It took just one legislator to rain on the parade of Vermont House members’ 143-1 vote on the state’s $5.8 billion fiscal year 2018 budget plan last week.
Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, was the House’s lone dissenter in the near-unanimous vote. Afterward he got a scolding by House Appropriations Committee Chair Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, for not being a team player.
“You never darkened my door,” Toll told Van Wyke sternly as reporters huddled within earshot of the conversation. “You never contacted me. You didn’t ask to testify.”
In the contested budget battle spearheaded by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who refused to budge on his no new taxes and fees mantra, the final first of a two-part budget process came in the House vote late last week. While Democrats and Republicans, rare bedfellows, joined forces to approve the plan, Van Wyck stuck to his guns and voted “no.”
“Since the Democrats overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’s veto in 2009, the Vermont General Fund budget has annually increased excessively requiring additional taxes and fees,” Van Wyck told Vermont Watchdog about his vote. “To use a simplistic metaphor, by gaining five pounds every year for the past eight years, the overall spending is at least 40 pounds overweight.”
While Van Wyck conceded that this year’s budget bill, H.518, “displays admirable restraint,” he contends that it is still a bloated budget in serious need of a crash diet.
But unlike his Ferrisburgh colleague, House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, had no qualms voting “yes” on the budget bill.
“Ever since Shap Smith and Peter Shumlin chose to override Gov. Douglas’ FY10 budget veto, House Republicans have been fighting for budgets that don’t raise taxes or fees, keeps spending in line with economic growth, and delivers real results for the Vermont taxpayer. Under the leadership and vision of Gov. Phil Scott, and the Republicans on House Appropriations, we have achieved that,” Turner said in a statement following the vote.
“We believe there is still room this year to make long-term policy changes that will allow us to make investments in educating the next generation of Vermonters, improving our business climate and increase housing for our middle class without negatively impacting vulnerable Vermonters … [but] this is a good start.”
Rep. Jim Condon, D-Colchester, a member of House Committee on Ways and Means, seemed to concur with Turner and the majority of Democrats and Republicans.
“It was easy to vote ‘yes’ on both the miscellaneous tax bill and the budget bill this year because there [were] no tax increases and spending was constrained below the anticipated level of economic growth,” Condon told Vermont Watchdog. “As a member of House Ways and Means, I was happy to be a part of the process. … Later this year, we’ll learn what impacts, if any, possible federal budget cuts may cause. I’m anticipating a special session in November.”
Meanwhile, Van Wyck doesn’t regret his “no” vote or seem affected by the scolding he received by Toll. He still didn’t like the budget bill, especially elements such as $340,000 being cut from a program that helps homeless people find a motel room on cold Vermont nights.
“This [budget bill] could have been done without jeopardizing programs for the most vulnerable, though other programs could have been reduced or eliminated. To quote President Reagan, ‘A government program is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll see on the earth’ — Washington, D.C. or Montpelier,” he said.
The budget bill has been passed on to the Senate for deliberation by its members.
Lou Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.