“H.509 and H.518 fail to achieve these goals and, as a result, I cannot support them as written. We must not be afraid to think, and legislate, differently in order to reverse our challenging demographic trends, grow the economy, and make Vermont more affordable. I have made a number of proposals to generate savings in the Education Fund, beginning with my first budget presentation. To date, the Legislature has rejected all such proposals and instead has passed H.509, which, together with and intrinsically linked to H.518, only worsens the unsustainable trajectory towards higher property taxes to support an education system with declining enrollment and extremely high per pupil costs.”
With those words, and about seven pages that followed, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed the Legislature’s budget passed earlier this year, and the accompanying yield bill that sets statewide property tax rates for education spending for the year.
This veto shouldn’t surprise anyone who pays attention to politics in Vermont. The veto threat had become a game of political brinksmanship during the recently-concluded legislative session. Scott campaigned on keeping taxes in check and he had been saying for the last month of the legislative session he would veto the budget if he and the Legislature couldn’t reach a deal on statewide teacher health care negotiations.
They didn’t, and he did.
Scott’s veto leaves us wondering what legislative leaders will do next. It wasn’t like this was unexpected, so we assume the Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have been working on a plan in anticipation of the veto.
The plan has to be more than just calling Republican Scott a Trump surrogate, as they did in a May 20 letter to Democratic supporters. That letter, co-signed by Windham County Sen. Becca Balint, said in part that Scott “turned his back on Vermonters who are crying out for affordable housing and property tax relief. The copied budget reports were literally still warm from the copier. His Administration couldn’t have even thoroughly read the report! This is not the Vermont way.”
Maybe it’s not, but Vermont has real issues with taxation, and Scott was willing to put his chips on the table to get something done that, in his view, helps taxpayers more than whatever proposals the Democrats came up with.
Scott said in his election campaign last year he would work to keep taxes in check. This was the one issue he’s been willing to fall on his sword for.
Politicians often learn the hard way what happens when they break campaign promises. Just ask former Gov. Peter Shumlin how many hits he took after backing away from his promise of single-payer health care. Even though, in our opinion, it was the right thing to do, he was pilloried for it by his core supporters. Or, look at what happened when former President George H. W. Bush broke his promise of “Read my lips, no new taxes” before the 1992 election. He ended up battling Ross Perot for votes and losing to Bill Clinton. Scott has obviously learned that political lesson and is sticking to his promise.
We have no doubt that by the time legislators return to the Statehouse on June 21 for a special session, Scott and House and Senate leaders will have a deal in place, one that probably won’t look too much different from something they couldn’t agree on last month. If they don’t, why bother bringing the Legislature back at all? How this all plays out will be very interesting to observe, and holds real-world ramifications for taxpaying Vermonters.
What will be more interesting is who will come out of the fracas with more political capital, and who will have to spend down theirs to get a deal done.