MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Republican Gov. Phil Scott on Monday said he was left with no choice but to veto the budget and property tax bills after the measures passed by lawmakers over the weekend violated his promise to avoid any new taxes.
During a speech at the Vermont Fuel Conference in Killington, Scott said he planned to hold the line on any new taxes and fees for the second year in a row.
“This approach is unacceptable to me. It doesn’t make any sense to me. And, based on what I have heard over the last two years - and really, for most of my political career - it’s unacceptable to most taxpayers like you,” Scott said in his prepared remarks.
Scott added he is optimistic that he will be able to strike a deal with the Legislature before the end of the fiscal year on June 30. The governor has not issued vetoes yet. If the Legislature does reconvene it would likely be in June.
“I believe, we can still work together on my plan - or an alternative path - because we’re really not that far apart,” Scott said.
The budget passed both the House and Senate with overwhelming support from the three major parties, and Democratic leaders have said they are proud of the budget.
“The budget being vetoed is beyond bizarre,” Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat and Progressive, said on Monday, noting that he hoped the governor would change his mind and sign both bills.
Ashe said the bills passed the Legislature with overwhelming support and the budget grew at a slower rate than that proposed by Scott. He said he believed the governor was resorting to veto threats as a way of governing rather than helping lawmakers develop policy.
The governor and Legislature disagree over how to spend extra funds, a combination of increased tax revenue and money from a settlement with the tobacco industry. Scott would like to place the $58 million into an education fund to avert property tax increases, but legislators say the funds can be put to better use by buying down future pension obligations.
Democrats accuse the governor of playing politics by attempting to avoid a tax increase in an election year.
“And those things, in their entirety, to the magnitude he’s talking about, are just a non-starter with us,” Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson told Vermont Public Radio.
Scott also hinted at a larger battle over public education in the state. During the speech, Scott said as the state continues to lose both population and students, it is necessary to examine how the public education system is both organized and funded.
“By not addressing the inefficiencies in the system, it has become unaffordable, and we face yet another property tax hike this year,” Scott said.
This story has been corrected to show that budget and taxes are two bills.
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