MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott fulfilled his promise Tuesday to veto the state budget and a bill that sets property tax rates over a disagreement with Democratic lawmakers about how to negotiate teacher health care benefits.
Scott sent a single veto message to House Clerk William MaGill Tuesday morning for both the budget, H.518, and what is known as the yield bill, H.509. MaGill promptly rejected the single message, however, saying two bills cannot be vetoed in a single message.
“Every bill needs to have it’s own objections, according to the [Vermont] Constitution,” MaGill said. “There hasn’t been, as far as I’ve ever seen, a veto message for two bills at the same time.”
Scott spokesman Ethan Latour said the administration disagrees with MaGill’s ruling, saying there is not constitutional provision or statute “for the house clerk to impost a restriction on how, or in what way, a governor communicates his objections in writing.”
“We feel the House Clerk’s actions are obstructionist, unconstitutional and partisan, which makes them exponentially more concerning,” Latour said.
Scott had been promising for weeks to veto both pieces of legislative because they do not account for a savings of up to $26 million in the Education Fund that he began demanding from lawmakers in mid-April. Scott wants to capture savings from new health care plans that will be offered to all Vermont teachers in January that will have lower premiums but higher out-of-pocket costs.
The governor has maintained that the higher out-of-pocket costs can be covered with the $75 million in projected premiums savings, leaving up to $26 million leftover. The savings is contingent on teachers paying for at least 20 percent of the premiums.
The governor and Democrats that lead both the House and Senate have significant disagreements about how to achieve the savings. The governor’s approach, according to the Democrats, would infringe on the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, have criticized the governor for his budget veto threat. They say the disagreement is limited to the yield bill and not the budget, which originally passed both chambers with just one negative vote.
But in his original veto message, Scott maintained that the two bills “are fundamentally tied.”
“The appropriations made from the Education Fund in H.518 are contingent upon the revenue provided by H.509. If the funding raised through H.509 changes, the allocation of funding in H.518 needs to be updated to reflect a change in the amount of available funds,” he wrote.
Jason Gibbs, Scott’s chief of staff, sent an email to members of the Scott administration Tuesday morning outlining the governor’s actions. He reiterated the governor’s desire to achieve the projected savings.
“In combination, these bills intentionally and unacceptably forgo up to $13 million in savings for Fiscal Year 2018 and up to $26 million in annual education savings, worsening the unsustainable trajectory of continuously-rising property taxes at a time when student enrollment continues to decline by, on average, 3 pupils each day,” Gibbs wrote.
The governor and Democratic legislative leaders traded several proposals during the final weeks of the legislative session. Both sides said they were close to an agreement on how to achieve the savings, but lawmakers eventually passed the budget and yield bill without accord on May 19.
Lawmakers are scheduled to return to the State House for a June 21 veto session. The governor and legislative leaders are hoping to negotiate a deal ahead of the veto session.
Read Gov. Phil Scott’s original veto message below: