Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Friday reiterated his vow to veto the state budget because lawmakers didn't pass a plan on teacher health care that's acceptable to him, but he said he felt confident the state would have a budget by the start of the next fiscal year.
Scott said at an afternoon news conference that he and leaders of the Democrat-controlled House and Senate were not that far apart when the Legislature adjourned late Thursday for the year without an agreement on health care.
Nevertheless, Scott promised to veto both the state budget and the separate legislation that contained the teacher health care proposal. A one-day veto session of the Legislature is expected June 21, and the next fiscal year begins July 1.
"From my standpoint I don't want this to turn into being a D.C.-type political operative where I'm holding the budget hostage and we're going to have this looming shutdown of government," Scott said. "I want to get this sense of calmness to Vermont. We'll get through this. We'll figure it out. I think I can win on the merits."
At issue is expected savings in a new health care plan for the state's 14,000 teachers and their dependents.
Scott argues that by negotiating a statewide benefit rather than having each school district negotiate separate health care deals it can save $26 million a year in property taxes. Democrats counter that the savings is only an estimate and they put forth proposals that would guarantee the savings while ensuring all the health care plans are negotiated locally by teachers' unions.
Scott said not taking advantage of the full savings offered by his plan would be the same thing as a tax increase, something he has vowed not to allow as governor.
Earlier Friday, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe expressed frustration with what they felt was the governor's changing demands for the teacher health care proposal.
"In the end, it still is, and always has been, about making the government work well for people. The fact that the budget has been hijacked to achieve this other objective, we need to figure a way to get through it," Ashe said.
Johnson said the governor's promise to veto the budget stands to hurt residents who depend on funding that won't be available if lawmakers are unable to reach an agreement. She complained that the governor didn't even read the budget before he vowed to veto it.
"That's not governing. That's petulance," she said.