(Host) The Legislative Joint Fiscal Committee has reached an agreement with the Dean administration on a plan to cut this year’s state budget. Lawmakers avoided some difficult cuts by using surplus money from a number of special funds, but the plan does include a reduction of state employees and some human service cuts.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) The key task facing the committee was how to cut spending in the new state budget by another $5 million. Governor Howard Dean outlined a plan to achieve these cuts but a number of lawmakers on the committee felt the governor’s proposal would hurt several key programs.
Under the compromise, money will be restored to fund town highway grants, the Randolph rest area will be kept open with limited hours, state payments to the elderly and disabled will be maintained and some public safety programs will not be cut.
But the plan does eliminate the parents’ assistance line, it cuts DWI enforcement money, it reduces funds for Medicaid chiropractic care and eliminates 88 state positions, of which 41 are currently vacant.
The committee vote on the proposal was 7 to 2. Committee chairman Dick Marron of Stowe says the compromise plan tried to avoid the most painful cuts:
(Marron) We’re not trying to hurt the most vulnerable of our population – you know, low income people. We’re trying to continue to maintain services that are essential to those folks for their health and well being. So I think we did the best job we could to meet the needs of Vermonters.
(Kinzel) Senate Finance Chairman Peter Shumlin voted against the plan. Shumlin wanted to avoid all of the cuts by using $5 million dollars from the state’s rainy day budget fund. That fund has roughly $38 million in it:
(Shumlin) That’s why it was there. And if you go out and ask most Vermonters in this economy – as they are losing jobs across this state, watching their stock market portfolios and the retirement funds crumble – Is it raining? The answer is going to be, Yes. And that’s why we have the rainy day fund.
(Kinzel) But Representative Marron strongly opposed using these funds and a majority of committee members agreed with Marron:
(Marron) We had to use them this year to balance the current year’s budget because our tax revenues came in less that we had anticipated the 2002 budget. And I foresee we have about $38 million dollars left in reserves and I think it’s not unlikely that we’ll have to use those again at the end of this fiscal year. So I don’t think it’s good to use those up in advance.
(Kinzel) The governor needs to formally sign off on the agreement. Members of his staff say he’ll do that next week.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.