Dems pledge to work with Douglas on next year’s fiscal challenges

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(Host) Democratic leaders in the Legislature have pledged to work with Republican Governor Jim Douglas on next year’s fiscal challenges.

But they say that Douglas also needs to accept that the Legislature now has more power – as shown by last week’s override of the budget veto.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Senate President Peter Shumlin says now is not the time for Democrats to crow about twice overriding a gubernatorial veto – once on the same sex marriage bill and again on the budget.

But Shumlin said Douglas needs to realize that there is a new balance of power in Montpelier.

(Shumlin) "The speaker and I are certainly cognizant of the fact that the dynamics have changed, that there has been a shift, that this is the first Legislature in my memory that may well be on equal footing with the executive branch as the founding fathers intended."

(Dillon) Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith held out an olive branch of sorts during a news conference to recap the 2009 session. They promised to work with the governor on next year’s budget.

Looking ahead, they said they would cooperate with the administration on ways to address the teacher’s retirement system. They said they want to make sure the state gets as much federal stimulus money as possible for broadband internet and health information technology. And Smith said a legislative committee has begun to study how to make government more efficient and what programs to fund.

(Smith) "So it’s our hope that we can work with the administration on those areas so that we can be ready January 1 when we get back so that we can move forward and have a productive conversation toward the fiscal year 2011 budget."

(Dillon) Yet if the past is any indication, those conversations may not always be productive.

Smith, Shumlin and other legislative leaders negotiated with the administration prior to last week’s veto session. Yet some hard feelings remain. Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Governor Douglas blamed the Democrats for the impasse.

(Douglas) "Well, a compromise doesn’t mean overriding and unilaterally deciding what to do. It means coming to a common and mutual agreement. And they chose not to do that. In fact, at least three times they literally got up and walked out of the room, walked away from the negotiating table."

(Dillon) Democrats flatly disputed that version of events. They said Douglas was not even present during the last negotiating sessions.

And Shumlin said his side never gave up on the talks.

(Shumlin) "I think it’s fair to say that they were cordial discussions, they were exhaustive discussions. Nobody ever walked away from the table. And what we need to do now is use this opportunity to not gloat, to not point fingers at each other, to not bicker, to not play the blame game, but to find ways to work together, to ensure that we don’t end up here again in 2011."

(Dillon) Douglas also says he’s willing to work with Democrats. However, the two sides have not scheduled a regular series of meetings to work out their differences.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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