Vermont House Braces for Debate Over Veto Plan

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The Vermont House is bracing for a highly partisan debate over a plan to override Governor Jim Douglas’s veto of pension reform legislation. Democrats on Tuesday delayed the vote for three days, prompting Republicans to charge that the Democrats are resorting to strong-arm tactics in an effort to win.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The fight over Governor Douglas’s veto has now evolved into a nasty political battle between the state Republican and Democrat parties.

Several weeks ago, Douglas vetoed a bill that consolidates three state pension funds because he felt the plan gave too much power to labor groups in selecting the membership of a new state investment board. Last week, the Senate overrode the veto by a vote of twenty-four to three.

Over the weekend, the Democrats mailed postcards to voters in some GOP districts outlining the potential savings of the bill to pressure Republican legislators to back the override. State Republican Chairman, Jim Barnett responded by sending out an urgent email to GOP members urging them to contact their Republican lawmakers to sustain the governor’s veto. Barnett took the action because there are 60 Republicans in the House. In order to achieve a two-thirds majority, the Democrats need to win over at least ten GOP members.

The stage was set for a showdown on Tuesday when the Democrats called for a three-day delay in the vote so that their members could better understand the underlying legislation. House Republican leader, Peg Flory, strongly opposed the delay:

(Flory) “It has nothing to do with people not understanding what they’re voting for. And it’s frustrating when they’re trying to do arm twisting out to the general public with information that is inaccurate.”

(Kinzel) Democratic leader, Carolyn Partridge, says she’s not sure if the Democrats had the votes to win on Tuesday and she says the next three days offer additional opportunities for the Democrats to make their case to undecided House members.

(Partridge) “I don’t necessarily see that there’s anything wrong with that. That’s part of the process. We just want to be sure people really understand what’s at stake here. And if that’s seen as twisting arms or whatever then it can be characterized that way.”

(Kinzel) Many political observers believe there’s more at stake in this fight than just the merits of this legislation. Democrats seem eager to show the governor that they can put together a coalition to override his positions. If this happens, the Democrats believe that Douglas may be more willing to negotiate on other key issues facing the Legislature this year.

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

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