REP. CURT TAYLOR
Agriculture is gone! The statue, named Agriculture or Ceres, no longer graces the top of the capitol’s golden dome. It wasn’t a pack of thrill-crazed youths that swiped her. Blame it instead on the Department of Buildings and General Services. They parked a crane next to the building and plucked her from her perch as part of a two-year, $1.7 million, dome renovation, new gold leaf and all.
With the recent improvements in the weather, BGS is anxious to continue the project. Except those legislators are still hanging around debating, bargaining and voting on the few remaining bills. Renovations and negotiations may overlap, but this should be the final week of the latter. The session is ending. We’re under pressure.
As always there are two important pieces of legislation yet to pass: the budget and the education funding bill. The budget, referred to as the Big Bill, details how all the money is spent. The education funding bill sets what’s called the dollar yields for the various property taxes. Those numbers are the final piece of the formula that exactly determines the property tax rates for all Vermont towns. Last year the governor vetoed both bills. There’s speculation he will do the same this year.
A governor’s veto places a bill, that so proudly passed the House and Senate, into suspended animation. The only way to get it moving again is with a two-thirds over-ride vote in both the House and Senate. That may not be difficult in the Senate where the governor’s party is outnumbered 23 to 7. In the House an over-ride is more difficult. There the governor has 53 members of his party out of the total 150 representatives. There are also seven unpredictable Independents. The veto is a blunt instrument that forces compromise. But it can also push Vermont close to the brink of a dangerous cliff.
What happens if those two bills stay comatose? No Big Bill means there is no way to pay the state’s bills after July 1st when the fiscal year starts. The state can limp along for a while, but it would not be pretty. No education funding bill means those Dollar Yield values are not set. There is a default non-homestead property tax rate, but there is no such default for the homestead rate. In fact, there would be no homestead property tax. Some might cheer, but a $400 million hole in the Education Fund would remain open. Also, not pretty.
So, this week, without the calm guidance of the Goddess of Agriculture to maintain sanity, the powers-that-be in Montpelier begin the bluffs, threats, parries, thrusts, gasps and compromises that seldom bring the session to a graceful conclusion.