- Associated Press - Monday, June 25, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott announced late Monday that he would allow the new $5.8 billion budget bill to become law without his signature, saying he was “left with no choice.”

Earlier in the day, both the House and the Senate voted in favor of the bill, their third funding proposal of the year. The Republican governor had until the end of the week to sign it or let it become law without his signature.

“As Governor, I will not put the health and safety of Vermonters or the stability of our economy at risk.” Scott said in a statement.

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat and Progressive, said the legislation had concessions from Democratic leaders and hoped Scott would make the right choice and avert a government shutdown on July 1.

“This represents a compromise that most members of the public would say is a fair balance between what the governor wanted and what the Legislature wanted,” Ashe said after the vote Monday. “We’re not happy where we’re at, I think the governor’s probably not happy where we’re at, but I think for everyone involved it’s time to move on.”

The third budget bill signs onto aspects of Scott’s plan for state property taxes, but fails to give the governor everything he asked for at the beginning of the budget standoff. It uses one-time funds to pay down residential property tax rates and hold them at the previous year’s level, but does not do the same for nonresidential property tax rates.

Scott vetoed the previous two budget bills because they did not keep property tax levels, which he said violated his campaign pledge to avoid any new taxes or fees.

“I am frustrated, and disappointed for Vermonters, that Democrats in the House and Senate have forced through a non-residential tax rate increase in a year we have a growing surplus,” Scott said in his statement. “But, I’m pleased to have achieved about 75 percent of the property tax rate relief I fought for this year, including a second consecutive year of level statewide rates for residential payers.”

Democrats initially wanted to use the one-time funds for teacher pension obligations, which they said would save the state more in the long term in avoided interest. They also pointed out that the property tax increases are largely driven by larger school budgets approved by voters earlier this year.

The quick action taken by both chambers stands in stark contrast with the events of last week. The House worked late into the evening Friday crafting a deal with Scott, but Democratic leaders from the Senate suggested they would not support a plan that moved any further in Scott’s direction. The compromise was scrapped at the last minute Friday, angering the House Republican minority.

Sen. Jane Kitchel, a Democrat from Caledonia County and chair of the Committee on Appropriations, said the changes made to the bill in the House were relatively small. The Senate concurred with the House and sent the bill to Scott.

If no budget was in place by July 1, the state would have had its first shutdown, which would have closed vital services and likely left state parks shuttered during the busy Fourth of July weekend.

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