At least 15 Democrats joined forces with independents and Republicans in the Vermont House of Representatives Wednesday night to nearly give Republican Gov. Phil Scott one of the biggest victories of his young tenure.
About three weeks ago, Scott asked the Legislature to enact legislation that would create a statewide contract for the purposes of negotiating health care plans with public school teachers. The transition, Scott says, would enhance the state’s bargaining power, and allow his administration to extract $26 million in savings from the education system.
On Wednesday night, an amendment attached to a tax bill offered a near-identical version of Scott’s plan. And though Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have decried Scott’s proposal as an attack on collective bargaining, only a tie-making vote from House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, who votes on legislation only in rare circumstances, prevented the amendment from passing.
The 74-74 vote included “ayes” from at least 15 House Democrats, according to the Legislature’s website. The amendment, offered by St. Johnsbury Rep. Scott Beck, also won support from six independents.
A tie vote meant the amendment did not pass. Lawmakers went on to adopt an amendment that would put in place a version of the governor’s plan that Johnson says would achieve savings in teacher health care without eroding the collective bargaining rights of public employees. That amendment passed by a vote of 81 to 56.
The plan announced by Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe earlier in the day Wednesday would leave health care bargaining at the district level, where it is now. But the state would take whatever savings districts see on health care plans, and then use that money to provide property tax relief to district taxpayers.
Scott says the House and Senate proposal won’t work, and insists that Vermont needs a statewide contract in order to guarantee what he says would be $26 million in system-wide savings on teacher health plans.
The tie vote on his proposal may only deepen Scott’s resolve. Asked Wednesday whether he would veto a budget that doesn’t include his teacher health care proposal, Scott said it would be “irresponsible” to end the session without that plan in place.