What's On The Docket For The Vermont Legislature's Special Session

May 22, 2018

Lawmakers head back to the Statehouse Wednesday morning for a special legislative session, but leaders in the House and Senate don’t anticipate an action-packed agenda this week.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said Wednesday’s proceedings will "be mostly procedural."

"We have to adopt new rules governing a special session," Ashe explained. "And then some committees will meet, and we’ve invited the administration to come in."

Ashe said he expects lawmakers to spend only one day in Montpelier this week, and then adjourn until next Wednesday, May 30.

"We have to adopt new rules governing a special session. And then some committees will meet, and we’ve invited the administration to come in." — Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe

Gov. Phil Scott called the special session to resolve a budget impasse between him and lawmakers. The disagreement between the two branches centers on how to use $34 million in one-time money.

Scott wants to use the money to offset an increase in next year’s property tax rates. Legislators, meanwhile, passed a budget earlier this month that uses the money to buy down future pension obligations.

Scott hasn’t formally vetoed the budget yet, though he’s stated his intent to do so.

Last week, Scott sent a letter to Ashe and House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, inviting them to a series of closed-door negotiating sessions, “to iron out an agreement” in advance of the special session.

Both declined that invitation, saying they preferred to use the open legislative committee process to resolve the budget standoff.

That means the budget negotiations will essentially start from scratch Wednesday, when administration officials testify before the House and Senate committees that oversee the budget, taxes and education issues.

The budget negotiations will essentially start from scratch Wednesday, when administration officials testify before the House and Senate committees that oversee the budget, taxes and education issues.

“The dollars that separate the House, Senate and administration are not overwhelming numbers,” Ashe said. “But there are a number of key principles that I think we need to have the administration better understand in the days ahead.”

The special session will not be limited to budget issues. Ashe and Johnson say they plan to use the time to pass a half-dozen bills that did not make it across the finish line during the regular session.

Those bills would, among other things, institute new consumer protection provisions for retail merchants and create stricter reporting requirements for teachers or other school staff accused of sexual misconduct.

From Vermont Edition: What To Expect When You're Expecting A Special Session [May 18]

The current fiscal year expires June 30, and if lawmakers and the governor haven’t resolved the impasse by then, the state faces the prospect of a government shutdown.

Last Friday, in a letter to Scott and legislative leadership, State Treasurer Beth Pearce urged both sides to come to an agreement prior to then, lest the state suffer “real and permanent costs, such as foregone and irrecoverable revenues and the additional costs of agency disruption.”

In that same letter, Pearce also wrote:

"Other states have seen credit downgrades after they have not been able to work together to pass budgets. The costs of these failures are borne by their citizens in the form of higher interest costs and greater difficulty in accessing capital. We do not want to go down that road."