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Lawmakers pushing forward on budget deal

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott stood side-by-side with legislative leaders Wednesday morning to announce a deal on how to save property tax dollars on teacher health care plans, an issue that held up the end of the legislative session last month and led to vetoes of the state budget and property tax yield bill. Wednesday was the first of a scheduled two-day veto session after Scott, a Republican, vetoed the state budget and a the yield bill, which sets property tax rates, because lawmakers did not include his demand to save up to $26 million on the cost of teachers health care plans by, in part, creating a statewide negotiation for health benefits. The day began with Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, holding a State House news conference to tout the accord. Scott said the deal “will help the state achieve significant savings in the Education Fund” and “will set property tax rates at or below fiscal year 2017 levels.”

“The resolution reached is indeed a compromise, but it’s a good one that saves taxpayers millions. We found areas of common ground and we each gave on areas where there was none,” Scott said. Continue Reading →

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Scott fulfills promise to veto budget, property tax bills

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. Continue Reading →

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Scott receives budget bill after formal request for immediate delivery

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott’s office received the 2018 fiscal year budget bill from the House Friday afternoon after it submitted a formal request for immediate delivery, setting the stage for the governor to veto the budget and a property tax bill sometime next week. Lawmakers had maintained possession of the 2018 fiscal year budget since they passed it two weeks ago and adjourned the 2017 legislative session. Another bill that sets property tax rates, known as the yield bill, was delivered to the governor Thursday. Scott has vowed 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 is seeking to capture savings from new health care plans that will be offered to all Vermont teachers in January. Continue Reading →

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Governor, lawmakers look to set ground rules for VEHI savings negotiation

MONTPELIER — As a June 21 veto session nears, Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers are mired in negotiations over how negotiations should proceed on Scott’s desire to push all Vermont teachers into a uniform health care benefit to save money. Scott said at his weekly news conference Wednesday that legislative leaders reached out to him late last week about setting up a meeting to rekindle negotiations on his teacher health care savings plan. But Scott indicated he wasn’t interested in meeting with the group of lawmakers Democratic legislative leaders proposed. “It’s about the process at this point, just trying to set up a way for us to move forward so we’re not wasting our time and we have the right people in the room,” Scott told reporters. “We’re going to respond to them in writing and set some guidelines as to how I think this negotiation should work. Continue Reading →

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Scott selects Mullin, Usifer for Green Mountain Care Board

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott formally announced the appointment of Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin to serve as chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, along with Maureen Usifer, who will work alongside Mullin as another new member. Mullin, 58, of Rutland, is the current chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee. He said Wednesday he will resign his Senate seat in the coming days to accept the appointment to the board. Mullin was appointed to the Senate in January 2003 and has won re-election every election cycle since then. He previously served three terms in the Vermont House. Continue Reading →

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Scott will tap Mullin to lead Green Mountain Care Board

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has chosen Rutland County Republican Sen. Kevin Mullin to be the next chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board, according to several sources. Mullin, the current chairman of the Senate Economic Development, Housing and General Affairs Committee, will resign his Senate seat in the coming days to accept the appointment to the board. Both Mullin and Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley declined to comment on the appointment Tuesday evening. Scott called Mullin Tuesday to inform him of the appointment, according to the sources. Other candidates who were interviewed but not selected have been informed in recent days. Continue Reading →

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Lawmakers adjourn, await veto

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers ended the legislative session early Friday morning, passing a state budget and other key bills, but with no accord reached with Gov. Phil Scott on the cost of teachers’ health care benefits, lawmakers will surely return next month for a veto session. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, met with the Republican governor several times Thursday hoping to hammer out a deal. The meetings occurred with such frequency that rank-and-file lawmakers began to assume a deal was imminent. But the legislative leaders finally acknowledged Thursday evening that a deal was to remain elusive and set in motion the process required to complete the budget and other money bills without the governor’s approval for adjournment. Scott, who spoke to both chambers before they adjourned, reaffirmed his intention to veto the budget and a bill that sets property tax rates. Continue Reading →

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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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