To Avoid Shutdown, Democratic Leaders Pitch New Strategy For Special Session

May 29, 2018

Both House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Tim Ashe say a shutdown of state government on July 1 would be a disaster. And they've come up with a plan to avoid it.

The Senate and the House passed the budget by extremely wide margins. So Ashe is proposing the Legislature strip away any controversial items from the budget and send it to Gov. Phil Scott. If Scott signs the bill, that would ensure there wouldn't be a government shutdown, if there's still an impasse on property taxes.

"I think substantially what has already passed the Legislature ought to go forward and to the extent that we can," Ashe said, "shift out of that equation the fight over the use of this one time money on education issues it will allow us to ensure that government will continue to operate."

"I think substantially what has already passed the Legislature ought to go forward and it will allow us to ensure that government will continue to operate." — Senate President Tim Ashe

The major disagreement between the governor and the Legislature is Scott's plan to use $60 million in one-time money to offset any property tax rate increase.

The Democrats argue it's a mistake to use all the money for this purpose.

They've offered to use $38 million to ensure that there's no increase in the residential rate and a five cent increase in the non-residential rate.

Johnson thinks it will be easier to find a compromise if the budget is passed now.

" I think we need to focus on the very narrow areas of disagreement." — House Speaker Mitzi Johnson

“The more stuff that's open and out there the more other unrelated things get dragged into that conversation and I think we need to focus on the very narrow areas of disagreement."   

Johnson says a shutdown would adversely affect essential services that many Vermonters receive and would be a blow to the credibility of state government.

"There's been so much concern particularly given what we've seen out of Washington about a government shutdown," Johnson said, "that the thing that we can do to be most responsible to Vermonters and be good stewards of government is to make sure government stays open."

Ashe says a government shutdown would also be a catastrophe for the state's bond rating on Wall Street.

“I think it would be a massive embarrassment to the state of Vermont,” said Ashe. “It would undermine our state's very strong financial reputation and it would probably result in a lowering of our bond rating so it would be pretty unthinkable."

The governor's press secretary Rebecca Kelley says the Administration is interested seeing the proposal and would need to know the details before commenting any further.

The House is scheduled to come back to the Statehouse on Wednesday morning. The Senate will most likely return on Friday if there's been progress on the consensus budget proposal.