House quickly overrides five more of Scott’s vetoes
by Rob Roper
Phil Scott, according to some polls, is the most popular governor in the United States. He has an overall approval rating of nearly eighty percent. Curiously, he has a higher approval rating amongst Democrats than he does with the Republican voters of his own party. While that appears to be a good formula for holding the corner office on the Fifth Floor, it hasn’t panned out as a good strategy for being able to use that office to advance an agenda – or oppose one.
This week, with lighting speed, House Democrats overrode Scott’s vetoes of all five house bills that he returned to that body at the end of the official 2023 session. None of the votes was even close. As a result, Vermonters will be paying for an $8.5 billion budget (H.494), a 13% increase over last year and nearly a 50% increase over the last pre-Covid budget of 2019. We can look forward to a brand new $125 million payroll tax on top of our regular income tax burden (H.217). Vermont professionals will be tagged with higher licensing fees (H.305). And non-citizens can start voting in Burlington while sixteen-year-olds can start voting in local elections and holding local office in Brattleboro (H.509 and H.386 respectively), despite the now-apparently-irrelevant state Constitution.
Adding insult to injury, the House used the veto session to bring up and pass H.158, another bill the governor opposes, expanding the state’s bottle bill — the 5¢ and 15¢ deposit mandates — to include bottled water, sports drinks, etc., jacking up the cost of these products for consumers. Will he veto it? Will it matter?
All of this, of course, follows the override of Scott’s veto back in May of S.5, the fraudulently named “Affordable Heat Act”, which puts Vermonters on a path to paying significantly more for the heating oil, propane, and kerosene we need to stay warm through winter.
None of these laws is particularly popular, and some, such as S.5, are demonstrably despised by solid majorities of Vermont voters. Still, Scott was unable to leverage his historic popularity to change Democrat, Progressive or Independent minds to vote with him on any of these bills. The votes that did change from original passage to veto override overwhelmingly went against the governor.
So, the verdict is in: if Scott wants to be exceptionally popular, he can continue disassociate himself from his own party as much as he likes. But if he wants to be relevant and respected as an effective leader, he better start working with his party (and, in fairness, vice versa) to elect more like-minded members of the House and Senate. Arguably, and call me crazy, it’s better to be 51 percent popular and 100 percent relevant than 78 percent popular and totally irrelevant.
After Scott’s first election to the governorship in 2016 there were 53 Republican representatives and 7 GOP senators. Now there are 37 and 7 respectively. That is certainly not all Phil Scott’s fault, but, as the de facto leader of the Party, he hasn’t done much to help.
For a point of contrast, when I served as chairman of the Vermont Republican Party during the 2008 election year, Governor Jim Douglas, recognizing that his ability to sustain a veto was on the line, helped to raise over half a million dollars to support state house and senate candidates as well as party operations. Douglas and his campaign team were deeply involved in candidate recruitment. As such, the VTGOP was able to hold its ground during the Obama “Blue Wave.” (Though I still regret we weren’t able to pick up at least a couple of house seats….) If Scott had been equally committed to helping build Republican legislative numbers in 2018, 2020, and 2022, who knows how things might have turned out last Tuesday.
The one bright side to Tuesday’s veto session took place in the senate, where S.39, the bill that would more than double legislators’ pay and benefits package over the next couple of years, was recommitted to the Committee on Government Operations as it didn’t appear to garner enough votes for an override. Nevertheless, Senate President Pro Tem, Philip Baruth, pledged to bring it back and pass it in 2024 – an election year. Good luck with that.
So, going into the 2024 election cycle, Republicans are in a position to point out to voters that the Democrats and Progressives thwarted public opinion, and in some cases public outcry, in order to raise taxes on their incomes, raise their property taxes, jack up their fees to own/drive cars and do their jobs, dilute the power of their votes, and, as a reward for all this so-called governing, voted to give themselves a truly massive pay raise at taxpayers’ expense.
This should be a winning hand. Still, it has to be played. Here’s hoping the governor will help his party play it.
- Rob Roper is a freelance writer with over twenty years’ experience in Vermont politics and policy.