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Vt. lawmakers pass budget, grapple with pushback on pension reform

vermont state house
vermont state house(WCAX)
Published: Mar. 26, 2021 at 10:47 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont House lawmakers are sending a nearly $7 billion state spending plan to the Senate. At the same time, lawmakers are grappling with how to deal with a $3 billion unfunded pension liability for public sector employees.

The budget leans heavily on federal cash from the newest relief package, the American Rescue Plan. In the budget, there’s some $150-million for broadband, $100 million for IT upgrades for state computers, $50 million for affordable housing, and another $50 million for workforce training.

Governor Scott says he’ll be pitching his spending plan for Vermont’s federal cash sometime next week, but he says that he wants to meet with Democrats to come to a consensus on how the money should be spent.

At the same time, Vermont lawmakers are holding public hearings on Friday and Monday to gather testimony on the pension reform proposals. The pension problem has emerged as a mid-session flashpoint as lawmakers grapple with a $3-billion hole in the public sector employee retirement funds, years in the making. House Democrats are floating a plan to make the system sustainable by having teachers and state employees pay more into the system and receive fewer benefits, along with injecting $150 million in federal cash into the system as a jump start.

The unions are balking at the proposal, and instead of calling for a tax on Vermont’s top earners. On Friday afternoon, Progressive House Lawmakers pushed for a measure creating a tax on the wealthiest, but that proposal failed to gather enough support. House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, says she doesn’t support raising revenue through a tax on Vermont’s top earners, instead of saying she’s seeking consensus from lawmakers, the unions, and the Scott administration.

“I think it would be really unfortunate for our state if we went through this whole process and we had a veto and we weren’t able to override it,” Krowinski said.

Governor Scott Friday said he gives House leaders credit for moving forward with the plan which is unpopular with the Democrats’ base.

“I know it’s not easy,” said Governor Phil Scott, R-VT. “You’ve seen that I had to make some decisions over the last four years that were not in agreement with my base, some of the people that supported me, but when you get into these positions you have to do what’s right for the entire state.”

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