Statehouse

Rep. Jim Harrison Weekly Update

Veto Override Votes May be Coming

First a recap of last week:

  • Governor Scott gave his budget address on Tuesday, outlining his administration’s spending priorities for the coming year. No new taxes or fees were proposed to fund the state budget, although an expansion of gambling revenues (sports betting and keno) were included to help fund more child care subsidies. Many lawmakers were cool on the idea of legalizing additional gambling.
     
  • The House passed a new mandated paid leave plan on an 89-58 vote, short of the two thirds necessary to override an expected gubernatorial veto. Scott has advocated for a voluntary plan that would allow employees and employers to opt-in instead of a mandatory plan funded by a $29 million payroll tax on all employees.
     
  • The House also passed a hike in the State’s minimum wage to $12.55 over two years on a 93-54 vote. The measure now goes to the Senate for a final vote before heading to the Governor. Scott has opposed increases before other than the current automatic hikes tied to CPI, however it is unclear if he will veto this measure.
     
  • The Governor’s speech to the General Assembly was not interrupted by climate activists last week, as it was on January 9th.
     
  • The House Energy & Technology Committee has been devoting all of its committee time to the Global Warming Solutions Act, which would make carbon reductions goals legally binding on the State. The bill, H.688 as introduced, had 87 co-sponsors, enough to assure easy passage in the House.

 
The Senate continues to delay veto override votes on two bills sent back by Scott last June, S.37, medical monitoring and S.169, waiting period for firearm purchases. Backers of S.37, which would add new liability onto businesses for certain monitoring, such as water testing, continue to be one vote short of the necessary two-thirds needed in the Senate.  Meanwhile, opponents of the measure argue that the bill is now unnecessary since a recent court decision clarifying a company’s responsibility in this area.
 
If the Governor decides to veto the paid leave plan and/or minimum wage increase, override votes are sure to happen soon. House leaders are already looking to those members in the Democrat and Progressive caucuses who voted against the measures (because they were scaled back in terms of the paid leave plan) to see if they are willing to change and vote for an override. It often is painted as an “us vs them” vote to defend the legislature’s action or vote with the Governor.

Where’s the Beef?

A Governor’s budget proposal is often the place where the rubber meets the road. Scott, to his credit, continued on the path of not relying on new taxes to fund his budget. However, unless it contains cuts in state spending, it is hard to make significant investments in other areas. That is a challenge for any Governor in putting together his/her budget blueprint.
 
Scott reminded us that we face a growing demographic crises in Vermont. We are getting older as a state and not showing the kind of growth we need to sustain our economy in the future. Last week, we reported one idea under consideration was exempting those under 26 from state income taxes to encourage young people to move or stay here. It would have definitely made a statement, but the proposal was scrapped due to its cost.
 
The budget ended up taking a more traditional approach when you have limited funds. It included more money for downtown tax credits, funds to help rehabilitate existing housing stock, increased emphasis on apprenticeships, incentives to retain nursing graduates, increased tourism marketing, increases in childcare and more.
 
All of these investments are worthy and may help our state grow. Whether, big and bold ideas are the answer or small and incremental changes are more effective, remains to be seen.
 
Scott has proclaimed every year since he took office in 2017, “the state budget should not grow any faster than people’s paychecks.” The total budget including federal dollars, is about 2% higher than last year. That number is not always easy to meet with contractual increases in employee pay and growing pension obligations.

Representative Jim Harrison

I am honored to serve as the state representative for the district towns of Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington & Mendon. You may reach me at JHarrison@leg.state.vt.us or my cell 802-236-3001. Messages may also be left during the legislative session at 802-828-2228.

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