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'Impasse' between Vt. House and Senate lawmakers puts major child care bill in jeopardy

Six lawmakers sitting around a table in a Statehouse committee room
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Members of the House and Senate met Tuesday to finalize negotiations on the state budget, but the two chambers remain at odds over how to fund a child care bill.

A standoff between Democratic leaders in the House and Senate is threatening to torpedo a child care bill that was among the top priorities for lawmakers heading into the 2023 legislative session.

Until recently, the biggest threat to Democrats’ child care bill appeared to be the veto pen of Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth said Tuesday evening, however, that the two Democratically controlled chambers are now at an “impasse” over how to fund significant new investments in the child care system. And a failure to resolve those disagreements before adjournment, according to Baruth, could derail the legislation before it reaches the governor’s desk.

“I mean that’s a possibility,” Baruth said. “And it keeps me up at night.”

Both chambers have reached general agreement on a plan that would increase child care subsidies by about $120 million annually. But they differ on how to finance the spending package: Senate lawmakers want to use a payroll tax, while House lawmakers favor an increase in the corporate and personal income tax.

Baruth said Tuesday that the Senate is committed to its financing mechanism. And if the House doesn’t eventually agree, then he said Democrats could adjourn the session without one of their signature legislative policy initiatives.

“We tried to make it clear to the House that we would not be financing this with a corporate and income tax,” he said.

House Speaker Jill Krowinski said her chamber remains committed to its financing plan, and will pass a bill Thursday that relies on marginal rate increases in the corporate and personal income tax to fund the bulk of the new child care spending.

“After many conversations with our caucus, we have more support right now for the income tax, and we’re going to continue to have these conversations as we get to the finish line,” Krowinski said.

Krowinski said she’s confident that the House and Senate’s shared interest in passing a child care bill this year will yield some kind of compromise, though she said it’s unclear as of now what a middle ground might look like.

“I’ve worked in this building a long time, and I’ve seen as we get closer to a deadline people come together, work together to find a solution to get things done,” Krowinski said. “And we are very much still well in that zone right now.”

The Senate is scheduled to hold a floor vote on its version of the child care bill on Wednesday. The full House will vote on its proposal Thursday. Negotiations between the chambers will likely continue in the meantime.

The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on Friday, but Baruth said he’s willing to extend the session into next week if it appears that a compromise on child care financing is in the offing.

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The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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