‘Challenges For Change’ Comes Under Fire

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(Host) Architects of the so called "Challenges for Change" budget cutting plan say they have set ambitious goals – with $38 million dollars in cost saving measures.

But critics argue that it’s irresponsible to implement such sweeping changes after only a month of review.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Earlier this session, a large majority of lawmakers voted to support the concept behind the Challenges for Change plan.

But now that they’ve seen the details of the proposal, some legislators are very unhappy with the scope of the cuts and the quick timetable that’s being used to implement these changes.

Douglas Administration Technology chief Tom Evslin is heading up the Challenges project for the governor.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Evslin acknowledged that there isn’t much time for lawmakers to review the changes but he says this approach is still far better than the traditional budget cutting process:

(Evslin) "Yeah we’re redesigning uncomfortably fast perhaps, but the alternative is just doing cuts. If we don’t learn to make positive change quickly then we go back to what we do know how to do quickly – which is just cut budgets. And I don’t think that’s what anybody wants to do."

(Kinzel) The plan calls for a reduction in Vermont’s prison population and many non-violent offenders would be put into community based programs.  Some lawmakers are concerned that there won’t be enough money for these local programs – Evslin disagrees:

(Evslin) "For example, we can begin building transitional housing so that people can be let out of prison and we can begin that right away. It’s not that we have to wait to get the savings from having less people incarcerated out of state – the investment money is there for the investments to be made up front."

(Kinzel) Evslin says lawmakers have already agreed to make 38 million dollars in cuts. If they decide not to follow some of the recommendations in the Challenge plan, he says they’ll have to find other reductions in the budget:

(Evslin) "In the end – and I don’t believe it will come to this but – in the end the Legislature has already set the budget. And to what extent there was a remaining gap we’d have to go back to traditional budget cutting, which I think would be a real shame."

(Kinzel) A special public hearing on the "Challenges" plan will be held next Tuesday at the Statehouse.

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




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