- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - The Vermont House has blocked RepublicanGov. Phil Scott’s proposal from advancing on how to save money from new, cheaper health care plans for the state’s teachers.

The governor’s office released a statement late Wednesday night saying lawmakers voted 74-73 in support of the proposal, but Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson cast a final vote, creating a tie that prevented the proposal from moving forward. The governor’s office said two supporters of the proposal were absent from the House.

“While the Speaker’s vote ensured this savings proposal was not adopted tonight, this vote is a clear indication that enough votes exist in the House to ensure that, one way or another, the Governor’s proposal can still become law, saving taxpayers up to $26 million each year, without asking teachers to pay more or cutting programs for kids,” the governor’s office said.

Republican state senators already tried and failed to get Scott’s plan through the Senate.

Scott dropped the idea on lawmakers in late April, about two weeks before the session is scheduled to end. The plan is to save money and reduce property taxes by taking advantage of cheaper health care plans for teachers, mandated under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Scott and many lawmakers said the state could save up to $26 million.

But to achieve the savings, Scott said, teachers would need to negotiate with state officials to develop a statewide teachers’ health care contract, pulling health care negotiations out of the existing bargaining process between teachers and their employers, the school districts.

The statewide teachers’ union, the Vermont chapter of the National Education Association, said this part of the plan is untenable.

“We fundamentally disagree with this,” said Darren Allen, communications director for the Vermont NEA. “The most egregious part of it, as we said last week, as we’re going to say next week, is it strips away collective bargaining rights.”

Democrats have been working on an alternative proposal that they say can achieve savings and keep teachers’ collective bargaining rights intact. The issue the Democrats face is how to incentivize school boards to bargain hard, only to hand the money they saved to the state.

“If a school district doesn’t achieve savings, why should they get a benefit the following year, when another school district did achieve savings?” said Democratic Rep. Sam Young, vice chair of the House Ways and Means committee.

Young’s committee met throughout the day Wednesday and approved the Democratic proposal on a 6-5 vote. That offer also was to be on the table Wednesday night.

Scott has refrained from saying he will use his veto power to force the Legislature to come back and consider his plan, should lawmakers not include it in vital tax or budget bills that need his signature.

“I think it would be very irresponsible if we all leave this building without recouping these savings,” Scott said.

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