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Gov. Phil Scott vetoes pay raise for Vermont legislators

A floor-level view of lawmakers at their desks during a floor debate in the Vermont House of Representatives
Peter Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
House lawmakers debating legislation on the floor earlier this month. Some Democratic and Progressive representatives voted 'no' on the state budget last week because it doesn't do enough to extend a federally funded emergency housing program.

Gov. Phil Scott has vetoed a bill that would raise the pay of Vermont House and Senate members and make them eligible for the state employees' health insurance plan.

"This year, the General Assembly passed several pieces of legislation that will significantly increase costs for Vermonters through new and higher taxes, fees, and penalties," Scott said in his veto statement. "In my opinion, it does not seem fair for legislators to insulate themselves from the very costs they are imposing on their constituents by doubling their own future pay."

At a press conference Wednesday, Scott said he also worries that increased pay would lead to longer legislative sessions. He said the biggest obstacle to public service in the Legislature isn’t the low pay, but rather the protracted sessions that can extend to late May and even June.

Enacting a bill that would effectively double lawmakers’ pay and provide health insurance, he said, would only exacerbate that problem.

“Probably I think there are some who feel that we’re destined for a year-round session, a full-time Legislature, which Vermont does not need,” Scott said Wednesday.

The legislation would incrementally raise lawmakers' pay to $1,210 per week plus salary adjustments, up from the current rate of about $812 per week. The bill would also raise compensation for leaders in the House and Senate.

Windsor County Sen. Becca White, one of the bill’s lead sponsors, said the current pay scale in Montpelier excludes the vast majority of working Vermonters from even considering running for public office.

“What’s so heartbreaking is I have talked to many, many Vermonters who have wanted to serve, who are working class, who can’t because of the pay and the benefits,” White said Wednesday.

More fromBrave Little State: Low Pay, Weird Schedule: Who Exactly Can Pull Off The Legislator Lifestyle?

“(The low pay) makes it so that only a certain group of people can serve, and that is traditionally independently wealthy folks … or folks who are retired, so that is very narrow. And unfortunately that leaves out the majority of Vermonters who are working full time,” White said. “For us to actually reflect the citizens’ legislature, and not a professionalized legislature, we need to change that structure.”

Earlier this year, Scott had said he didn't oppose a wage increase, but that lawmakers should shorten the legislative session to reduce taxpayer costs. Vermont's legislative session typically runs from January to mid-May.

The governor has now vetoed five pieces of legislation this year, including the state budget. The Legislature overrode his veto on the Affordable Heat Act climate bill and passed it into law. Lawmakers will attempt additional overrides, including of the legislative pay bill, when they return to Montpelier on June 20.

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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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