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Every week, Vermont Public's politics team provides a succinct breakdown of some of the biggest issues at the Statehouse.

Vt. Legislature adjourns, but vetoes on budget and other bills likely await

Brightly colored tulips in the foreground of the Vermont Statehouse
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Spring tulips were in full bloom as the Legislature adjourned the 2023 legislative session. The House and Senate will return next month to attempt to override any vetoes that Gov. Phil Scott issues in the meantime.

The Vermont Legislature has closed the books on a potentially watershed session in which Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate expanded the size and scope of government over the objections of a four-term Republican governor who’d previously been able to keep some of Democrats’ major initiatives at bay.

Democrats have controlled both chambers of the General Assembly for nearly two decades. But the scale of new spending approved by Democratic lawmakers in 2023 — and the tax and fee increases needed to pay for them — represent perhaps the most ambitious single-session agenda since the party assumed control of the legislative branch in 2005.

“Voters I think now look to Democrats and Progressives for serious hardcore policy,” Senate President Pro Tem Phil Baruth said Friday night. “Even as Phil Scott has been reelected time and again, more and more Democrats and Progressives have been sent here to put those policies in play.”

"I understand the process, and neither side gets everything they want, that’s how it works. But this year feels different.”
Gov. Phil Scott, on the partisan power imbalance in Montpelier

In each of his three gubernatorial campaigns, Scott has vowed to deliver “balance” to state government. Divided government, however, is no longer a check against bills such as the Affordable Heat Act, which sailed into law this week after the House and Senate overrode Scott’s veto.

The House upheld Scott’s veto of a similar bill last year.

Scott himself noted the change in power dynamics at a press conference last month, when he said, “this year feels different.”

“I think I’ve proven over the years that I’m not an alarmist, but I have to say I’m very concerned with the direction we’re heading in,” he said. “And it’s not because some of my proposals have been cut. I understand the process, and neither side gets everything they want, that’s how it works. But this year feels different.”

Gov. Phil Scott speaking on the Senate floor
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Gov. Phil Scott addresses Senate lawmakers Friday night.

One notable difference this year is the partisan imbalance in the House, where Democrats and Progressives now hold 109 seats in a 150-member body — 12 more than they did last year.

In a speech to Senate lawmakers Friday night, Scott noted the widening gap between the executive and legislative branches’ approaches to fiscal management of state government.

“With high inflation and looming economic storm clouds on the horizon, Vermonters are nervous and already overburdened enough,” Scott said. “And to be clear, if we’re taking money out of one pocket to put it in another, that’s not making anything more affordable. Right now, it appears this may be an area where we disagree.”

Policies approved by the Legislature over the past five months spotlight the extent of that disagreement.

  • They approved a $30 million a year increase in property taxes to fund free school meals for all students in the state, regardless of income status.
  • They constructed a state budget that relies on a 13% increase in general fund spending to support, among other things, 68 new positions in state government, and a $100 million funding boost for mental health agencies, long-term care providers and other medical services.
A group picture of female Senate lawmakers and staff
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
All the female Senate lawmakers and staff posed for a group photo Friday.

At a rally for the child care bill last month, Brattleboro Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, chair of the House Committee on Ways and Means, articulated a philosophical approach to taxation held by many of the Democratic and Progressive lawmakers in Montpelier.

“Taxes are a symbol. And they’re a tool of our collective ability to care,” she said. “Taxes are how we contribute collectively to our futures as a community. When we each pay what we can afford toward that care, that is also courage.”

Scott and lawmakers clashed on policy bills as well. The clean heat standard could soon empower government to compel individuals and businesses to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels. Scott said the legislation will “punish” Vermonters with higher heating oil costs, and encouraged lawmakers to use carrots instead of stick.

And on gun policy, Democrats approved a 72-hour waiting period for firearm purchases that Scott said infringes on Vermonters’ right to bear arms.

Democrats will hold a special session on June 20 to try to override the litany of potential vetoes coming from Scott.

Democrats and Progressives had their own internal battles in 2023 as well, notably on the issue of an emergency motel housing program that’s scheduled to wind down starting in June.

Six lawmakers sitting around a table in a Statehouse committee room
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
House and Senate budget conferees, negotiating the Legislature's final spending plan earlier this week.

More than 2,000 low-income Vermonters are set to lose motel housing by July 1. And while a coalition of more than 30 House lawmakers called on legislative leaders to extend the program, the state budget approved on Friday will result in the displacement in close to 80% of Vermont’s homeless population.

“By not extending the hotel voucher program, at least for vulnerable populations like people with chronic illness, people are going to die,” said Lincoln Rep. Mari Cordes, one of the lawmakers calling for increased funding for emergency housing.

The House passed the budget by a vote of 90-53 Friday — 10 short of the 100 votes that would be needed to override a veto.

Many of those no votes came from Democratic and Progressive lawmakers who withheld their support due to lack of continued funding for the emergency housing program. If members of that coalition hold together, and Scott vetoes the budget, they could gain significant leverage as House leaders try to assemble the supermajority needed to override the veto.

The motel exits will begin on June 1, when an estimated 800 households will lose eligibility. State officials say an additional 800 households will lose their housing on July 1.

“We are stripping of them of their most basic needs, sending them into crisis and then out in to our communities unsheltered,” said Bridport Rep. Jubilee McGill. “We have created a powder keg, and in 19 days we light the first match. Inaction will result in people dying.”

2023 also saw moments of tri-partisan unity.

Lawmakers approved, and Scott signed, legislation that will protect abortion providers in Vermont from criminal charges filed in states where the practice is outlawed.

The bills shields health care workers who provide gender-affirming care to people who travel from other states to receive it, and protects local health care providers from out-of-state subpoenas and summons, so long as the case involves health care activities that are legally protected in Vermont.

There were also breakthroughs on a years-long effort to reform state and local regulatory barriers to new housing. And legislation that won final approval on Friday includes revisions to Act 250 that Scott and housing developers say will spur construction of affordable housing.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Peter Hirschfeld:


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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