Scott, lawmakers look for common ground at legislative halfway point

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Halfway through the legislative session, Democrats in the Vermont House say they're continuing to work on their top priorities. But they aren't ready to lay out how much those priorities will cost,
or what they hope to send to Republican Gov. Phil Scott's desk over the next couple of months.

"We went to town meeting and we've come back hearing from constituents knowing that this is the agenda for Vermont," said House Majority Leader Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington. She says the Democrats' agenda includes paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, providing affordable child care, funding a clean water plan and expanding broadband access.

Republican Gov. Phill Scott says he wants to work with lawmakers on all but one of their initiatives. "On most of those proposals -- at least four of five -- that we agree on the goals and that's half the battle," Scott said.

The one where there is no common ground is the minimum wage. Scott says he'll listen to what Democrats have to say but he argues the tight labor market is already raising pay. "It's about supply and demand. We have hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs open right now and I believe there's going to be a lot of competition for the shortage of workers we have," he said.

They may share many common goals, but the governor and House Democrats haven't agreed yet on how to achieve them. And halfway through the session, Democrats don't know how much their ideas will cost.

"These are conversations that are still happening in committees, so there's not a current, 'This is the price tag right now,'" said Rep. Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington.

Paid family and medical leave is the most costly proposal pursued by Democrats. Gov. Scott says lawmakers should scrap that plan and consider his approach. He says his plan will cost less and help Vermonters faster. "That's a lot of money, $100 million, when there's an alternative, and it's that voluntary approach working with New Hampshire," he said.

Democrats will look to pump more money into early child care -- between $7 and $10 million. But Krowinski says they're more concerned with the policy than the cost. "I think it's important that the committee makes these decisions about what creates the best outcomes for our state without being constrained by a certain number," she said.

Krowinski says committees will continue to refine proposals and will soon have cost estimates. That's where they're likely to find friction with the governor.