Can Vt. lawmakers wrap up their work on time? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Can Vt. lawmakers wrap up their work on time?

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As the final rounds of proposals and counteroffers passed between the Vermont House and the Senate, chairs of the money committees locked the public out of the bulk of the negotiations.

Lawmakers must find a resolution to differences in budget and tax plans before the session can end, currently scheduled for Saturday. Leaders in both chambers say they don't want the taxpayers to pay for them to overstay, though Saturday will likely run late.

"Depending on when these budget and tax bills close is going to mainly determine when we're going to be able to take them up tomorrow and when we're going to be able to get out of here," said Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton.

"I think the best case is probably early evening; the worst-case scenario, if we have to stay after the midnight hour because of a rule suspension issue, we'll do that," said Sen. John Campbell, D-President Pro Tem.

Late Friday afternoon, those at the bargaining table neared a deal on a spending plan but not a companion tax bill. If no deal can be reached Friday, hope for a Saturday end all but evaporates.

"We'll have a minimum wage," Campbell said.

Debates over raising wages for the state's lowest earners could also push the Legislature into an extra week. House Republicans are blocking one proposal but are expected to swallow a plan which would raise the rate to $10.50 by 2018, with much of the hike back loaded into later years.

"What we're looking for is the right balance, struck between employees needs and employers ability to pay," Turner said.

The pending deadline allowed the minority to effectively spike several proposals. If members overplay their hand, they risk pushing the Legislature into next week. Democrats would then get what they want on the minimum wage, and could put several issues back on the table.

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