by Timothy McQuiston, Vermont Business Magazine Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday continued to explain his reasoning behind his veto of the budget and his ongoing concern for taxes and fees in bills on which he has yet to act. On Thursday he then vetoed charter change bills for Brattleboro and Burlington, while allowing a gun bill to become law without his signature because of constitutional questions.
See below all bills that he has processed through June 1.
The Legislature has scheduled a three-day "veto session" beginning June 21 to review vetoed bills. Several will be voted on and the budget must be resolved. The fiscal year begins July 1. During the veto session, lawmakers are not limited to just the vetoed bills and could take any other action, though they historically have not.
Here is a paraphrased summary of the press conference, which was heavily tilted toward homelessness and the ending of the hotel/motel program.
Q: Would you consider issuing a State of Emergency to deal with the homeless situation as suggested by Speaker Krowinski? (About 800 families were required to leave their hotel rooms on June 1 or face eviction. Another about 2,000 will see the program end on July 1. For those who are still eligible, the program will restart on July 1 and run another 28 days).
Scott: It is one of the tools in the tool box. It gives the governor "almost limitless" authority, and should be used judiciously and sparingly, as we did during the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Scott said it could be used to access private assets and supersede regulatory rules and access ARPA money. He would not commit to any of that nor did he offer specifics, but nor did he rule out).
Q: During the veto session, a new budget could come back with even more money that you'd disapprove of, not less, what would happen then, another veto?
Scott: Party will take precedent over principle. I think those 17 House members in question will vote with the party and the veto will be overridden. There is always a path forward.
Q: Why no deal yet?
Scott: We've been working to reach agreement with leadership since last October. We have the same general goals but have different ideas on how to pay for them. Vermonters may well see more homeless on the streets. We don't want anyone to suffer.
Q: Is there any middle ground on this?
Scott: "I've provided middle ground. Maybe I should have played more hardball." But I thought leadership and I could resolve these funding issues. I played it stgraight. There are economic storm clouds coming. And they have the votes to override in any case.
Q: Is there time to finish by July 1; it's a pretty tight window?
Scott: Yes. They can override.
Q: There could be 1,000 homeless on July 1.
Scott: Everyone who qualifies could get another 28 in the program.
Q: Why did you vetoed S.39 (significant increase in lawmaker pay, plus adding some health and retirement benefits)?
Scott: As a legislator myself and as governor, the biggest impediment to recruitment of new legislators isn't pay, it's time. People want to know, and their families and employers want to know, how long they're going to be away. The biggest benefit we could give them is to certainty. Let's contract them for 90 days. We don't need a fulltime Legislature.
Q: Does the Legislature has enough time to get through everything in only a three-day window; there's a lot on their plate.
Scott: It's up to them.
Q: The Green Mountain Care Board was scheduled to review the OneCare budget today but has postponed it; how is it working?
Scott: It's challenged but moving forward (Blue Cross Vermont is pulling out of the Accountable Care Organization because they are not seeing the economic benefit).
Human Services Secretary Samuleson: GMCB is independent of us so I can't speak for them. The ACO has achieved some of their goals but not all. We will continue to monitor its progress (it is intended to save money and improve individual health over time as health care providers get paid to keep people from getting sick instead of largely getting paid after they do in the current fee-for-service model.) This all-payer model is new and came along right before the pandemic and inflation began to rise.
Q: The budget is dependent on expected tax revenues, but the personal income tax, in particular, has cratered the last three months. Will there be enough money to pay for what's in the budget?
Scott: We had factored in a lowering of tax revenues going forward. The federal stimulus that began at the beginning of pandemic then led to an expanding economy. But I don't believe that will continue. "If I'm wrong, good, great." I admit when I'm wrong. Vermont is "along for the ride" to some extent on how the national economy is performing.
Q: Will you evict the people in the hotel/hotel program starting tomorrow?
Scott: We don't do evictions. We just pay the bills. (The state does not have a contract with the hotels and motels serving the homeless. If people are qualified, the state pays what the hotels charge. The governor called them "guests" of the hotel and management will have to deal with them like anyone else if they do not want to leave, which could lead to an eviction process.)
Samuleson: If the individuals are at a property for more than four months, they get to keep the $3,300 security deposit back unless the hotel challenges it. If less than four months, that money comes back to the state. Continuing eligibility includes being third-trimester pregnant, a family with children up to 18, disabled or over 65.
Prepared Remarks from Governor Phil Scott's Press Conference on May 31, 2023
Good afternoon and thanks for being here. As you all know, I vetoed the budget this weekend because it raises costs on everyday Vermonters, relies on a new payroll tax, increases DMV fees by 20%, and grows base spending at more than twice the rate of inflation, which isn’t sustainable.
I think it’s why I’ve been elected and reelected, to provide balance, common sense, and fiscal responsibility, so I will follow through on that promise.
As I made clear in my veto message, we continue to face an affordability crisis in Vermont.
I hear it from Vermonters every single day.
It’s one reason I ran for Governor in the first place.
Whether it’s young Vermonters just starting out, seniors on fixed incomes who’ve lived here their whole lives, or working families trying to get by, we’re simply too expensive for too many people.
And with high inflation, the last thing we should be doing is adding to the affordability problem by imposing new and higher taxes, fees, and penalties.
That’s especially true when we have record surpluses. But unfortunately, that’s what this does.
And here’s the important part, it doesn't have to be this way because we have enough money from organic revenue growth to make significant progress on the initiatives we agree on, without adding to Vermonters’ costs.
My budget proved that.
It leveraged a historic $390 million in surplus revenue to fund many of these shared priorities like childcare, voluntary paid family and medical leave, housing, climate change mitigation, and more.
Again, all without raising taxes or fees.
Now, I understand how this process works and also know I won’t get everything I want.
That’s why I’ve offered paths alternative along the way because this is a two-way street.
I think it’s also important to remember, the Legislature has also “vetoed” their fair share of my ideas by not taking them up.
For example, the Legislature had no interest in:
• Tax relief for senior citizens on fixed incomes
• Broader Act 250 reform to help us solve the housing crisis
• Expanding the earned income tax credit, which helps low income working families
• Or joining the vast majority of states by fully exempting military retirement pay from the state income tax, which I heard a lot about over the weekend at different events.
And they cut my funding requests for VHIP by 33% which has been incredibly successful for those experiencing homelessness, which makes no sense to cut.
They also reduced my proposal for “missing middle” housing, tuition breaks for community college students, and more.
Again, those are just a handful of many examples of the Legislature basically vetoing my proposals.
Now with this budget, I know there’s been a lot of attention around the GA program.
To be clear, that is not an area of disagreement between me, legislative leaders, and the majority of the Legislature.
So instead of the conversation being about getting 100 votes to override my veto, we should focus on how we can come to an agreement on the budget to get a signature because I think that’s what most Vermonters expect of us.
With that, I’ll turn it over to questions.