(Host) The 2011 Legislature has adjourned after approving a $4.6 billion state budget.
As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the path to adjournment this year was relatively smooth with Democrats controlling the House, the Senate and the governor’s office.
(Gavel) (Dillon) House Speaker Shap Smith ended the 2011 legislative session with a bang of his gavel. He praised his colleagues for their work on health care, a telecommunications bill, and the state budget.
(Smith) We have passed a balanced budget for 2012 and done it without the rancor in many other places.
(Dillon) The budget is one of the few must-pass bills of the session. And it generated little controversy when it came up for final debate on the House floor.
That’s because the hard choices had already been made over the last several months in the House and Senate Appropriations Committees. Westford Democrat Martha Heath chairs the budget-writing panel in the House. She said the committee started out with a projected $176 million deficit.
(Heath) "We filled the gap with a combination of cuts and other expenditure reductions, particularly in the human services."
(Dillon) Heath said the budget also relies on savings in state employee contracts and cuts in education spending. On the revenue side, lawmakers raised some $24 million in new taxes. The money comes from an increase in the cigarette tax and a hike in a tax on health insurance claims.
Criticism of the budget was mostly muted. But Paul Porier, a Barre City independent, wanted lawmakers to consider raising more taxes instead of cutting services.
(Poirier) "It’s difficult to support a budget that his balanced once again on the backs of some of the neediest Vermonters. So maybe we can improve the logistics of dealing with taxes second and the budget first in the future."
(Dillon) Republicans in the House were greatly outnumbered this year, but they said they were influential in the budget-writing process. Don Turner is a representative from Milton and House minority leader. And he gave his members a pep-talk at their final caucus.
(Turner) "You guys have had an impact this session. We haven’t changed a lot of the outcome but we have changed some important stuff. We changed the process."
(Dillon) Turner said Republicans insisted upon – and won – a provision that major bills be examined for their impact on the state budget.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.