Lawmakers pushing to end session today

House and Senate leaders are angling to end the legislative session this weekend.

That will require them to hammer out bicameral agreements on the budget and tax bills, as well as about a dozen other bills referred to conference committees, in time to vote on them in both houses by Saturday night.

Sen. President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, told senators Friday afternoon to plan on wrapping up this weekend.

"It looks like we will be able to complete our work for an adjournment tomorrow night," he said.

The legislative crush will require lawmakers to repeatedly suspend rules to expedite the process. House Republicans could slow down the process with more than a third of the votes in the chamber, but it appeared they were prepared to go along with the plan.

Gov. Phil Scott's veto threats are hanging over many of the bills — including the major tax and budget bills — but lawmakers said they would deal with that during a session this summer.

House Speaker Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, told reporters on Friday that she did not intend to include a veto session in her adjournment motion, meaning the governor will need to call a special session to get lawmakers back to the Statehouse in a few weeks.

"We're going to put forward a responsible package and we're going to adjourn," Johnson said. "And if it's not good enough, he can call us back."

The Republican administration and Democratically controlled legislature have spent the last few weeks sparring over who's to blame for the failure to reach a deal on education spending.

The remaining sticking point is how to fill a $58 million hole in the education fund. The governor wants to use one-time funding to fill the gap, while legislators are proposing a property tax increase.

Scott has repeatedly said he would have no reservations in breaking out his veto pen on more than a dozen bills that have new taxes and fees, including the tax and budget bill. He also said on Thursday that he was happy to call a special session if lawmakers didn't schedule a veto session.

Johnson said she has been working with House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, to gather the support to suspend the rules and vote on the money bills Saturday.

Three quarters of the body would need to vote to bring the bills to the floor. "I am doing everything in my power to make sure that everybody has what we need so that we can earn those rule suspensions," she said.

The Scott administration presented a plan this month that would rely on using almost all of the unallocated money in the general fund to "revitalize" the education fund by pouring $58 million into it now, and paying that back over five years with various savings measures.

Democratic legislators say there are far better ways to spend the money, such as paying off pension liabilities and making improvements in areas like child care, services for disabled people and mental health treatment.

"Our priority still is to pay our debt and to get those obligations relieved," Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia, who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Friday morning.

Scott said he was willing to compromise, but only within the general framework of his plan to spend less and save more on education.

Ashe told reporters Friday morning that he hoped Scott would have the "courage" to sign the legislature's money bills, despite the veto threats.

The Senate passed its budget proposal unanimously last month.

"The governor can and, I believe, should just sign the budget and the tax bills we present," Ashe said. "If these were budgets that were partisan or tax bills that were partisan, it would be different. But that's not what we're looking at here."


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