Lawmakers work toward adjournment

MONTPELIER — The Vermont Legislature was nearing adjournment but was still slogging through some major issues as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday.
Chief among the unresolved issues was the fiscal year 2011 budget, according to Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge. Ayer, the Senate majority whip, said legislative leaders and Gov. James Douglas remained at odds on a final spending plan, largely over the matter of taxes.
Among the items wrapped up in the waning days of the session were:
• Passage of a bill that restructures courts putting criminal, civil, family, environmental and probate courts under a single administrative umbrella overseen by the Supreme Court. County court employees will become state court employees. The Associated Press reports that this could save $1 million.
• Passage of a health care bill that calls for the state to hire an expert to create three options for a health care system for Vermont, with one option being a single payer system, one a public option, and one yet to be determined.
• Passage of bills relating to unemployment compensation, workers’ compensation premiums, renewable energy and milk hauling charges.
Still, the budget was among the last and biggest issues yet to be resolved Wednesday.
Gov. Douglas, a Middlebury Republican rounding out his eighth and final year in office, has been intent on seeing the Legislature roll back a capital gains tax increase put in effect by lawmakers last year.
“Earlier today the Governor agreed to a modest capital gains sunset that would have been tailored to Vermont businesses and cost the general fund only $3 million — down from $10 million it would cost for the full sunset the governor had proposed as part of his budget,” Douglas spokesman David Coriell wrote in a May 11 budget negotiations update. “Further, there was a way for lawmakers to save the money in the budget without impacting human services or taking any cuts in direct services. Unfortunately, even a modest $3 million break for employers was too much for legislative leaders.”
But Ayer argued that Douglas’s total tax break requests added up to $6 million to $12 million that would have to be found in the fiscal year 2011 budget, which had already started off $154 million in the red.
Ayer told the Addison Independent, just before its noon deadline, that the next few hours would tell whether there would be a budget agreement or the likelihood of a gubernatorial veto.
Lawmakers did make some progress on another key issue — the “Challenges for Change” bill. Ayer said the Senate agreed to $31.5 million of the $38 million in cuts the Douglas administration had suggested through the Challenges legislation.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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