House Republicans exited the Statehouse a little before noon on Tuesday and headed to a private off-site caucus for the second consecutive week.
House Minority Leader Don Turner said this week’s confab dwelt on two things: taxes and the budget bill.
The Ways and Means Committee voted the former out Friday, and Appropriations voted the latter out on Monday. Both bills will be aired on the House floor Thursday and Friday.
Turner offered a one-word assessment of the current package — “unsustainable.”
Republicans are busy drafting amendments to H.528, the revenue bill, which they’ll float during the floor debate on Thursday. Turner said he doesn’t have specifics, since most amendments are still in the embryonic stage, but he pointed to several areas of the budget where Republican likely will pick battles.
Republicans are especially displeased with the three changes to the state’s income tax structure. H.528 caps itemized deductions at 2½ times the standard deduction, merges the second highest income bracket with the highest one, and institutes a “pull up” for higher-income taxpayers.
The GOP also wants to see language in the revenue bill that would eliminate a sales tax on cloud computing — the moratorium on this tax is set to expire during the next tax year.
“We are very concerned about the Connecticut River Valley being competitive with New Hampshire. We are just making it more likely that Vermonters will drive across the border,” Turner said.
Republicans aren’t buying the new meals tax on vending machine items. According to Turner, the tax sets up a situation where candy bars from a machine would be subject to a 9.5 percent tax, whereas candy bars sold in stores would only have a 6 percent tax. That inconsistency, according to Turner, “just doesn’t make sense.”
House Republicans also think the tax on bottled water — expected to raise $1.2 million in Fiscal Year 2014 — is unnecessary, according to Turner.
Turner emphasized that his party isn’t attempting to ambush the House with amendments. Republicans made a good faith effort to be forthright with Democratic leadership, Turner said. He met with House Speaker Shap Smith on March 1 and Appropriations Chair Martha Heath, D- Westford, on March 12 to outline Republican budget demands at the start of the month.
“I felt obligated to inform them of what we were expecting in this process and we wanted to give them a target if they truly wanted us to support it,” Turner said.
The budget bill reflects none of the five conditions for Republican support. Those conditions are:
• A general fund growth rate of 3 percent or less
• No more than 30 new positions in state government not to exceed 30 (they only approve of staff requests for the state hospital)
• Reserves increased to at least $20 million
• Satisfy the accruals for pension fund obligations and put together a three- to five-year plan to address teacher health care funding
• No new programs or expansions of existing programs
All four Republicans on the Appropriations Committee voted against the budget bill.
Turner said the GOP has one key goal — keeping the state affordable for working Vermonters. That means not raising taxes.
Turner said he has chosen to hold strategy sessions off-site because it’s easier to get things done.
The Republicans’ amendments are unlikely to gain much traction — House Democrats, expressed support for the revenue bill at their caucus — but, at the very least, Turner said, the Republicans will get a written record of their opposition.
“We will definitely ask for roll call on this one. We want to make sure its recorded who is voting for tax increases and who is not.”