College scholarship battle continues

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(Host) The battle between Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic House leaders over college scholarships is continuing.

Douglas wanted lawmakers to include new scholarship money in this year’s Budget Adjustment bill.

But the House put the program in separate legislation that probably won’t become law until next month.

And then the issue spilled over into the debate over the budget adjustment bill when Douglas vetoed the legislation and the Democrats didn’t have the votes to override.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Usually the Budget Adjustment bill is used to make mid-course corrections in the current year budget to cover unexpected expenses – this year extra money was needed to close the state office building in Bennington for health reasons.

The vote demonstrated just how difficult it can be to override a gubernatorial veto.

There are 93 Democrats, 49 Republicans, 6 Progressives and 2 Independent members of the Vermont House.

To override the veto, Democrats needed two thirds of the members present or 99 votes – they got 96 – they lost a few members of their caucus, including Montpelier Democrat Jon Anderson who was just appointed by the governor.

Douglas says he vetoed the bill because it doesn’t include new college scholarship money.

House Appropriations chairwoman Martha Heath says the governor’s criticism is surprising:

(Heath) “The governor has vetoed the bill because it does not include a measure that he did not include his own original budget adjustment proposal. If it were important to include scholarships in the bill it seems to me that he would have included them in the proposal to this body.”

(Kinzel) Heath also reminded House members that they passed a bill that includes more than 4 million dollars for college scholarships late last month.

It’s now likely that the Legislature will include the provisions of the budget adjustment act in next year’s budget bill.

Governor Douglas says he’s concerned that, if this approach is taken, the college scholarship money won’t be available for high school seniors heading to college in the fall:

(Douglas) “Every day that they fail to send me the fiscal year 07 scholarship funding is another day that they disappoint those families struggling to afford a higher education for their children. You can expect us to hold them accountable for this inaction.”

(Kinzel) But Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says the money will be available when students need it:

(Bartlett) “We have this large bill – the Next Generation bill, which will pass before we get out of here in a timely manner and when we all got here was the timeframe we all assumed it was going to happen. So that’s the schedule that it will happen on now.”

(Kinzel) The Senate is expected to consider the Next Generation scholarship bill in the next few weeks.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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