House falls 5 votes short in override attempt

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(Host) The Vermont House has voted to sustain Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of pension reform legislation. Democrats needed a number of Republicans to support their effort to override the veto; they convinced only one.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Governor Douglas has won a showdown with Democratic House lawmakers over his veto of legislation that consolidates three state pension funds. The Senate last week voted to override the veto when five of the eight Republicans in the chamber joined with the Democrats.

But the situation in the House was very different. That’s because in the last week, both the Republican and Democrat parties raised the stakes over the veto issue, a move that put a lot of pressure on GOP House members.

The vote was seen as a test case of the governor’s power at the Statehouse and whether or not the Democrats could build coalitions to challenge Douglas on other issues. The governor vetoed the pension bill because he felt the legislation gave labor groups too much power in selecting members for a new state investment board. House Democratic leader Carolyn Partridge said the legislation could save the state more than a million dollars a year and she said the governor’s veto sends a terrible message to workers:

(Partridge) “We trust you to run our state offices, drive the snow plows, maintain our roads, run state government, police our state highways and teach our children. But we don’t trust you to help oversee the investment of your own money. This is wrong and this is not the Vermont way.”

(Kinzel) But Burlington Representative Kurt Wright said the potential savings of the bill would still be achieved if the controversial section were removed from the legislation:

(Wright) “I urge the body to sustain the governor’s veto. This bill is important to the taxpayers all across the state of Vermont, and we should sustain the governor’s veto and then go back and re-craft this bill in a way that the governor can sign it with the savings occurring.”

(Kinzel) When the results of the roll call were tallied, the Democrats fell five votes short.

Following the vote, the governor said the outcome is very important to future issues under consideration at the Statehouse.

(Douglas) “It’s important for the majority party in the House and Senate to realize that they can’t just make issues partisan and try to twist arms and accomplish something through their sheer numbers in the General Assembly. But they need to work with the Republican caucus and with the administration to work issues out and find solutions that work for everyone.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’ll gladly sign the bill if it is reintroduced without the section that he objects to.

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

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