Don Turner

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Governor, lawmakers strike budget deal on eve of veto session

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders struck a deal Tuesday to end a month-long impasse on the state budget and property tax bills as rank-and-file lawmakers prepared to return to the State House for a veto session Wednesday. The breakthrough on the eve of the veto session should pave the way for a relatively smooth process Wednesday. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said a new budget was being drafted and would likely be distributed to all rank-and-file members of the Legislature Tuesday night. “I feel like we have a strong compromise that … everybody will be able to say yes to. I think, conceptually, we’re agreed to stuff, which is a huge step forward from yesterday,” she told reporters Tuesday afternoon. Continue Reading →

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Scott vetoes pot legalization, offers path forward

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a marijuana legalization bill but said Wednesday he will reconsider signing it if lawmakers make changes during a veto session next month. Scott’s announcement at a news conference Wednesday ended days of speculation about the bill’s fate, but it opened the door to even more intense lobbying and campaigning in the weeks leading up to the June 21 veto session. It also halts — at least temporarily — the potential for Vermont to become the first state to legalize recreational marijuana use through the legislative process. Eight states and Washington, D.C., have legalized marijuana, but all did so through voter referendums.

“I am returning this bill to the Legislature. I am, however, offering a path forward that takes a much more thorough look at what public health, safety and education policies are needed before Vermont moves toward a regulatory and revenue system for an adult-use marijuana market,” the governor said. 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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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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House passes budget plan with just one no vote

MONTPELIER — Tax and spending bills in the Vermont House received broad, tri-partisan support on the floor for the first time in many years as the body agreed to balance a projected state budget gap without raising taxes and fees. Majority Democrats secured the support of Republicans and managed to hold onto left-leaning Progressives as they crafted a budget bill that cuts into existing services. The House gave preliminary approval to the annual tax bill on a 138 to 0 vote Thursday morning, followed by preliminary approval of a 2018 fiscal year state budget on a 143 to 1 vote later in the afternoon. The House’s tax bill does not create any new taxes or fees, nor does it raise existing ones. It does raise about $5 million in revenue, however, by counting on better compliance from Vermonters, which was enough to gain the support of the entire GOP caucus. Continue Reading →

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House Appropriations sends state budget to the floor

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee gave unanimous approval Monday to a state budget plan that closes a $72 million projected gap between revenue and expenses without raising taxes and fees, a demand from Republican Gov. Phil Scott that has loomed over the Democratic majority for months. Overall, the Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, opted to cut general fund spending by about $67 million. Another $5 million in revenue is expected to be generated through enhanced compliance of existing taxes. The plan was approved by the committee on a 11 to 0 vote Monday afternoon, and won the support of four Republican members. The House’s 2018 fiscal year spending plan does not raise taxes or fees, as Scott demanded. Continue Reading →

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House to conduct Orange recount Wednesday

MONTPELIER — A panel of House members will conduct a recount in the Orange-1 House district on Wednesday after approving the rules and procedures governing the recount last week. Republican Rep. Bob Frenier, of Chelsea, defeated incumbent Rep. Susan Hatch Davis, P-Washington, in November’s general election by eight votes. A recount conducted after Election Day narrowed Frenier’s victory to seven votes, but his win was certified and he was sworn in last month as the duly elected representative of the district. But Davis petitioned the House to review the election. After a fivehour debate earlier this month, the House passed a resolution calling for a legislative recount with strenuous objections from Republicans. Continue Reading →

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House OKs recount of Orange House race

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House approved a resolution Wednesday after hours of pointed debate that calls for a recount in the Orange-1 House district race between Robert Frenier and Susan Hatch Davis that was decided by seven votes. Frenier, a Republican who was seated as a House member last month, beat Hatch Davis, a five-term Progressive incumbent, by an eight-vote margin on Election Day. A recount sought by Hatch Davis narrowed Frenier’s victory to a seven-vote margin, but was certified by a judge. Hatch Davis remained unconvinced, however, and sought another recount, which was rejected by Orange County Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout. Hatch Davis then contested the election with the House, which has the authority to “judge” the election and qualifications of its members under the Vermont Constitution. Continue Reading →

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Senate committee rejects Scott’s school budget mandate

MONTPELIER — The Senate Education committee has unanimously voted to oppose Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to mandate that all school budgets be leveled-funded next year — and that rejection has broad budget implications. That’s because the governor had hoped to deal with a budget gap in the state’s General Fund, in part, by transferring early education, higher education and teacher retirement programs over to the Education Fund. The roughly $50 million price tag for this transfer was to be offset by a plan to require that all local school budgets not grow at all next year. The governor’s proposal would also require all teachers to pay for 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Because many school boards are finalizing their budgets for next year, the governor proposed moving all local budget votes from Town Meeting Day in March to late May to give the boards more time to reduce their budgets. Senate Education chairman Phillip Baruth says the governor’s plan is unfair to local school boards. Continue Reading →

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