Battle Brews Over ‘Challenges For Change’ Budget Cuts

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(Host) A battle is brewing at the Statehouse over the so called "Challenges for Change" budget cutting plan.

The proposal trims next year’s budget by $38 million and Human Service advocates say that can’t be done without hurting Vermonters in need.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Former Human Services Agency Secretary Con Hogan is one the people sounding the alarm on the impact of the "Challenges" budget plan.

Holding a report issued by the Public Assets Institute, Hogan said that previous governors increased funding on human service programs during bad economic times because demand for these services went up.

But Hogan says the Douglas Administration is now taking the opposite approach and he thinks the Governor is breaking a social contract with the people of Vermont:

(Hogan) "These aren’t cuts to the Agency of Human Services. These are cuts to people that past policy of the state of Vermont says must be served. This is a moral abrogation on the part of our political leaders…the shallow "Challenges" part of this budget cutting process is extremely onerous in that it is used primarily as an excuse to blindly cut $38 million from the 2011 budget."

(Kinzel) Tom Davis served as Human Services Secretary during the 1970s and he’s the son of former governor Deane Davis.  He says his father called for the creation of the state sales tax in 1969 as a way to maintain key services and he thinks Governor Douglas should do the same:

(Davis) "We are in an Orwellian climate where nobody dares to say ‘the emperor has no clothes’. But folks, ‘the emperor has no clothes’.  It is raining – use the rainy day fund. A penny or a penny and a half on the sales tax will get us closer – for god’s sakes, at least put it out there so people have a chance to say something about it."

(Kinzel) Douglas is rejecting this advice. He says it’s critical to cut spending now to put the state on a sustainable budget path in the future:

(Douglas) "We have to find a way to deliver services of government more effectively – to live within our means, to respect the taxpayers and bring our budgets into balance."

(Kinzel) And Douglas says a recession is the worst time to consider raising taxes:

(Douglas) "My message will be ‘balance the budget’. We’re spending 4 and 3/4s billion dollars in Vermont – with all of the Funds combined that’s plenty and we ought to be able to find some priorities and then live within those means."

(Kinzel) Several different legislative committees are reviewing the details of the Challenges plan and the first bill reflecting some of the changes could be on the House floor in the next few days.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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