Dean Defends Budget Cuts to Critics

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A coalition of dozens of education, elderly and human service groups are joining together to oppose many of Governor Howard Dean’s budget cuts.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

Less than 24 hours after Governor Howard Dean unveiled his blueprint for state spending next year, the proposal was criticized by a number of advocacy groups as being unfair and unreasonable. Dean proposed substantial cuts in health care programs for low and middle income Vermonters and he called for a level funding of state aid to education.

A coalition of groups that would be most affected by the cuts urged lawmakers on Wednesday to strongly consider raising taxes, such as the cigarette tax and the beer tax, to help avoid these drastic cuts.

Marcheta Townsend, a minister in the United Methodist Church, represents Vermont Faith Communities for a Just Economy:

(Townshend) “Moderation means that we consider a variety of ways to deal with too little money, including looking at the revenue side of the equation [and] avoiding short term cost cutting that results in higher costs down the road. When winter comes and it gets colder than we thought and our wood pile isn’t big enough, we don’t start to burn the doors, the window frames and the stair banisters when we have a wood lot outside.”

Liz Slayton of the Vermont Children’s Forum believes a decision to level fund state aid to education will hurt children across Vermont because it will put a lot more pressure on local property taxes:

(Slayton) “Cutting spending on education is a false economy. Raising taxes on Vermonters, particularly low income working families and middle income Vermonters, is a bad idea and it puts kids in the middle.”

Governor Howard Dean agrees that his proposed cuts are tough and Dean says he will enthusiastically support efforts to raise the cigarette tax. The Governor proposed this tax increase last year but it was opposed by many Republicans in the House:

(Dean) “So I would welcome an increase in the cigarette tax. I don’t enjoy making all these cuts but the budget has to balanced. It must be balanced. And so now the Legislature has a choice: If they don’t want to raise the cigarette tax then they are going to have to make some serious cuts and I’ve shown them where the cuts are. Now they see the cuts are in areas that are out of control – that’s health care and K-12 education. Particularly health care.”

Dean says he will oppose any efforts to tap into the state’s rainy day funds at this time because he feels this money will be needed to offset another sharp decline in revenues in April.

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

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