Gov. Phil Scott’s plan to merge the state liquor and lottery agencies sounded like a good way to streamline government, but on Wednesday House Democrats said no.
In an 82-63 vote that fell largely along party lines, the Democrat-led House voted down Scott’s January executive order to merge the Department of Liquor Control and the Vermont Lottery Commission.
Typically, executive orders can be rescinded by a governor if they are either no longer useful, no longer effective or have been superseded by legislative enactment. However, the Scott administration has expressed concern about what appears to a constitutional grey area — where one legislative chamber has the authority to rescind an executive order.
The Scott administration reacted swiftly following the vote to rescind.
“It is inexplicable that the House majority would not have supported this merger – something they have discussed for a decade and that has strong support in the Senate,” Rebecca Kelley, Scott’s communications director, said in a statement. “It appears they have put politics ahead of the opportunity to modernize government for the people we serve.”
Kelley expressed regret about the lost benefits a merger would have offered. She noted that the merger would have created better service to Vermont retailers and made better use of taxpayer dollars. “This simple structural change would create a department that was still among the smallest in all of state government with fewer than 80 employees,” according to Kelley.
House Majority Leader Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, implied that Scott’s order to merge Liquor and Lottery was a daunting task. “(A merger is a) huge policy change and we need to get it right.”
Kelley noted that the governor’s office is interested in “credible legal questions” regarding the authority of a single chamber of the Legislature to rescind the governor’s order. “It is certainly something we will consider further,” Kelley said in the statement.
Louis Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief for Vermont Watchdog.org.