Lawmakers face possible veto on key pieces of legislation

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(Host) As lawmakers enter the final week of the session, they face the possibility that Governor Jim Douglas will veto several key pieces of legislation including the state budget and a health care reform bill.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) In the final days of a legislative session, the fate of unrelated bills can become interconnected and a bitter fight over one piece of legislation can have a rippling effect over other bills.

At the top of list is health care reform. The House and Senate have agreed on a plan to provide subsidies to help uninsured Vermonters get coverage.

The governor insisted that the coverage be made available through private health insurance companies and not the state.

Lawmakers reluctantly agreed to this approach but they included a provision that allows the state to offer coverage if the private market plan doesn’t work.

Douglas wants to give the private market 3 years to develop a program before there’s any state intervention but that timeframe isn’t acceptable to House Speaker Gaye Symington:

(Symington) “At my count we have compromised 5 different ways on this one issue and we’ve gone as far as we can go. Our bottom line is we want to know that we will move forward with affordable health care for the Vermonters who are not now insured.”

(Kinzel) Douglas thinks some Democrats really want to implement a state run program and he thinks most Vermonters would oppose this approach.

(Douglas) “The Legislature is really out of the mainstream. They are people who really believe that government should do lots of things and assume far more risk than is the case today. I can’t let that happen. I have to not look just for a political victory this year, but for what’s in the best interests for taxpayers for generations to come.”

(Kinzel) Douglas is also threatening to veto the state budget because it doesn’t include his plan to spend $175 million dollars over the next 10 years to provide college scholarships. The governor wants to use money from the national tobacco settlement fund to pay for the plan but lawmakers have refused to go along with this idea.

Now Douglas is considering a plan to launch the program using anticipated budget surplus money from this year:

(Douglas) “The state’s economy is doing well and that’s encouraging but economists have to help us with the projections over the long term to know whether this is indeed sustainable.”

(Kinzel) Speaker Symington says she likes the idea of the scholarship program but she’s reluctant to designate any surplus revenue at this time:

(Symington) “I think it’s a challenging method of paying for this when we’re looking at the kind of budget deficits that we are next years. with all of that coming at us I think it’s hard to look out and pre-allocate any new revenues that are coming into the state.”

(Kinzel) Symington says she’s hopeful that lawmakers will adjourn late Tuesday night. But if the governor vetoes any bills, they could be back for a special veto session in several weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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