With Days To Go Before Deadline, Legislature Passes Third Budget Of 2018

Jun 25, 2018

Update 6/26/2018 6:17 a.m.

The Vermont Legislature Monday afternoon gave final approval to its third state budget of the 2018 legislative session. On Monday night, Gov. Phil Scott released a written statement: "I’m left with no choice but to allow this bill to become law without my signature."

More from VPR — "Scott Will Allow Budget To Pass Without His Signature" [June 26]

Original story:

With six days now until the end of the fiscal year, one major question remains: Will Gov. Phil Scott sign it?

Scott vetoed the first two budgets lawmakers sent him this year, saying they didn’t do enough to hold down statewide property tax rates.

The budget passed by the House and Senate Monday allocates more money for a tax rate buy-down than their previous proposals did. But it’s substantially similar to a budget plan passed by the Senate last week, which administration officials indicated the governor would be hard-pressed to support.

In a statement to reporters Monday evening, Scott’s spokesperson, Rebecca Kelley, said the governor “is working with his team to evaluate the budget sent to him” Monday afternoon.

“He is expected to make a decision quickly and will issue a statement at that time,” Kelley said.

After his chamber gave final approval to the latest budget bill Monday afternoon, Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe offered his thoughts on how Scott ought to proceed.

“We’re not happy where we’re at. I think the governor’s probably not happy where we’re at. But I think for everyone involved, it’s time to move on. Just let this become law, signal to the public there’s going to be no shutdown,” Ashe said.

The prospect of a government shutdown is becoming more real by the day. If elected officials don’t have a spending plan in place by July 1, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said the state would be without the money needed to maintain basic government services.

“When you think about all the different ways the government serves its people, that stuff grinds to a halt,” Johnson said Monday. “All of the health and safety, all of the judicial services for kids in really rough families, all of those payments out either to medical providers or opiate treatment providers or families struggling with poverty, that stuff stops. And I hate messing around with the possibility of a shutdown.”

Scott has previously said he won’t sign any budget that results in an increase in statewide property tax rates. The budget passed by lawmakers Monday does not heed that directive.

It does, however, ensure no statewide tax rate increase for homeowners. And while the rate for businesses and second homeowners would still rise by about 4.5 cents under the Legislature’s latest plan, that’s about a penny less than the increase contained in the last budget they sent to Scott's desk.

“This represents more compromise than the Senate would have ever entertained from the starting point, and I think the House would say the same thing,” Ashe said. “And so now we’re at the point where people should say both sides have gotten out of their comfort zones, which reflects real compromise, and it’s time to move on.”

The governor has three options now: he can sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without his signature, or veto the bill.

If he opts for the veto, Ashe said the Legislature will return Wednesday to attempt an override.

Lawmakers tried last week to override the second budget veto the governor issued this year. House Republicans, however, were able to muster the votes needed to thwart that override attempt.

House Minority Leader Don Turner said Monday he’s not entirely sure whether they’d be able to sustain the governor’s veto again, should they be called again to do so.

If Scott does veto the budget, and Republicans can again sustain it, Johnson said she’ll resume the search for the compromise needed to avoid a government shutdown.

“We’ll be back here on Wednesday morning if he vetoes it,” Johnson said. “It is my goal to keep working to keep government open.”

Correction 6/26/2018 6:26 a.m. The Legislature's approval of the third budget was Monday afternoon, not Tuesday afternoon. This post has been corrected.