Douglas optimistic budget agreement can be reached

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he hopes to reach a compromise with Legislative leaders in the near future to break an impasse over next year’s budget. Douglas says he’s optimistic that an agreement can be reached before a special legislative session begins in about two weeks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There seems to be a growing acknowledgement between the Douglas Administration and legislative leaders that it would be a very bad idea for the state of Vermont to enter the new fiscal year on July first with no budget in place.

The governor says he’ll veto a budget passed by the House and Senate over the weekend because it includes a provision dealing with a dispute between the faculty and the management of the Vermont State Colleges.

That provision calls on both sides in the dispute to enter into new negotiations over the future of an early retirement program for the faculty. If no compromise is reached, the issue would be settled by binding arbitration.

Douglas says he objects to this process because it overturns a decision of the Vermont Labor Relations Board that ruled in favor of the State Colleges management. The governor says he’s hopeful that a compromise can be reached because a budget impasse would shut down state government on July first.

(Douglas) “I’m optimistic that we’ll be able to resolve it. Legislative leaders here don’t want to be in the position that Newt Gingrich was in a decade ago when he shut down the federal government. So I’m sure they’ll work with me to find a solution before the end of the month.”

(Kinzel) The governor is convinced that the public will be upset if the special session lasts more than one day.

(Douglas) “We want to have a session that’s expeditious. There’s no reason for the Legislature to be here more than an hour to deal with this. The people of Vermont are concerned about the length of time they’ve been here already, appropriating nearly a million dollars extra for their overtime. They don’t want to see them back here frankly. I don’t think they should accept compensation when they do come.”

(Kinzel) Senate president Peter Welch is also seeking a way to reach agreement on the State Colleges controversy before the session begins. Welch says he’s doing this because it’s very unlikely that the Legislature would be able to overturn the governor’s veto of the budget.

(Welch) “I have some real reason to believe that that’s the sensible strategy to pursue. So I’m willing and have been talking a bit to the Administration, and want to talk also to some of my colleagues in the Senate to see if there’s something we can figure out.”

(Kinzel) The framework for a possible compromise could encourage both sides in the dispute to reopen talks about the early retirement package but it would not mandate that the issue be sent to binding arbitration if those talks are not successful.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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