Good policy, great politics
by Rob Roper
The Democrats may have the votes to override Phil Scott’s vetoes, but at least the governor is going to extract maximum embarrassment when they do. Scott vetoed S.39, the bill that would more than double legislators pay and benefits package over the next few years.
Just to recap, the plan under S.39 is to increase legislators’ current salary of $811 per week to $1000 in 2025, $1100 in 2026, and $1210 in 2027 when the legislature is in session, plus one day’s pay per week when not in session. The bill also makes it easier to trade rooms and meals allowances ($68 per day for food!) for cash. It would also pay for “professional development” and provide state employee-level health care benefits.
The combined package totals about $50,000 per year per lawmaker, and just under $5 million a year for the taxpayers. Oh, and it also sets up a task group to look into whether or not this pay should be increased even more in future years.
Needless to say, voting to raise your own pay is never going to be a popular agenda item with the folks back home.
It is especially tone deaf in a year when inflation is already eating into constituents’ purchasing power, and, to make matters even more awkward, the next bill (or previous; I don’t know what order they’ll bring these to the floor) you vote to override is an $8.5 billion budget that will leap frog Vermonters in to the second spot for most highly taxed people in the nation behind only Hawaii.
Scott’s statement in his official veto message sums up the situation perfectly: “This year, the General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation that will significantly increase costs for Vermonters through new and higher taxes, fees and penalties. In my opinion, it does not seem fair for legislators to insulate themselves from the very costs they are imposing on their constituents by doubling their own future pay.”
Yup. Nailed it.
For a policy analysis of S.39, read my previous article on the subject HERE. But for now, let’s stick to the politics of the veto override.
The House passed the pay raise on a largely party line vote of 102-44 with three absent – one Republican and two Democrats. Unless an unusual wave of shame and conscience overcomes at least a half dozen or so of previous Yes votes, my money is on the Speaker keeping all the arms twisted and the House will override.
However, the Senate is a different story. The Senate passed S.39 on a vote of 19-10 with one absent. The missing senator was a lead sponsor of the bill, so let’s assume it’s 20-10 going in. Eleven votes are needed to override. But this was not a party line vote. Two of the seven Republicans actually voted for the pay hike: Randy Brock and Robert Norris, both of Franklin County. If just one of them flips from Yes to No, S.39 could go down.
On the other side of the ledger, Democrats Brian Campion (D-Bennington), Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia), Dick Sears (D-Bennington), and Bobby Starr (D-Orleans) all voted No. Will they hold fast and continue to oppose the bill? Or will they be pressured into changing their votes to Yes in order to save their Party leadership from a potential embarrassment?
If you have an opinion about how you think your Representatives and Senators should vote on giving themselves a 100% pay raise, CONTACT THEM and let them know. The veto session is scheduled for June 20.
Maybe you think they’ve done a bang up job fixing the housing crisis, the opioid crisis, the labor shortage, the mess that is public education, the child care situation, cleaning up our waterways, our healthcare system, making Vermont affordable for the rest of us and they really deserve that raise.
Or, maybe not.
Rob Roper is a freelance writer who has been involved with Vermont politics and policy for over 20 years. This article reprinted with permission from Behind the Lines: Rob Roper on Vermont Politics, robertroper.substack.com