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More than a few Vermonters have asked over the past four years: Why is Gov. Phil Scott still a Republican?

That question — and, between the lines, a bigger question about what it means to be part of the Grand Old Party in Vermont — was asked out loud on Friday.

Going back to the 2016 campaign, Scott has made no secret of his distaste for Republican President Donald Trump, criticizing him openly despite the potential ramifications.

Scott was among the first Republican governors to say after Trump’s first impeachment that he should have been convicted and removed from office. He strongly condemned Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. And, unlike many GOP members of Congress, and notably, some leaders within the Vermont GOP, Scott declared that Joe Biden had, indeed, won the presidential election and ought to resign or be removed.

Given all this, has Scott thought about leaving the GOP? Vermont Digger founder Anne Galloway asked that question of the governor on Friday.

“I think the Republican Party is going to have to do some soul searching, and figure out what our values are, what we can agree upon. And whether they indeed believe this is a party of Trump, whether they’re going to continue with some of what I perceive as white supremacy dominating … then we’ll all have to make some decisions,” Scott said. “But I’m hopeful that the Republican Party will get back to its roots and be the party that I perceive them to be, based on smaller government, economic opportunity, capitalism and so forth.

“But time will tell. I mean, I don’t think that’s going to be decided this week,” Scott said. “From my standpoint, I think it’s time for us all to reflect and for those who are in control of the parties at this point in time to reflect as well.”

Scott sidestepped somewhat when posed follow-up questions on why he would want to stick with a party whose members who encouraged insurrection and sedition at the U.S. Capitol by continuing to insist, without evidence, that Trump had won. Nor did Scott give a yes-or-no answer when asked whether he agrees with some lawmakers that Vermont GOP chair Deb Billado should step down from the position, given what she has said — and more to the point, hasn’t said — in the wake of Biden’s victory and the mob’s attack on the Capitol.

“I think the Republican Party again, some of the officials in the party, have to do some soul searching as to what the party represents and adding more reflects the values that the elected officials have,” Scott said. “So, again, we’ll we’ll have those conversations over the next few months and determine where what direction the party goes.”

All parties have factions, and the Vermont GOP is no exception. Tension between moderates and conservatives within the party date back nearly a century. Let’s put it this way: This past summer, John Klar, who ran against Scott in the 2020 GOP gubernatorial primary, responded to a question about Scott with a question of his own: “Phil Scott’s a Republican?”

So this is not going away — not with Scott calling for “soul-searching” and others, notably state Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, calling for Billado and other GOP county committee leaders to step down.

And keep this in mind: The same percentage of Vermont voters — 30 percent — cast ballots for Trump in 2020 as did in 2016.

IT’S BUDGET TIME

Speaking of Scott, we’ll get a look at his priorities for fiscal 2022 Thursday afternoon, when he gives his budget address to a joint session of the Legislature.

Scott has already said he wants to hold the line on taxes and fees, given the pandemic recovery and the economic damage done. But there’s no shortage of need, starting with the Vermont State Colleges System and the state’s significant unfunded pension liability.

Where will revenue come from?

More immediately, the state Emergency Board will meet at 3 p.m. Tuesday to consider the state’s revenue projections. (The video link is at the top of the Legislative Joint Fiscal Office home page.) As previously noted, the state’s revenues the first six months of fiscal 2021 have exceeded projections by about $163 million. But those projections are below pre-pandemic revenue returns.

Then there’s the question of what the revenue picture could look like if the state rethought how and where it collects taxes. The Vermont Tax Structure Commission, which presented its draft report to the House Ways and Means Committee on Friday, has ideas about significant changes.

The proposals floated by the commission include shifting the financing of preK-12 education from property taxes to income taxes, with the argument that income is a more fair indicator of ability to pay than the assessed value of one’s property. The commission also proposes greatly expanding the state’s sales tax base while reducing the sales tax to 3.6 percent from 6 percent, with the idea that the broader amount of taxation on goods and services would allow for a lower rate.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Now that committee assignments are set and introductions have been made, there’s no shortage of work to be done:

• The Senate Judiciary committee has a busy docket for the week. Wednesday at 9 a.m. it starts discussion of S. 30, a bill prohibiting possession of firearms at childcare facilities, hospitals, and certain public buildings. Thursday at 10;30 a.m. And it will hear testimonyon  S. 18, which seeks to limit “earned good time” sentence reductions for offenders convicted of certain crimes, including murder and sexual assaults against children.

House Appropriations will be busy, with a review of Vermont’s economy from legislative economist Tom Kavet on Wednesday and hearings on the annual budget readjustment act Wednesday through Friday. (The Transportation and Commerce committees will also be reviewing the budget adjustment act this week.)

• An update on the Vermont Veterans’ Home’s COVID-19 response will be the topic of a hearing before the House General, Housing and Government Affairs Committee at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Veterans’ Home CEO Melissa Jackson and Vermont State Employees Association executive director Steve Howard are scheduled to attend.

• Tuesday at 1:45 p.m., the Senate Education Committee, now chaired by state Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, will discuss the draft report of the Select Committee on the Future of Public Higher Education in Vermont.

• If you’re curious about Gov. Scott’s executive order proposing changes in Act 250 governance, you might be interested in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee’s hearing on the proposal at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Want more? Here you’ll find a link to House and Senate committee schedules for the week ahead, and live links where you can watch on YouTube.

ZOOM MOMENT OF MIRTH

Generally, legislators keep their ringers silenced during floor sessions and committee hearings. But sometimes, stuff happens.

Thursday, state Rep. Ann Pugh’s phone went off during a House Human Services Committee hearing — and not only did it ring, but it belted out the chorus of “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. That familiar disco classic got smiles and a good-natured chuckle from committee members.

“I was looking for an upbeat song as a response to living in pandemic era and how challenging it is,” Pugh said of her ring tone choice. “The song makes me smile and I loved listening (and poorly singing along) when it first came out.”

Greg Sukiennik covers Vermont government and politics for New England Newspapers. Reach him at gsukiennik@reformer.com.

Greg Sukiennik joined New England Newspapers as a reporter at The Berkshire Eagle in 1995. He worked for The AP in Boston, and at ESPN.com, before rejoining NENI in 2016. He was managing editor of all three NENI Vermont newspapers from 2017-19.

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