new tax bill, H.4, now under consideration, there is the distinct possibility of a new record this year. The current version of H.4 in the House Ways & Means Committee includes increases in both the residential and non-residential average statewide property taxes for education. The vetoes are perhaps another indication of the divide between the governor and Legislature.
Meanwhile, three new Senate bills were introduced and passed on to the House without delay. Two of them (S.4, misc. judiciary procedures and S.5, mitigation of systemic racism) were bills vetoed by Scott in the regular session. The new bills, while similar to those vetoed, were modified slightly to accommodate some of Scott’s concerns. The third new bill, S.6, deals with the regulation of short term rentals, which did not make it to the finish line on the last day of the regular session, May 12.