Details Of Cost-Saving “Challenges For Change” Unveiled

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(Host) Lawmakers have gotten their first look at a plan that’s designed to save almost $50 million in state spending next year.

The so called "Challenges for Change" will affect virtually every department of state government. And, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, it’s seen as a different approach to reducing the budget.

(Kinzel) Several weeks ago, lawmakers gave their approval to the general outline of this plan – now they have the specific details.  The work is a collaboration between the Douglas Administration and a group of lawmakers.

Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says this plan is a major departure from the traditional budget cutting process:

(Lunderville) "The Challenges for Change process is a very different approach. It starts with the outcomes and it says, ‘what are the outcomes that we want to achieve’, and lays upon those outcomes a budget constraint."

(Kinzel) The report calls for an expanded use of technology throughout state government, adopting performance based contracts for independent contractors, a greater emphasis on prevention programs and streamlining existing services.

For example, the report consolidates 54 economic development programs and commissions into 9 regional offices.  Administration spokesperson Tom Evslin:

(Evslin) "This is almost a poster child for what Challenges should be. It’s controversial but it results in much, much better service to clients who are going to be served. We are going to create more jobs in Vermont this way than we were able to create before and that’s the bottom line. And guess what – it costs two million dollars less."

(Kinzel) The Agency of Human Services has the biggest reductions.  Agency Secretary Rob Hoffman says the plan is an opportunity to better coordinate services for many of his clients:

(Hoffman) "Our clients do not just come to us generally speaking for one service. We have many clients like that but they’re the simplest cases. The complex cases are people who have involvement in the children and family system, disabilities, mental health issues, poverty."

(Kinzel) Hoffman also wants to save money by limiting the use of facility based health care services and by keeping non violent criminals out of jail:

(Hoffman) "Prioritizing expensive beds – whether they be nursing homes, hospitals including the Vermont State Hospital and in prisons – trying to prioritize the most expensive beds for the clients that need the highest level of care."

(Kinzel) The report also targets $12 million in savings in the Education Fund. Commissioner Armando Vilaseca wants to consolidate Vermont’s 281 school districts into 50. He says most of the savings will be made by reducing staff:

(Vilaseca) "So that means superintendents, principals, teachers, support staff, bus drivers, cooks, secretaries, custodians, the whole 9 yards. We’re looking at staff as a way of funding these savings. And again, our school district would still be Vermont size – we’re not talking about school districts being huge."

(Kinzel) The report will now be reviewed by the House and Senate Appropriations committees. It’s expected that all lawmakers will vote on the final plan in the next few weeks.

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


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