Vermont governor's health proposal is shot down by Senate

A plan by Republican Gov. Phil Scott to have teachers negotiate health care benefits with the state, rather than local school districts, was dealt a major blow Friday after the state Senate effectively voted down the proposal.

Republican Minority Leader Dustin Degree offered Scott's plan on the Senate floor Friday morning. Both argue savings would be significant, perhaps up to $26 million overall.

School districts have already budgeted for health care, Degree said, so if teachers no longer have to take from their local budget, that money could be recouped by the state and used to lower property taxes. This year all teachers are negotiating with their school boards, making it the right time to implement the plan, Republicans argue.

But the plan was rejected in favor of a proposal by Democratic Sen. Philip Baruth to create a study committee to look at how money can be saved through teachers' health care negotiations.

"I believe that some of these ideas may have merit. The idea, for instance, that one might look at recapturing a portion of savings from school districts on health care, I think that that's certainly something that could be explored," Baruth said.

Degree was buffeted by senators who argued that the plan had not been properly vetted and that having teachers negotiate their benefits with the state instead of their school districts infringes on their collective bargaining rights.

"We have a committee process," said Democratic Sen. Jeanette White. "It's our responsibility to craft good legislation."

Scott's spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley, said after the Senate vote that Scott's plan could be brought up again when House and Senate lawmakers meet to hash out the differences in their state budgets.

"It's not dead by any stretch," Kelley said.

Kelley wouldn't say whether Scott would consider vetoing a budget that didn't include his proposal. She did say Scott and lawmakers have an obligation to realize these savings.

"This is $26 million in savings a year. He has an obligation to do the right thing, and the legislature shouldn't need a veto to do the right thing," Kelley said.

House Republicans say they will support a gubernatorial veto.

"If a budget is sent to the Governor's desk without this common sense proposal, a proposal to save up to $26 million annually, we stand ready to support and sustain a veto," House Republican leader Don Turner said.