Vermont Legislature overrides Douglas’ veto
The Vermont Legislature voted this afternoon to override Governor Douglas’ veto of the state budget. The House vote came earlier and garnered the exact number to override on a 100-50 vote, with all Democrats and all Progressives, plus one independent, voting to override. The Senate vote came at 2:10 and was a foregone conclusion, with the final vote 23-5. Democrats hold 23 of the seats. One Republican joined the Democrats (Snelling R-Chittenden) and one Democrat (Carris D-Rutland) and one Republican (Illuzzi R-Essex-Orleans) did not vote.Governor Douglas had promised to veto the Vermont state budget unless lawmakers made drastic changes to the $4.5 billion piece of legislation. He made the veto official late yesterday afternoon when he returned the bill to the Clerk of the House without his signature. This is the first time in Vermont history that a governor has vetoed the budget. The governor has repeatedly said the budget spends too much, taxes too much and where it does make spending cuts, it makes the wrong cuts. Democratic leaders have been equally faithful to their belief that spending must both meet the added cost in state spending related to things like unemployment and welfare because of the recession, and also that state government, much like the federal government is doing, must assist in economic stimulus by infusing money into the system.Before the override vote, Senate Pro Tem Shumlin (D-Windham) said the areas of contention came down to three things: First was related to income sensitivity and the property tax. Depending on income levels, one’s property tax would be lowered if household income fell under a certain level. Douglas wanted to raise that level. Related to the property tax was the shift of the teachers’ pension fund from the General Fund to the Education Fund. The state sets aside $40 million for the fund every year. Shumlin said that number must increase to $59 million next year and could go higher. Moving the responsibility is a philosophical issue that the Legislature did not have time to debate, given the state of the budget and the state of the economy. But what the shift would do, he said, would be to push more of the burden of state revenues on to the property tax. Also at issue was the income tax, Shumlin said, as the governor’s plan would cut the current rate for the highest income tax bracket. And finally, he said, the Legislature has already cut $80 million from the budget just since January. Without the federal stimulus money, this year’s fiscal 2010 budget would be level funded with the FY 2006 budget.Douglas has maintained that the total amount is still a 5 percent increase over FY 2009, but that the FY 2011 will project a $67 million hole, based on mutually agreed upon projections. The administration has stated that the 2010 budget increases spending and taxes, neither of which is sustainable, as evidenced by the future deficits projected. Douglas and his supporters also note that education spending keeps going up just as total public education enrollment keeps going down. His budget recommendations have a 1% decrease in education spending.In a statement released announcing his veto late Monday afternoon, Douglas said: It is with great disappointment that I return H. 441 to the Legislature without my signature. I had hoped that our budget differences could be resolved and compromise reached without the need for a veto vote. Unfortunately, an agreement could not be achieved. These are unprecedented economic times and Vermonters need their elected officials to work together to get our state through this recession. I pledge to continue to work with legislators of all parties regardless of the outcome of tomorrow s special session.