Lawmakers return to Statehouse for special session

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(Host) Lawmakers returned to the Statehouse on Thursday for a special session to make changes to the state budget for next year.

The three-and-a-half-hour session was marked by bitter partisan attacks.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(House Speaker Gaye Symington) “I’d like to say it’s great to see you all. But I’d also like to say it’ll be great not to see you all for awhile.”

(Kinzel) The session opened on a collegial note as House Speaker Gaye Symington welcomed her colleagues back to the Statehouse. But it quickly turned into an acrimonious day of finger pointing and blame. Members in both the House and Senate repeatedly raised points of order when they felt the debate was getting out of hand.

Governor Jim Douglas called the special session because he was unhappy with a provision of the state budget that dealt with a labor dispute between the faculty and management of the Vermont State Colleges over an early retirement program.

Lawmakers ordered both sides to return to the bargaining table and to submit to binding arbitration if they failed to reach a compromise.

Douglas objected to this approach because he said it overturned a ruling by the Vermont Labor Relations Board.

Many Democrats reluctantly supported a plan to remove the provision from the budget. But they also expressed a great deal of frustration with the governor. Chittenden senator Jim Leddy:

(Leddy) “When you make the faculty essentially a scapegoat for a host of other variables that they have no control over, when you threaten any employee with the loss of a benefit, when it comes down to win lose all or nothing, the outcome in this case is there are no winners whatever the outcome of our work today. There are no winners. There are only losers.”

(Kinzel) Republicans defended the governor and accused the Democrats of being unnecessarily negative. House Minority leader Peg Flory:

(Flory) “In spite of the fact that I think perhaps statements on the floor today have been counterproductive to that, I will continue to be consistent and support H1 and hope that we go home and come back in a much better frame of mind next year.”

(Kinzel) Following the session, the governor said he thought the day had gone well. But he blamed the Democrats for the need to have a special session.

(Douglas) “We have to remember why we’re here. So I’m disappointed that we needed the special session, but pleased that it appears to have gone very smoothly.”

Douglas says he hopes to work with legislative leaders in the coming months in an effort to make the 2006 session less partisan.

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

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