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Lawmakers pushing forward on budget deal

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott stood side-by-side with legislative leaders Wednesday morning to announce a deal on how to save property tax dollars on teacher health care plans, an issue that held up the end of the legislative session last month and led to vetoes of the state budget and property tax yield bill. Wednesday was the first of a scheduled two-day veto session after Scott, a Republican, vetoed the state budget and a the yield bill, which sets property tax rates, because lawmakers did not include his demand to save up to $26 million on the cost of teachers health care plans by, in part, creating a statewide negotiation for health benefits. The day began with Scott, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, holding a State House news conference to tout the accord. Scott said the deal “will help the state achieve significant savings in the Education Fund” and “will set property tax rates at or below fiscal year 2017 levels.”

“The resolution reached is indeed a compromise, but it’s a good one that saves taxpayers millions. We found areas of common ground and we each gave on areas where there was none,” Scott said. Continue Reading →

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Scott fulfills promise to veto budget, property tax bills

MONTPELIER — Republican Gov. Phil Scott fulfilled his promise Tuesday to veto the state budget and a bill that sets property tax rates over a disagreement with Democratic lawmakers about how to negotiate teacher health care benefits. Scott sent a single veto message to House Clerk William MaGill Tuesday morning for both the budget, H.518, and what is known as the yield bill, H.509. MaGill promptly rejected the single message, however, saying two bills cannot be vetoed in a single message. “Every bill needs to have it’s own objections, according to the [Vermont] Constitution,” MaGill said. “There hasn’t been, as far as I’ve ever seen, a veto message for two bills at the same time.”

Scott spokesman Ethan Latour said the administration disagrees with MaGill’s ruling, saying there is not constitutional provision or statute “for the house clerk to impost a restriction on how, or in what way, a governor communicates his objections in writing.”

“We feel the House Clerk’s actions are obstructionist, unconstitutional and partisan, which makes them exponentially more concerning,” Latour said. Continue Reading →

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Scott receives budget bill after formal request for immediate delivery

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott’s office received the 2018 fiscal year budget bill from the House Friday afternoon after it submitted a formal request for immediate delivery, setting the stage for the governor to veto the budget and a property tax bill sometime next week. Lawmakers had maintained possession of the 2018 fiscal year budget since they passed it two weeks ago and adjourned the 2017 legislative session. Another bill that sets property tax rates, known as the yield bill, was delivered to the governor Thursday. Scott has vowed to veto both pieces of legislative because they do not account for a savings of up to $26 million in the Education Fund that he began demanding from lawmakers in mid-April. Scott is seeking to capture savings from new health care plans that will be offered to all Vermont teachers in January. Continue Reading →

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Governor, lawmakers look to set ground rules for VEHI savings negotiation

MONTPELIER — As a June 21 veto session nears, Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers are mired in negotiations over how negotiations should proceed on Scott’s desire to push all Vermont teachers into a uniform health care benefit to save money. Scott said at his weekly news conference Wednesday that legislative leaders reached out to him late last week about setting up a meeting to rekindle negotiations on his teacher health care savings plan. But Scott indicated he wasn’t interested in meeting with the group of lawmakers Democratic legislative leaders proposed. “It’s about the process at this point, just trying to set up a way for us to move forward so we’re not wasting our time and we have the right people in the room,” Scott told reporters. “We’re going to respond to them in writing and set some guidelines as to how I think this negotiation should work. Continue Reading →

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Dems declare impasse, look to end session without agreement with governor

MONTPELIER — Democratic leaders in the Legislature, frustrated by a lack of movement in negotiations with Republican Gov. Phil Scott, said Wednesday they are moving forward with wrapping up work on the state budget and other key bills and hope to end the legislative session Thursday. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, held a State House news conference Thursday morning and declared an impasse in their talks with the governor over how to save on the cost of teachers’ health care. The two leaders presented a united front after several weeks of talks with the governor failed to produce an agreement. “We have reached an impasse,” Johnson said. “We’ve had over a dozen meetings in the last couple of weeks where we brought proposals forward to the governor to talk about how reduce property taxes for Vermonters and what we’ve discovered is that the key component of this is not actually the money piece, it’s about who’s controlling the conversation.”

“There is a point where negotiation becomes a dictation,” Ashe said. Continue Reading →

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Unions oppose latest attempt to resolve teacher health care showdown

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson’s proposal to save on the cost of teachers’ health care plans appears to be growing on Gov. Phil Scott, but she received a lashing from unions Tuesday and may have trouble getting fellow Democrats on board. Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the Republican governor have been engaged in a stalemate for three weeks over a demand by Scott that teachers pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. The impasse has caused the Legislature to remain in session beyond the 18 weeks included in the state budget. Democratic leaders and Scott agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. VEHI is offering new plans to all Vermont teachers beginning in January that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. That change is driven by a provision in the federal Affordable Care Act that will tax high-end insurance plans that many teachers currently have. Continue Reading →

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Speaker crafts new savings plan, hopes to end stalemate

MONTPELIER — Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said Monday she is working on a compromise with Republican Gov. Phil Scott to end a stalemate over teacher health care savings that has prevented lawmakers from completing the legislative session. Johnson, of South Hero, said she met with the governor Monday to reveal her plan to achieve the health care savings without infringing on the collective bargaining rights of teachers. Scott has been demanding for several weeks that lawmakers achieve up to $26 million in savings in the Education Fund from health care savings. “It keeps negotiations local and respects collective bargaining practices, which is important to some of the parties at the table,” the speaker said. “It really narrows some of that discussion a bit and works to create savings up to the $26 million statewide.”

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Legislature goes into overtime as disagreements with Scott remain

MONTPELIER — The Senate passed a proposal Friday to achieve $13 million in Education Fund Savings, but lawmakers are stuck on a slow-motion path to adjournment and will return to the Capitol next week after House Republicans declined to suspend House rules to immediately consider the legislation. The Senate voted 20-9 in favor of mandating $13 million in savings from local school districts in the 2018 fiscal year, which ends on June 30, 2018. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, said the plan is intended to meet Republican Gov. Phil Scott’s demand for Education Fund Savings. But the proposal approved by the Senate achieves the savings in ways the governor has said he does not support. Scott wants to save money by requiring all teachers to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums.

Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Discord lingers over teacher health care

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott and lawmakers came up short once again Thursday in their quest to find common ground on a major fiscal issue that, once resolved, will allow the legislative session to come to a close. Democratic House and Senate leaders Wednesday evening tweaked a proposal put forth by Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe and offered it up as a compromise to the Republican governor. But Scott said it wasn’t something he was prepared to accept and planned to offer a counter proposal. Lawmakers have been engaged in a standoff with Scott for the past several weeks over how to save up to $26 million annually in the state’s Education Fund. Democratic leaders in the Legislature and the governor agree that savings can be achieved from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. Continue Reading →

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Deal on teacher health care remains elusive

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers returned to the State House Wednesday after adjourning for a long weekend Friday but were still unable to find common ground with Gov. Phil Scott on the main issue holding up the end of the legislative session. Democratic leaders in the House and Senate met with the Republican governor Wednesday, along with representatives of the Vermont School Boards Association and the Vermont National Education Association, but no accord was reached on how to achieve up to $26 million in projected savings from changes in the health insurance plans offered to teachers that will take effect in January. The potential savings comes from changes to the health insurance plans offered to teachers by the Vermont Education Health Initiative. The federal Affordable Care Act, passed in 2010, includes a tax on high-end insurance plans. To avoid the tax, VEHI is offering a new slate of plans to Vermont teachers that have lower premium costs but higher out-of-pocket expenses. Continue Reading →

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