A Veepie Special: For All the Bills I’ve Vetoed Before

We’ll get to the regular edition of The Veepies (awarding those who commit acts of stupidity and/or obtuseness in the public sphere) in a day or two. But right now, it’s time for A Very Special Veepie that deserves the solo spotlight.

The honoree is none other than Governor Nice Guy Phil Scott, for adding yet another veto to his all-time record. On Friday he vetoed S.79, a bill that would have established a rental housing registry and enforcement of safety standards. That, in and of itself, is sadly par for the course. But his fractured attempts at explaining the veto? That elevates this one into a class of its own.

The governor argued that the bill would “reduce the number of housing options for Vermonters.” Well, that would be true if some rental units would fail a safety inspection and get pulled from the market, right? And that’s kind of exactly why we need a registry and inspections, right? Because the current “system” of relying on town health inspectors clearly isn’t doing the job.

I mean, the Vermont Chamber of freakin’ Commerce supported the bill and was ““surprised and disappointed” at Scott’s veto. How intrusive could it have been?

Let’s back out of that cul-de-sac and move on to an oldie but a goodie: Scott waited until after a long legislative process had unrolled and killed it instead of, say, advocating for amendment when the bill was in the Legislature. Legislative leaders expressed frustration over the Scott administration’s failure to provide input at the proper time.

At his July 6 press conference, Scott indicated that he had communicated his concerns about the bill to House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint. That may be, but the lack of executive-branch input during the legislative process has been a common theme throughout Scott’s governorship. I’d ask this question: Did he send his officials to provide committee testimony? Did he make clear what he objected to and what he could support?

Becuase his explanation of the veto offers a clear compromise idea that might have been acceptable to the Legislature. Scott worried that the “burden” of rules and inspections might discourage Vermonters “from offering their homes, rooms or summer cabins for rent, not as a primary business but as a means to supplement their income.” He emphasized this concern in his July 6 presser, saying that everyday Vermonters trying to earn a few bucks from a rental unit might balk at ““opening up [their] home to scrutiny by the state.” He proposed, instead, applying the bill only to landlords who rent out more than two units for more than 120 days a year.

I can’t speak for leadership, but I have to think they might have given it full consideration at the least. It’s the kind of compromise that Democrats have made repeatedly during Scott’s governorship.

Scott also, as always, raised the specter of Massive Bureaucracy. But S.79 would add a total of FIVE state fire inspectors to the payroll. In terms of the state budget, that’s practically a rounding error. Scott hints, darkly and without evidence, that the inspection regime would grow like Japanese Knotweed and deal a crippling blow to housing affordability.

I suspect that the reason he didn’t intervene earlier is that he didn’t want any kind of rental registry bill to become law. He used his veto to argue for free-market solutions to Vermont’s rental shortages — easing of regulations and Act 250 reform. If that’s his approach to the issue, then he wouldn’t really want any sort of regulatory regime, would he?

There’s an air of duplicity about this. If Scott is being honest, he could have struck a deal with the Legislature. And he wouldn’t be throwing out different, sometimes contradictory, explanations for his veto.

For all of that, the Nice Guy gets his first Veepie.


1 thought on “A Veepie Special: For All the Bills I’ve Vetoed Before

  1. Helen Head

    Well said. Years of testimony in the Legislature firmly establish the health consequences experienced by Vermonters who live in substandard housing, along with the failure of many landlords and tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities to maintain safe housing. A registry would provide a tool for education and this legislation would enable better enforcement of existing codes. The most stunning piece of this veto is it’s timing – while the whole country is focused on the housing collapse in Florida. We are not immune from a tragedy right here in Vermont.


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