Party Leaders: Scott's Push For Statewide Teachers Health Contract Has Defined The Session

Jun 16, 2017

There were very few issues during the legislative session that were as partisan and divisive as the fight over teachers health care.

Faisal Gill is the chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party. He says Scott's plan undermines the practice of collective bargaining at the local level and he accused Scott of using "D.C.-style" politics to get his way on this issue.

"You bargain with your employer — that's the number one issue. You're changing it to where you're bargaining with the state, they're not the employer,” said Gill. “Who do you bargain with first? But again that issue deserves time that issue deserves to be fully vetted through various committees." 

The governor has urged lawmakers to back his plan as the best way to achieve the maximum amount of savings when new health care contracts are negotiated this year.

Scott wants all teachers to pay 20 percent of their premiums. The statewide average is 15 percent. In some districts, teachers pay as much as 21 percent and in others they pay as little as five percent.

The governor says he vetoed the budget bill to highlight his desire to have lawmakers deal with this issue in a special session.

He also says he has no intention of holding the budget bill hostage if negotiations over his teacher health care plan are not successful.

"You bargain with your employer — that's the number one issue. You're changing it to where you're bargaining with the state, they're not the employer." — Democratic Party chairman Faisal Gill

Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree says it's been difficult to reach a compromise on this issue because the Vermont NEA, the state teachers union, has very strong connections to the Democratic Party.

"I think the partisanship is really coming down to the fact that the teachers union is a very, very strong voice in Vermont and it's a very strong voice in the Democratic establishment and this is something that they're against,” said Degree. “The school boards are in favor of it, the superintendents are in favor of it."

Washington County Sen. Anthony Pollina is the interim chairman of the Vermont Progressive Party. He strongly opposes Scott's plan because he believes collective bargaining should stay at the local level.

Pollina is also very disappointed that negotiations to settle this issue have been conducted by just a handful of lawmakers meeting in secret.

"There's no public testimony, no committee hearings, no witnesses being called ... no democracy. It's a bad process and it's a really bad for all of us and we're all going to lose if this goes through." — Sen. Anthony Pollina, Interim Progressive Party chairman

"There's no public testimony, no committee hearings, no witnesses being called, no serious public discussion of the pros and cons so that Vermonters could actually make about a decision about what they feel about this issue,” said Pollina. “Essentially, no transparency, no democracy. It's a bad process and it's a really bad for all of us and we're all going to lose if this goes through." 

Will lawmakers and the governor reach a compromise on this issue?

Scott is confident that it will be resolved.

"We all want the same thing," said Scott. "I look for areas where we can agree and I think the goals are some that we can agree upon and I think everyone wants to get this resolved before the veto session."

The governor says he's also optimistic that a compromise plan to legalize marijuana in Vermont beginning in the summer of 2018 will be reached before the start of the special veto session on Wednesday.