Administration critical of House budget bill

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(Host) The Douglas administration is very unhappy with several provisions of a proposed budget for next year. The House Appropriations Committee has adopted the plan.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When the proposed budget comes to the House floor for debate, the Douglas administration is going to urge House members to make two key changes to the House Appropriations committee’s plan.

The first issue involves a new state prison in Springfield. The administration wants to open the prison this summer, but the committee has voted to delay the opening for another year to save money. It costs roughly $30,000 to house an inmate in a Vermont prison, but only $17,000 to send the prisoner to a jail in Virginia. Currently Vermont has several hundred inmates in Virginia prisons.

Administration Secretary Michael Smith acknowledges those savings, but Smith says the Springfield jail will also create a lot of new jobs in that region of the state:

(Smith) “In a fairly depressed area like Springfield, in turns of economic vitality trying to help them jump start the economy, is I think a laudable public policy goal. And I don’t think we should be delaying this.”

(Kinzel) Appropriations Chair Richard Westman (R-Cambridge) is defending his committee’s decision to delay the opening of the Springfield jail:

(Westman) “Do we need people that have been picked up for multiple DWIs put in the same prison and held in the same way as somebody that’s a murderer? I think we have some prison policies that, I think with ever increasing costs in the prisons, we need to take a look at. And for some to some degree, Springfield is emblematic of that.”

(Kinzel) Administration Secretary Smith is also very upset that the Appropriations Committee has scaled back the governor’s request for ten new state troopers to five positions:

(Smith) “Especially in these times of homeland security as well as the influx of drugs in our state, the governor feels very strong about not delaying filling those vacancies. That is irresponsible in these times, that is irresponsible.”

(Kinzel) Westman says his committee reduced the number of new troopers because the panel felt it was also important to put additional resources into the state’s judicial system:

(Westman) “I don’t think it does any good to pick up somebody that’s selling drugs on the street and not be able to push them through the judiciary system in a timely fashion and not have the infrastructure to be able to get these people into the place they need to be.”

(Kinzel) Both issues are expected to be debated on the House floor early next week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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