- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 26, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Gov. Phil Scott said late Monday he will let the third version of the $5.8 billion budget bill become law without his signature, saying that despite his disapproval of the bill, he was “left with no choice.”

The House and Senate passed the legislation Monday and sent it to Scott’s desk. The weeks-long negotiations were pushing up against the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1, and the Republican Scott cited concerns of a potential government shutdown as his reason for not vetoing the budget.

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

Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson and Progressive Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said Tuesday that Scott’s decision was a “relief.”

“If the governor could not bring himself to sign the bill, at least the government will not shut down,” Ashe and Johnson said in a joint statement. “Ensuring government remains functional is of the utmost importance.”

Scott vetoed the first version of the budget bill, along with the property tax bill, at the end of the normal legislative session last month. The first budget bill passed with support from Vermont’s three major parties, but Scott said it violated his campaign pledge to oppose any new tax or fee.

Scott proposed using the state’s one-time surplus to pay down property tax rates. Democratic leaders said at the time that his plan amounted to “governing on credit” and instead proposed using the money to pay teacher pension obligations.

The third version is an omnibus bill that included the budget and property tax rates. Despite Scott saying he was disappointed with the bill, it did move closer to his original plan. It used one-time funds to keep residential property tax rates level, but did not do the same for nonresidential rates. Late Friday, the House seemed poised to move further in Scott’s direction, but Senate leaders intervened and said they would not allocate anymore one-time funds toward Scott’s proposal.

After the vote Monday, but before Scott’s announcement, Ashe said he hoped Scott would sign the bill in the spirit of compromise.

“It’s a signal to the world that despite people being outside their comfort zone they’ve come together and accepted the agreement and moved on,” Ashe said.

By not signing the bill, Scott will likely be able to claim he held firm to his pledge to oppose new taxes or fees. Scott said looks forward to working with “fiscally responsible lawmakers” to lessen the tax burden in the future.

Before that can happen Scott, along with the Legislature, will need to win re-election this fall.

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