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Washington-Chittenden: Waterbury, Bolton, Huntington & Buels Gore

The 2017 End of Session Report

September 12, 2017

reptomstevens

Screen Shot 2017-09-12 at 12.59.03 PMIt has been nearly three months since we gavelled out of this year’s session, and in the background was the notion that we may have had to return in October, if the shenanigans in DC amounted to Vermont being damaged financially. With some luck, it seems that the fears we have are postponed to another time, and Congress and the President have agreed to a Continuing Resolution, which continues funding at present levels. With this news, the Speaker of the House, the Senate Pro Tem and the Governor have agreed to cancel the October session and, save for summer committees, our work is complete. (Which is not to say we are not worried about the impacts being made on all of our systems due to gross reductions in staff across many agencies, from HUD to the EPA and so on…)

And now, so is our 2017 End of Session Report. Rep. Theresa Wood and I were as perplexed as you were at the endgame — three vetoes by the Governor on bills that received wide approval in the House and Senate. We worked with our caucus to stand strong for the work we did that benefitted Vermonters most — a balanced budget with no new taxes, funding for more affordable housing and improvements in our child care and mental health systems.

As always, please feel free to reach out with your thoughts, needs, and criticism. It remains a privilege to serve you.

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When Others Say it Better Than You Can Part 2

June 20, 2017

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This opinion piece was written by Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and published around the state. It is a straightforward and honest description of the dilemma we are facing as a Legislature and a state — how do you react to a situation where you are faced with a negotiation over something less than tangential to what you are negotiating over, and when the opposition, in this case Governor Scott, refuse to negotiate in good faith? It is easy to call this “spin,” especially if you don’t agree with it, but in this case, it speaks to the truth. The Vermont Legislature, and Democrats/Progressives in general, passed a budget that raised no taxes or fees, and an education tax yield bill that lowered the statewide property tax rate. This is fact. The Governor’s initial budget proposal would have required a substantial rise in the statewide property tax, and his desire in these negotiations is to take savings negotiated by local school boards for statewide purposes. We fundamentally disagree.

When your state representatives were sworn in January 4th, each pledged faithful, honest service to the people and constitution of Vermont. In my opening remarks as Speaker of the House, I asked them to do this by evaluating and prioritizing our state’s needs to support the long-term health and wellness of our state. Given the vast uncertainty at the national level, and your voices at the local level, your legislators crafted a budget that carefully balances Vermont’s diverse, sometimes competing requests. We worked across political aisles to find budget reductions. Together we invested in housing, higher education, water quality, economic development, childcare and mental health. We put more money into the education fund to reduce pressure on your property taxes and raised NO taxes and fees. We spent less than the projected revenues, building savings that will mitigate uncertainty in federal funds. Read more

When Others Say it Better Than You Can

June 11, 2017

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Rep. Valerie Stuart from Brattleboro sent this text as a letter to the editor of the Brattleboro Reformer. She captures the innate conflict between what reality the Legislature worked with during the session, and the alternative reality created by the Scott Administration in the waning days of the session. Her words are clear and accurate.

There’s an old saying, and like a lot of old sayings there is a lot of truth to it: Actions speak louder than words. That axiom comes to mind when House and Senate Democrats reflect on the last session, which, unfortunately, hasn’t ended yet because Governor Scott vetoed the budget. As a result, the Legislature plans to convene again on June 21 and 22 and attempt to reach a compromise that will avert our state government’s shutdown.

During his tenure as Lt. Governor, Phil Scott appeared to be a moderate Republican. He also appeared to be a middle of the road Republican throughout his gubernatorial campaign. Consequently, many Democrats assumed he would pursue the open lines of communication characteristic of Vermont’s governors.

Unfortunately, there have been many instances during the last session when Governor Scott’s actions have spoken louder than his words. For example, during his inaugural address the governor said he would sign a budget that was balanced and did not raise new taxes or fees. The budget passed by the House and Senate — just one vote short of unanimous support — achieves both goals. It lowers property taxes for working Vermonters. And it balances the budget without raising any new taxes or fees. In addition, the budget the House and Senate developed: invests $100 million in affordable housing statewide; fosters mental health care improvements; bolsters higher education; and supports child care. Those were all priorities Vermonters called for during the last election. The Democratically led Legislature delivered a budget that addresses Vermonters’ concerns.

So what is wrong with this picture? Everything. Cleary, Phil Scott is playing politics with Vermonters. He has vetoed the budget, ostensibly over an idea his administration sprang on the General Assembly during the final weeks of the session when there was insufficient time to carefully vet it. What is particularly troubling about his proposal is the fact that it takes away local control away from school boards and school staff, which are values Vermonters have repeatedly shown they support.

Perhaps worst of all, the Governor did not negotiate in good faith. Democratic leaders from both the House and Senate put multiple proposals on the table that would insure an equal amount of savings for Vermont taxpayers as the Scott’s proposal. And both bodies’ leadership teams were more than willing to meet him halfway.

Scott ran his campaign claiming to be a leader who was committed to working across the aisle. By refusing to work with legislative leadership and refusing to play by the rules that have historically underpinned politics in Vermont, he has proven that what he said was just empty campaign rhetoric. So now one of the key questions Vermont voters need to ask themselves is: Who is the real Phil Scott. And what does he really stand for?