Previewing the 2018 Vt. legislative session

Published: Jan. 1, 2018 at 2:29 PM EST
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It took months for a slate of new leaders to butt heads in 2017. That's when Gov. Phil Scott pitched a plan to scuttle traditional collective bargaining in favor of a statewide health care benefit for teachers. Scott eventually vetoed the state budget after Democrats rejected his idea. Political Reporter Neal Goswami has a preview of the 2018 session.

A major showdown will likely come sooner this year. The governor says his effort to make the state more affordable continues, that means rejecting tax or fee increases again.

"How we get there is where we may differ. I believe we held the line on taxes and fees in the last budget, including property tax rates on a state level. I think that was a step in the right direction. We need to do it again this year," said Scott, R-Vermont.

Scott says he'll offer a plan to avoid a projected 9-cent property tax increase. Democratic lawmakers probably won't like it.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson wants to examine restructuring the education financing system. That's a tall task with plenty of pitfalls.

Both Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe say help is coming for lower-income residents. That means a potential hike in the minimum wage and consideration of paid family leave.

"You'll see themes here of creating a strong, healthy future, leveling the playing field so that we can create an economy that works for everybody, not just those that can afford it," Johnson said.

For the Senate, mental health will take a lead role. Ashe says the state needs more psychiatric nurses to care for patients and more beds to treat those patients. He wants the governor to include funding in the capital bill.

"I think it's very clear to all observers that we need additional bed space at different stages of the mental health continuum," Ashe said.

The Senate wants to take on the pharmaceutical industry, too. California makes drug companies provide a warning before raising prices. Ashe says Vermont could follow its lead.

"Trying to find strategies to shine more light on prescription drug rip off pricing," he said.

Economic development is a familiar theme and will be again in 2018. But since the Great Recession, it's been more challenging in most of the state.

"You see that Chittenden County regained its footing fairly quickly," Johnson said. "Much of rural Vermont-- most of the rest of Vermont-- took 10 years to get back to where they were."

Finding the money to clean up Vermont's waterways may create the biggest divide between the governor and the Legislature. Both chambers want to lock down long-term funding, while the governor is content to tap the capital bill for now.

All this, before the governor and lawmakers face re-election in the fall.