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The Commons
Voices / Legislative Update

Two paths toward $26 million

We will realize this savings either way, but I do not feel that we should attack the teachers' union in this manner

Jeanette White has represented Windham County as a senator in the Vermont Legislature since 2003.

Originally published in The Commons issue #408 (Wednesday, May 17, 2017).



We have seen a lot of interest lately in the $26 million savings in the state budget that Governor Phil Scott has proposed.

I realize it always seems like some kind of copout to say that the issue is complicated, but that characterization is usually true. This one is both complicated and simple at the same time.

Governor Scott has stated that there is $26 million to be saved by putting the health benefits portion of teachers’ contracts into a statewide contract rather than individually negotiated contracts at the local level.

This is true, in part. The savings will be realized whether the negotiating is done at the local level or the state level. I won’t go into detail, but it has to do with the Affordable Care Act, and will happen regardless of who does the negotiating.

So there are two issues, and here is where it seems a bit complicated and where the Legislature and the governor differ.

The governor’s plan would take the savings and put it in three places.

One third of the savings would go to the Education Fund, which would lower property taxes some. Another third would go to early education (he promised money for this purpose but had proposed no way to pay for it). The final third would go to the General Fund.

I have heard from school administrators and some school boards who like this idea because they are tired of the negotiations. I have also heard from many teachers who oppose it.

* * *

The Legislature would have teachers’ health care negotiated at the local level. The savings would still come to the state, which would reducing the total funding sent to each district by the negotiated savings.

The entire savings would go into the education fund, thus reducing property taxes statewide, a plan that would reduce property taxes more than the governor’s proposal.

I have heard from teachers who favor the Legislature’s plan because they don’t want to lose their negotiating power. I have heard from some who support the entire amount going into the education fund. I have also heard from those who oppose this plan for a number of reasons.

The Legislature’s solution seems to make sense. It reduces property taxes, which we know people are concerned about. It keeps the negotiations at the local level, and the savings will still be there.

Of course, one of the things this does is create a dilemma for the early-childhood folks, who would love to have the money promised by the governor. Even so, many are also concerned about other aspects of the Scott proposal.

* * *

We were under the impression that the Legislature’s plan was a compromise solution until the afternoon of Friday, May 5, when it tanked — which is why we headed back to Montpelier last week. It seems that the governor and his staff do not like this solution because all along one of their goals was to break the teachers’ union and they saw this as a good way to start.

I, for one, do not support the governor’s proposal. I like the savings, and we will realize this savings either way, but I do not feel that we should attack the teachers’ union in this manner.

Of course, I suppose if the governor gets his way, there could always be a statewide teachers’ strike over health care benefits — and what a horror show that would be.

We will find out where we should go from here. Like I said, even though no one wants to hear it, it is complicated.

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