Deficit Prompts Lawmakers to Examine Role of Government

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House Speaker Walter Freed says he will oppose efforts to raise any taxes to offset possible budget cuts. Freed says the Vermont’s current tight fiscal situation is an opportunity to redesign the programs of state government.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

When Governor Howard Dean delivers his annual budget address next week, the Governor is expected to unveil an austere spending proposal.

Dean will not include any new tax increases as part of his proposed budget because House Republican leaders last session rejected his plan to boost the cigarette tax to help pay for health care programs.

Dean says some of the cuts in his proposed budget are severe but he argues they are necessary if House Republicans are planning to stick to their no tax increase policy this year. It appears that this will be the case .

House Speaker Walter Freed welcomes the Governor’s tough budget approach because Freed says the time has come to take a very close look at all programs of state government and determine which ones are essential and which ones can be eliminated.

Freed says this analysis is needed because state government has expanded in recent years:

(Freed) “But let’s face it – we have also put those surpluses into a lot of government-run programs and a realignment every so often isn’t a bad idea. It causes us to really look at the budget and say, ‘What is the absolute necessity of government to provide?’ and let’s start with those services and make sure that they aren’t cut, that they are provided¿. So I think that that’s very much possible and that’s the direction we should be looking, long before we think about raising any taxes.

House Democratic Leader John Tracy agrees with Speaker Freed that it will be valuable to have a debate over the proper role of state government. But it is clear that Tracy’s vision of this issue is very different from Freed’s:

(Tracy) “So if it were the case, where a cigarette tax is what was needed to raise money to make sure kids aren’t being dropped off health care, that elderly people still can afford to buy their drugs, then I think that’s a noble discussion to have and one we should have. I mean, it’s a revenue source and to say that’s off the table I don’t think is being responsible.”

The budget debate could become even more difficult at the State House because the Emergency Board on Tuesday afternoon is expected to reduce the state’s revenue projections for the current fiscal year by another $15 million.

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

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