Legislators: Governor won't negotiate on care

MONTPELIER — Efforts to negotiate a compromise on teacher health insurance with Republican Gov. Phil Scott that can save taxpayers millions of dollars have hit a dead end, the Democratic leaders of the Vermont Legislature said Wednesday.

Clearly frustrated, Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said that Scott hasn't been willing to listen to their proposals to ensure maximum savings for taxpayers through changes in teachers' health insurance.

Despite more than a dozen proposals from the Legislature that the Democrats claim would save at least as much money as the governor's proposal, he has refused to compromise, they said. They claim Scott is trying to reduce the influence of ability of local teachers' unions to negotiate with their school boards.

"I think this wasn't ever at its heart about saving the taxpayers money. It was about undermining those local conversations and working Vermonters," Johnson said. "We've come to the conclusion that we really need to ask, what is this conversation really about? We stand very firm on needing to keep these conversations in our local communities."

Johnson and Ashe say lawmakers will now continue their efforts to wrap up their business for the year, including teacher health care legislation.

"At this point, we, of course, hope that there's still agreement that could be found with the administration," Ashe said. "I think everyone acknowledges that if we can hold to the Legislature's principles, the administration feels satisfied that we've met some of their guidelines, I hope we can reach that agreement."

Scott spokeswoman Rebecca Kelley said after the news conference that Democratic leaders were being "disingenuous" and the governor remains willing to negotiate the details of his health care proposal.

At issue is the best way to take advantage of savings from new health insurance plans that will be offered to the state's teachers beginning in January. They have lower premiums, but higher out-of-pocket expenses.

Scott says his plan will ensure the state's property tax payers will see their bills reduced by an estimated $26 million, including $13 million this year. His plan requires that teachers negotiate health care benefits statewide.

Democrats have countered with proposals they say would save the same of money while preserving local collective bargaining.

The Legislature had hoped to adjourn for the year the weekend of May 6, but the teacher health care issue has kept them coming back.


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