- Associated Press - Thursday, June 28, 2018

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he was satisfied with many provisions in the budget yet remains disappointed the Legislature did not sign onto his plan to use surplus funds to hold property tax rates level.

Scott pointed out he supported the elimination of taxes on Social Security for low- and middle-income households during a news conference Thursday. It was his first since announcing he will let the third state budget bill become law without his signature.

However, Scott said he was disappointed the final version of the budget will only hold residential property tax rates at the previous year’s level and while allowing an increase in the nonresidential rate.

“I think we could have achieved more,” Scott said. “Legislative leaders continue to insist on raising nonresidential property tax rates.”

Scott cited property tax increases in his vetoes of the first two versions of the budget bill and stood firmly behind his proposal for most of the special session. Throughout the negotiations his administration suggested the Legislature would need to sign onto his plan.

But Scott said Thursday the debate had gone as far as it could responsibly go and that he could not let the state government shut down. If Vermont had not had a budget in place before July 1, the state would have had a government shutdown for the first time in history.

Scott took time to admonish the Democratic leaders in the Legislature, suggesting that Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat and Progressive, could have done more to negotiate with him directly. He also expressed frustration with Democratic Speaker of the House Mitzi Johnson, who on Friday reached a tentative deal to bring the budget more in line with Scott’s views before pulling it when Senate Democrats said they would not move any further in Scott’s direction.

“The speaker walked away from this deal, and it became clear the leadership was willing to push us to the brink of the shutdown to raise taxes,” Scott said.

Democratic leaders opposed most of Scott’s plan because it used one-time surplus funds, mainly unexpected tax revenue, to cover ongoing expenses in the education budget, which is funded with property taxes. They initially proposed to use the money to pay down teacher pension obligations, which they said would have saved the state more money in the long term.

Scott, who faces re-election this fall, previously denied he was playing politics with the state budget, but throughout the negotiations pointed to his campaign pledge to oppose any new taxes and fees.

Middlebury College political science professor Bert Johnson said Scott is at risk of appearing to have caved to Democrats in the budget battle and that his anti-tax message may take a hit.

“It may appear a bit incongruous to some that he said all along that the nonresidential property increase for him was a property tax increase that he was not going to support, and now it is becoming law,” said Johnson.

Possibly anticipating that line of attack, Scott said Thursday he worked hard to prevent tax increases during the legislative session and that he hopes to continue this work.

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