Budget and Spending

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Dems declare impasse, look to end session without agreement with governor

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the Legislature, frustrated by a lack of movement in negotiations with Republican Gov. Phil Scott, said Wednesday they are moving forward with wrapping up work on the state budget and other key bills and hope to end the legislative session Thursday. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, held a State House news conference Thursday morning and declared an impasse in their talks with the governor over how to save on the cost of teachers’ health care. The two leaders presented a united front after several weeks of talks with the governor failed to produce an agreement. “We have reached an impasse,” Johnson said. “We’ve had over a dozen meetings in the last couple of weeks where we brought proposals forward to the governor to talk about how reduce property taxes for Vermonters and what we’ve discovered is that the key component of this is not actually the money piece, it’s about who’s controlling the conversation.”

“There is a point where negotiation becomes a dictation,” Ashe said. Continue Reading →

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Unions oppose latest attempt to resolve teacher health care showdown

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson’s proposal to save on the cost of teachers’ health care plans appears to be growing on Gov. Phil Scott, but she received a lashing from unions Tuesday and may have trouble getting fellow Democrats on board. Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the Republican governor have been engaged in a stalemate for three weeks over a demand by Scott that teachers pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. The impasse has caused the Legislature to remain in session beyond the 18 weeks included in the state budget. Democratic leaders and Scott agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. VEHI is offering new plans to all Vermont teachers beginning in January that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. That change is driven by a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act that will tax high-end insurance plans that many teachers currently have. Continue Reading →

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Speaker crafts new savings plan, hopes to end stalemate

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said Monday she is working on a compromise with Republican Gov. Phil Scott to end a stalemate over teacher health care savings that has prevented lawmakers from completing the legislative session. Johnson, of South Hero, said she met with the governor Monday to reveal her plan to achieve the health care savings without infringing on the collective bargaining rights of teachers. Scott has been demanding for several weeks that lawmakers achieve up to $26 million in savings in the Education Fund from health care savings. “It keeps negotiations local and respects collective bargaining practices, which is important to some of the parties at the table,” the speaker said. “It really narrows some of that discussion a bit and works to create savings up to the $26 million statewide.”

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Legislature goes into overtime as disagreements with Scott remain

MONTPELIER — The Senate passed a proposal Friday to achieve $13 million in Education Fund Savings, but lawmakers are stuck on a slow-motion path to adjournment and will return to the Capitol next week after House Republicans declined to suspend House rules to immediately consider the legislation. The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of mandating $13 million in savings from local school districts in the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2018. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said the plan is intended to meet Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s demand for Education Fund Savings. But the proposal approved by the Senate achieves the savings in ways the governor has said he does not support. Scott wants to save money by requiring all teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Discord lingers over teacher health care

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers came up short once again Thursday in their quest to find common ground on a major fiscal issue that, once resolved, will allow the legislative session to come to a close. Democratic House and Senate leaders Wednesday evening tweaked a proposal put forth by Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and offered it up as a compromise to the Republican governor. But Scott said it wasn’t something he was prepared to accept and planned to offer a counter proposal. Lawmakers have been engaged in a standoff with Scott for the past several weeks over how to save up to $26 million annually in the state’s Education Fund. Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Deal on teacher health care remains elusive

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers returned to the State House Wednesday after adjourning for a long weekend Friday but were still unable to find common ground with Gov. Phil Scott on the main issue holding up the end of the legislative session. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate met with the Republican governor Wednesday, along with representatives of the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont National Education Association, but no accord was reached on how to achieve up to $26 million in projected savings from changes in the health insurance plans offered to teachers that will take effect in January. The potential savings comes from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. The federal Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, includes a tax on high-end insurance plans. To avoid the tax, VEHI is offering a new slate of plans to Vermont teachers that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. Continue Reading →

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Dems fend off push to alter teacher health care negotiations

MONTPELIER — The House and Senate are continuing to wrangle with crucial money bills as they aim to adjourn the first half of the legislative biennium Saturday. They have plenty of work left to do, however, and a showdown with Republican Gov. Phil Scott looms large at the end of this legislative session over his main priority for this year. Late Wednesday night, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson cast a rare vote to fend off a Republican-led amendment to fundamentally change the way teachers in the state negotiate their health care benefits. Johnson, D-South Hero, cast her vote after the House voted 74-73 to embrace a plan pushed by Scott to move negotiating for teachers’ health care benefits from the local school district level to one statewide contract. With her vote against the measure, the House was knotted at 74-74 — close, but not enough for the GOP and 16 Democrats who bucked their own leadership to secure a majority. Continue Reading →

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GOP pushes governor’s teacher health care savings

MONTPELIER — The House postponed action on an education financing bill Monday as Democrats and Republicans continued to posture over Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to save $26 million in the Education Fund by changing how teachers negotiate their health care benefits. Scott is looking to capitalize on a unique situation this year that has all teachers in Vermont negotiating new health care benefits. That’s because the Vermont Education Health Initiative, which provides health care plans to teachers, is changing its offerings in response to the federal Affordable Care Act. Scott’s plan seeks to save $26 million by removing negotiations for health care from the local level and having them take place on a statewide level with his administration. If teachers agree to pay for at least 20 percent of their health care premiums the savings are attainable, according to the governor. Continue Reading →

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Senate advances budget and tax bills unanimously

MONTPELIER — The Senate advanced its version of the 2018 fiscal year state budget and a corresponding tax bill Wednesday on unanimous votes. The Senate’s spending plan, passed on a 30 to 0 vote, includes a $1.56 billion General Fund, which is 1.7 percent higher than the current 2017 fiscal year budget. It is slightly lower than the House-passed version, however, which grew 1.8 percent over the current year. Overall, the Senate’s total state budget including all state and federal funds totals $5.83 billion — slight more than the House’s $5.815 billion in total spending. The Senate version spends more than $13 million in ways that differ from the House proposal, which cleared the House on a 143 to 1 vote. Continue Reading →

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Watch: Capital Beat with Sen. Jane Kitchel and Rep. Kitty Toll

Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, are on the program this week to discuss the 2018 fiscal year state budget. The two sisters are charged with ushering a nearly $6 billion budget through the Legislature. Capital Beat airs on Vermont PBS Plus Mondays at 8:30 p.m. Continue Reading →

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