Committee gives approval to state budget cuts

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(Host) The Joint Fiscal Committee has given its final approval to a $32 million package of budget cuts and money transfers.

The reductions will affect most departments of state government, the Judiciary, and UVM and the State Colleges.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There’s a strong sense among members of the Joint Fiscal Committee that they’ll have to make even more budget cuts in November.

That’s when the state will get its next economic forecast and there’s concern that the report will show further erosion of the state’s revenue base.

This package of cuts will mean a budget reduction of between 3 to 5% for most programs. Several have been exempted from the cuts, including the state police, Corrections, the Defender General, the State’s Attorneys and debt service.

Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says a number of departments – including UVM and the state colleges – will deal with their reductions through administrative savings but she says any further cuts will definitely impact the delivery of important government services:

(Bartlett) "By the time we meet again in November I think that’s when the public will be seeing more of the impact."

In order to deal with their budget cut, it’s likely that the Vermont Judiciary will shut down their courtrooms for a half a day a week.

Senate Judiciary chairman Dick Sears doesn’t think this action will affect the operations of the courts in the short term but he’s concerned about the prospect of additional cuts this fall:

(Sears) "What I do see as the big problem is coming in November if we don’t see improved revenues and there are further recissions I suspect that that then will begin to have an impact on the criminal justice system."

Sears says there will be a major problem if the courts do develop a larger backlog of cases because of a recent Vermont Supreme Court case known as the Brillon decision:

(Sears) "If you start to see a backlog and given the Court’s ruling in the Brillon case where they ruled that it’s the state’s responsibility even for the defense to provide a speedy trial…I see that as being a very serious problem."

The committee did restore money for child care subsidies. Senator Bartlett says the cut would have hurt working families who rely on these subsidies:

(Bartlett) "At a time when the cost to families to get to work are already higher with transportation and we know that Vermont is behind the national recommendation for what we should be doing for reimbursements for child care that it’s important to do everything we can to help working families remain working and be able to pay their bills."

Bartlett says she sees very little positive economic news that would signal a turnaround of state revenues. She says more budget cuts are likely but she’s reluctant to implement major policy changes until lawmakers return to the Statehouse in January.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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