Democrats attempt override of governor’s veto

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(Host) Democratic leaders will attempt next week to over-ride Governor Jim Douglas’ veto of a pension bill. The governor rejected the legislation because of the make-up of a proposed pension fund investment committee. But the Democrats say the governor’s criticism is unfounded.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) House and Senate Democrats say Governor Douglas’s veto of the pension system bill came as a total surprise. House Speaker Gaye Symington, a Jericho Democrat, says she met with the governor on Thursday shortly before he delivered the veto message. She says he gave no warning that he’d reject the bill.

(Symington) “I asked him, and he said, I mean he was non-committal.”

(Dillon) The legislation would combine the investment of three state retirement funds, which together have assets of about $2.6 billion. The governor says the make-up of the new investment committee gives too much weight to unionized teachers and state employees.

But according to Symington, the new investment committee fairly represents both management and labor. The new nine-member board includes four who could be considered firmly from the labor camp.

(Symington) “I just don’t see how the math works to support that position that it’s weighted too heavily toward employees when you compare it to the existing boards. And beyond that, this is a matter of the employees’ retirement system. It’s their money, or partly their money, and I think they should be able to be sure to have representation on this final board.”

(Dillon) The Democrats also point out that the bill would save a million dollars a year in money management fees, and would also improve the performance of the funds.

The bill first goes back to the Senate, which is likely to take it up again early next week. Senate President Peter Welch, a Windsor County Democrat, says he’s read the governor’s veto message but still doesn’t understand his reasoning.

(Welch) “Frankly, I’m mystified because the bill is really very straightforward. It simplifies the process. It allows us to spend less to get more and that’s normally a good thing, especially when it comes to pension funds. It’s beneficial for the people in the pension fund because they get a better return, it’s good for the taxpayers because the more of a return they get the less the state taxpayers have to contribute to the fund.”

(Dillon) A two-thirds vote of both chambers is needed to override the veto.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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