Republicans 'Pretty Confident' They Can Sustain Scott's Budget Veto

Jun 18, 2018

Democratic lawmakers Tuesday will attempt to override Gov. Phil Scott’s latest budget veto, but House Minority Leader Don Turner said he’s “pretty confident” his caucus has the numbers needed to sustain the veto.

Overriding a gubernatorial veto requires a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber of the Vermont Legislature. While Democrats have sufficient numbers in the Senate to reach that threshold, it’s a different story in the House.

And if the 53 Republican members of the House of Representatives vote as a bloc in tomorrow’s veto override vote, they’ll be able to sustain Scott’s veto.

“I’ll feel a lot better when I get there [Tuesday] and everybody’s made it to the Statehouse safe and sound, but right now I feel pretty confident that we’ll be able to sustain the governor’s veto,” Turner said Monday.

Turner said he’s as concerned as anyone about the prospect of a government shutdown. And with fewer than two weeks until the end of the fiscal year, a failure to override the veto would push the state closer to the brink.

“However, I can’t support raising taxes,” Turner said. “We’ve seen all this money that we did not anticipate come in, and I will not raise taxes at this point when we have all this additional revenue.”

"We are trying to find a way to accommodate the governor's desires, but also to fulfill our responsibility to behave in a fiscally responsible manner." — Washington County Sen. Ann Cummings

The issue of whether or not to raise statewide property tax rates is the source of the budget impasse between Scott and Democratic lawmakers.

Scott wants to use $34 million in one-time money to avoid an increase in statewide property tax rates next year. Lawmakers say his plan is fiscally irresponsible and would set the stage for a tax rate “crisis” next year.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said an effort is underway to flip Republicans in advance of the override vote Tuesday.

“We’ve been having the many, many agencies and entities affected by the budget reach out to all the representatives to say, ‘Look, you know, we need the assurance that this is going to pass. We need to know that a budget is going to be in place,’” Johnson said Monday.

Asked whether she had commitments, however, from any Republicans who were willing to vote in favor of the override, Johnson said, “I’m not going to say that today.”

Democratic lawmakers are already preparing for life after the override failure. Budget bills customarily originate in the House. But lawmakers’ next go at putting together a state budget will start in the Senate, where the committees on appropriations, finance and education are scheduled to begin meeting tomorrow afternoon to contemplate a path forward.

“We are trying to find a way to accommodate the governor’s desires, but also to fulfill our responsibility to behave in a fiscally responsible manner,” said Washington County Sen. Ann Cummings, who chairs the Senate Committee on Finance.

Scott vetoed the first two budget lawmakers sent him this year, saying neither met his tax rate requirement. And as recently as last week, Scott reiterated his refusal to sign any budget that results in an increase in statewide property tax rates.

“I can tell you I won’t sign a budget that raises taxes and fees,” Scott said last Thursday.

The two sides, however, are now at least talking. Scott met with Johnson and Ashe in person on Friday. It was the first time they’d had direct talks in several weeks.

Johnson said the talks “were cordial.”

“And I think we all were able to lay out some of our concerns about I guess some of the reasons that we were each fighting for the positions that we have,” Johnson said.

As for whether those talks will lead to a consensus before June 30, Johnson said, “Stay tuned.”