The special session of the legislature is now entering its third week (albeit only one or two days a week). The session was necessitated by the veto of the state budget and education funding bills passed in the regular session. Originally it was believed we could come to agreement and get the necessary budget and tax bill done in a few days, if not a week. Now, however, if the standoff doesn’t end soon, there may be no agreement prior to the start of the new fiscal year on July 1.
In what might appear as a bit of gamesmanship, legislative leaders put forth a bill with no increase in the average residential property statewide tax, yet does default to an increase on non-residential property, clearly inviting another veto. The non-residential rate applies to apartments, second homes, commercial property, camps, etc, of which the majority are owned by Vermonters. Scott has been crystal clear that he will not sign any bill that increases taxes or fees. In meetings last week, he reiterated his resolve to hold the line. H.13, the new budget and tax bill, was put forth with the idea that the a budget could be passed and signed to keep the State running after July 1 in the event the disagreement over property taxes wasn’t resolved. However as noted, while H.13 holds average residential rates steady, it doesn’t keep non-residential from going up 5.5 cents.
Scott has made it obvious that he is not afraid to use his veto pen. Now up to ten bills being vetoed, he is just one away from Howard Dean’s record of eleven in 1994. Whether one agrees with the Governor or not on holding the line on all taxes this year, legislative leaders have to know he is not bluffing when it comes to vetoing yet another budget and tax bill in the current form.
From my perspective, it would be rather unfortunate to continue the stalemate. A proposal was put forth by Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington, that would have frozen state tax rates and likely been approved by the Governor, yet was voted down last Friday. As we write this column, another compromise that doesn’t increase taxes will be presented by Rep. Scott Beck, R-St Johnsbury, this Tuesday. If that doesn’t pass, the standoff will continue.
As previously mentioned, I am an advocate for reaching the necessary compromises during the regularly budgeted 18 week session. So, I am not submitting for regular pay for the special session. We should have had our work done within the time frame allocated in the budget.