Senate Democrats prepare for override vote Wednesday

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(Host) Senate Democrats say they have the votes to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of a bill that consolidates the operations of three state pension funds. The Democrats say their initiative will save the state three billion dollars over the next 30 years.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) At first glance, a bill that allows three state pension funds to jointly invest their portfolios might not seem a likely vehicle to set off a power struggle between the legislative and executive branches of government.

The legislation creates a new nine-member Vermont pension investment board. This committee will oversee how $2.6 billion in assets will be managed. Douglas said he vetoed the bill because he thinks labor groups have too much power to select four of the committee’s members.

Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch says the Democrats are putting up a major fight because they think their bill could save taxpayers a lot of money in the future:

(Welch) “When you run the numbers over a 30 year period, that adds up to a staggering number – $3.7 billion. So the Senate Democrats are going to stick together on this. But it’s not so much about a partisan issue as much as an obvious common sense approach that saving taxpayers $3.7 billion is something that’s worth holding tight on.”

(Kinzel) The governor says these savings can be achieved without the legislation. He says he’ll gladly sign the bill if changes are made to the composition of the new investment board:

(Douglas) “I really hope the legislators will not worry so much about this piece of legislation but make the simple change that I’ve requested and pass it again. Then they can get on with balancing the budget, helping save Medicaid, planning a solution to our health care dilemma, helping grow the economy and create more jobs and getting back to the agenda that I think is really important to the people of our state.”

(Kinzel) This legislation is a major initiative for State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding. Spaulding says many other states have similar procedures in place and he says the governor’s concerns are hard to understand:

(Spaulding) “When we’re having a hard time coming up with money to fund everything from education to Medicaid to environmental programs – let alone how we’re going to fund our pension funds going forward – to turn away the ability to make and save millions of dollars every year is mind boggling.”

(Kinzel) The Senate will vote on the override motion on Wednesday afternoon. It will take a two-thirds majority in that chamber for them to be successful; that’s likely because they have 20 members. If that happens, the measure will then be considered by the House where Democrats face a greater challenge because their majority is smaller in that chamber.

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

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