MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott signed the 2018 fiscal year state budget into law Wednesday, just days ahead of the new fiscal year that starts Saturday.
Scott, a first-term Republican, was surrounded by members of his administration, Democratic and Republican lawmakers and advocates for various state-supported programs as he touted the budget. Lawmakers passed the budget last week in a special veto session after Scott vetoed their initial effort last month.
Scott said the 2018 spending plan “represents real progress and a shift in thinking.”
“This budget, for the first time in recent memory, does not raise taxes or fees. That includes property tax rates. Residential property tax rates will be lower than in fiscal year 2017 and nonresidential rates, including businesses, renters and camp owners, will remain the same as last year,” Scott said.
The budget language Scott signed into law Wednesday is nearly identical to the version he vetoed. The only real difference in the updated budget is a convoluted formula concocted by the governor and legislative leaders over the past several weeks to save on the cost of teachers’ health care plans.
Lawmakers rejected Scott’s late-session demand to create a statewide teacher contract for health care and move negotiations to the state level rather than on an individual district basis. After weeks of secret negotiations and a veto, Democratic legislative leaders and the governor settled on a plan last week that seeks savings in health care but could cause local school boards to cut educational programs to achieve mandated savings.
Most of Scott’s attention Wednesday was focused on what he and lawmakers agreed on throughout the 2017 legislative session. Scott called on lawmakers to pass a budget without raising taxes or fees. They did, and just one member of the 180-member General Assembly voted against the budget before Scott began demanding the teacher health care changes.
Scott said the budget he signed into law mirrors the goals he laid out in an executive order on his first day in office. Those goals included growing the economy, making the state more affordable for residents and taking care of the state’s most vulnerable.
“These goals were at the heart of the budget I presented in January, which was balanced without raising taxes and fees and while making critical investments in economic development, affordable housing, child care and education, as well as addressing our opiate epidemic and cleaning up our impaired waterways,” the governor said.
He said the 2018 budget keeps spending in line and does not grow more than the state’s economic growth or Vermonters’ wages.
“That means families can keep more of what they make,” he said.
House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, did not attend the signing ceremony. Other Democratic lawmakers did, however, including Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Kitchel said the budget is “much more than just figures and funding.” She said policy committees in the Senate helped shape a farm to school program, economic development initiatives and criminal justice reforms that are funded in the spending plan.
“I think any of us who worked on this, House or Senate, should be proud,” Kitchel said.
Toll, with Scott standing behind her, noted the House’s near-unanimous vote in March before Scott’s veto.
“What we brought before the House was a budget that did not include any new tax or fees to get to balance, a budget that did not rely on any one-time money for ongoing expenses, a budget that protects and strengthens Vermont’s reserves and a budget that has modest growth rates that are substantially below forecasted revenues,” she said.
The budget includes a $35 million housing bond that state officials believe will generate $100 million of investment for affordable housing. The state also boosted funding for the Vermont State Colleges by $3 million and provided an increase for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program.
Scott said the 2018 budget will make the state more affordable and help Vermonters.
“We have a budget that is centered on making Vermont more affordable. We found a balance and passed legislation without raising revenue on the backs of Vermonters,” he said. “I truly believe we achieved something monumental and passed a budget and legislation that will make a real difference in the lives of Vermonters.”