By Rep. Jim Harrison, R-Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon
The regular session of the 2018 legislative session was gaveled down at 12:18 a.m. Sunday morning, the conclusion of the 18 weeks allocated in the current year budget. The last few days, especially Saturday, May 12, were at times intense and emotional.
When lawmakers arrived back at the State House Saturday, it was not looking at all like the session would adjourn, with a number of bills needing to be yet finalized including the “must pass” state budget for the new fiscal year that begins on July 1. Additionally, most pieces of legislation to be voted on the last day would need rules suspension to bring a bill up for immediate action if not already on the calendar (3/4 vote needed), something that was far from certain on some of the more contentious issues.
In the end, negotiators between the House and Senate came to agreement on the major bills necessary for adjournment, but were unable to reach agreement with the governor.
The key item for Scott was the increase in the statewide property tax bill included in H.911. He has been clear all session that he would oppose any bill that included tax or fee increases.
To get agreement with the governor on education funding would have required the use of more one-time funds than what the Legislature had allocated for property taxes. Scott said it was unconscionable to raise taxes on Vermonters when state revenue was showing a surplus. House and Senate budget writers believed a sizable amount of the surplus should be used to pay down some of the unfunded liability in the teachers retirement fund, indicating that move would save taxpayers more money in future years.
It was unclear how many bills would be vetoed by the governor, but we could be sure that H.911 and H.924 (tax and budget bills), would be among them.
Others, such as $15 minimum wage and a new payroll tax to fund a new paid family leave benefit led a list that Scott has objected to.
What was unusual this year is that the Legislature adjourned for the year, without leaving themselves a possible session to take up gubernatorial vetoes. What that means is that any bills Scott rejects over the next few weeks will not become law. No votes will be taken by legislators to override any potential votes.
Once the legislature adjourns sine die for the biennium, only the governor can call the General Assembly back for a special session, something he all but promised in his final remarks just after midnight Sunday morning, “I’m sure we’ll see each other soon.” Special sessions are rare in Vermont, but certainly have happened. For example, Howard Dean called the Legislature back one time to propose a sales tax increase to avoid a state deficit.
Special sessions cannot necessarily be limited to specific issues though. The Legislature could, for example, pass any bill that Scott vetoes and send it to him again. Or, if pragmatic lawmakers prevail, objectionable bills could be amended so that they would pass muster with the executive. The best option, however, might be to do what is absolutely necessary to reach agreement on the budget and education funding bills and keep the session to a couple of days at most.
A more comprehensive recap on some of the legislative initiatives approved this session will be provided later.
Periodic postings and insights on Saturday’s marathon session from VTDigger can be found at https://tinyurl.com/statehouseendgame.
You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell. 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left at the State House during the legislative session at 802-828-2228. I am also happy to meet district members coming to the State House.