Updated at 5:30 p.m.
Gov. Phil Scott vetoed a bill Wednesday that would double lawmakers’ salaries by 2027.
Legislators make $812 a week during the legislative session, which usually lasts for about four months. The bill, S.39, would have increased that to at least $1,000 in 2025, $1,100 in 2026 and $1,210 in 2027. It would also pay legislators for one day of work per week when they are not in session, and make them eligible for health insurance with the same premium split as state employees.
Scott had hinted at his distaste for the bill in the weeks leading up to the Legislature’s final passage of S.39 earlier this month. At several of his weekly press conferences, the governor told reporters that he, on principle, objected to state lawmakers increasing their own pay while everyday Vermonters face historic inflation and, in the Legislature’s recently passed budget (which Scott also vetoed), increased taxes and fees.
“In my opinion, it does not seem fair for legislators to insulate themselves from the very costs they are imposing on their constituents by doubling their own future pay,” Scott said in a written statement Wednesday.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Ruth Hardy, D-Addison, fired back at Scott in an interview with VTDigger on Wednesday, saying, “He is the seventh-highest-paid governor in the country. He makes $184,000 a year.”
According to Ballotpedia, Scott’s 2021 salary lagged behind only his peers in New York, California, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington and Massachusetts.
“We, on the other hand, make less than the average of state legislators in the country,” Hardy said. “And so if he wants to make that argument, I’m happy to cut his salary by $35,000 and make him the (median) salary.”
“I feel like he’s being really inconsistent and hypocritical,” Hardy added.
Proponents of S.39 argue that increasing legislators’ pay would make serving in the Statehouse more accessible to a wider range of people. “There are thousands of people who would never even consider running for office because they can’t afford to do it,” Hardy said Wednesday.
Scott said he hears the concerns over lawmaker representation loud and clear — but doesn’t think salary is the core issue to blame. He maintains that the larger problem is the Legislature’s open-ended time commitment.
The legislative session generally runs from January through mid-May but there is no legally mandated end date. As lawmakers crafted S.39, Scott urged them to add language capping the session at 90 days.
“Everyone I speak to about running for office is always asking not about the pay, not about the health benefits that they passed — it’s about how much time,” Scott said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “‘What do I tell my employer? How long is it going to be? How long is this session?’ They don’t understand all of that. And when I say that it’s open-ended, they say, ‘Well, how long can it take?’ And I say, ‘Well, until the budget passes. And in my experience, I’ve been there into mid-June.’”
Hardy told VTDigger that she knew Scott had objections to the bill, but was still surprised by his veto. She expected he would “have some restraint and say, ‘Well, even though I don’t really like this, this is the Legislature overseeing itself,’” and allow the bill to go into law without his signature.
“The main reason I’m surprised is because, as anybody who’s studied American government knows, there’s a separation of powers,” Hardy said. “This is the Legislature. We literally have the power of the purse, and we did a bill about our own compensation — looking more closely at our compensation and setting it to the average compensation in the state and doing it over five years, for goodness sake.
“And he vetoed that,” Hardy continued. “And I really feel like that’s the executive branch overstepping executive power into the legislative branch.”
Lawmakers will reconvene on June 20 to consider overriding Scott’s vetoes on several pieces of legislation. A successful veto override vote requires a two-thirds supermajority of lawmakers present.
Both House Speaker Jill Krowinski, D-Burlington, and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth, D/P-Chittenden Central, said in separate written statements issued Wednesday afternoon that they were disappointed by Scott’s veto. Krowinski dubbed the veto a “barrier to a more diverse group of Vermonters being able to represent their communities.”
“Our team will add this to the continuing list of legislation that the Governor has vetoed and make sure that we are able to get this legislation passed into law,” she wrote.