Editorial: Dems give Gov. Scott easy path to claim upper hand
As Republican Gov. Phil Scott eyes the political landscape and plots his end of session strategy — whether to issue a veto or let the various bills still yet to be decided become law — he finds himself in a surprisingly favorable position with only a few choices that will put him at odds with a majority of voters.
He dodged a potential bullet when the pot legislation went up in smoke on its own accord with the Democratic majority failing to move a final bill out of the Legislature. And the House recently passed a far more modest minimum wage bill than had been expected, and far less progressive than the Senate’s version. It’s now in conference committee with both sides struggling to find a resolution.
Whatever comes out of the conference committee next week, Gov. Scott has ample cover to veto anything close to the Senate version because he can say that even the majority of Democrats in the House thought it was too aggressive. If it’s more modest, as the House bill was, he’d be a fool not to let it go through — or at least negotiate the best deal he could get. The only way he loses is to veto something modest — thereby giving Democrats an issue on which to run against him next year.
The same can be said of family leave, which also has to go to conference committee after the Senate toned down a House bill that it thought was too punitive for businesses and raised too much in taxes. Again, if whatever comes out of committee is too rich for Gov. Scott’s liking, the Legislature has provided cover with its own difficulty in proposing a solution that meets the need without putting too great a burden on businesses and employees. Plus, on family leave, the governor has touted his own two-state plan that would have been much less costly and served as a pilot program to test the waters.
Even if the governor vetoes the Legislature’s proposal, it will be hard to tag him with being against a reasonable family leave policy.
The Legislature made very little progress fighting climate change and has yet to decide on a funding mechanism to clean up Lake Champlain, recently shifting the onus onto the rooms and meals tax rather than taxing computer software in the cloud. Because the governor put forth a plan early in the session to raise funding through the estate tax, Democrats can’t criticize him for ignoring the issue. Moreover, by refuting use of the estate tax, they have effectively accepted the ire of the hospitality industry, or any other source of funding the Legislature finally settles on. In politics, that’s not the brightest of tactics.
Even a bill to test all drinking water sources in schools and childcare centers, which has near universal support, has been bogged down by differences between the House and Senate and a compromise is still being sought in conference committee. And a bill to allow some schools a one-year delay in implementing consolidations under Act 46 stalled, then blew up in a late session spat between the Senate Education Committee chairman Phil Baruth, D/Chittenden, and House Education Committee chair Kate Webb, D-Shelburne — and is, you guessed it, being worked out in conference committee.
It’s as if the Democrats, which have a supermajority and had high expectations of passing progressive legislation, couldn’t get out of their own way.
That said, Gov. Scott still has a couple of issues that could make him either a hero or goat in the eyes of many Vermonters.
The first was the Legislature’s quick passage of a bill to protect reproductive rights in state law and in the state Constitution. The second is a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period for handgun purchases.
Both bills are highly popular among Vermonters, making it easier for the governor to at least let them become law without his signature, suggesting that the Legislature will most likely override his veto in any case. Even the most conservative Vermonter can’t argue too much when you look at the odds.
But if Gov. Scott chooses to approve both bills, he could make further gains among liberal and moderate voters, just as he did with his modest restriction of gun rights in his first term.
Protecting a women’s right to choose is a give-me in Vermont, and the governor can make headlines for moving the initiatives forward. And the governor could choose to thread the needle by vetoing the 24-hour waiting period for handguns, but agreeing to a compromise that would allow limited handgun sales at specific events — like the Barre Gun Show — that has been a long-standing tradition in the state. The legislation, after all, is meant to provide a cooling off period for people either suicidal or upset in the heat of the moment. Sales once a year at a gun-show aren’t likely to be used to purchase guns in either circumstance. That sets up what might be considered a win-win scenario for the governor on an issue that rarely has winners.
All in all, for a session that had appeared to be the Democrats to rule, the governor may well claim the upper hand.
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