MONTPELIER, Vt. — House members are asking Republican Gov. Phil Scott for ideas on how to fix an $18 million budget deficit, but the governor says he’s sticking by his level-funded budget that honors his promise of no new taxes or fees.
At a weekly news conference Thursday at the Vermont Statehouse, Scott took heated questions about the apparent impasse with the state budget process.
The House Appropriations Committee is facing an $18 million gap even after members closed it from $72 million earlier in the session. As Scott stood firm on the balanced budget he submitted to House leaders, he offered some wiggle room, at least for any legislators who agree with his budget goals as outlined in his January.
No Plan B
In response to insinuations that the he needed to make compromises with the Democrat majority, Scott offered no new ideas, going back to the budget he already proposed.
“(Let them) come to us with that creativity. … We don’t need a Plan B,” Scott said regarding the standoff. “We need (House members) to think outside the box.”
Scott said that House members could make more cuts in the state’s bloated education budget.
“We spend $1.6 billion to educate 86,000 kids, and for the life of me I can’t understand why there’s a pushback in terms of wanting to go into that area [for cuts],” Scott said. “I haven’t seen one idea that’s come out of House Appropriations at this point in time that even would venture into that area.”
Senate Minority Leader Dustin Degree, R-Franklin, earlier this week said Democrats and Progressives need to work on closing the $18 million gap, not the governor. “I think it’s time for them to put something on the table and let Vermonters pass judgment on it,” Degree told reporters Wednesday.
Scott also addressed an unusual “gag order” that appeared to be an attempt by the administration to prevent legislators from circumventing the traditional process in finding reductions in the budget. Distributed Wednesday by Department of Finance and Management Commissioner Andy Pallito, the memo instructed heads of state agencies and departments not to communicate directly with legislators regarding further reductions.
According to Scott, legislators had contacted agency heads for budget-cutting ideas, but he wants all budget communication to go through Finance and Management instead.
“It’s not as though we’re shutting the door,” Scott said regarding Pallito’s memo. “It’s wanting to talk with one voice. … I don’t see anything wrong with that premise.”
Scott appeared unruffled, even sporting a “what, me worry?” attitude regarding the impasse, even when fielding pointed questions about his role in the budget flap.
“If we want to change the state’s trajectory, we need to spend these next eight weeks finalizing the budget and putting forward legislation that helps grow the economy and allow Vermonters to keep more of what they earn,” he said. “… It’s not a single-party rule.”
Lou Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief at Vermont Watchdog.org. You can reach him at [email protected]