Douglas sets priorities for state budget cuts

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(Host) Governor-elect Jim Douglas is establishing his priorities for the new state budget. While Douglas is asking most agencies to consider a 5% cut in spending, he says three departments will not be subject to any cuts: Public Safety, Higher Education and Economic Development.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) There are two major challenges facing the new administration of Governor-elect Jim Douglas. The first is filling dozens of critical positions in state government in a short period of time. The second is preparing the details of a new state budget that can be presented to lawmakers in January.

Douglas wants most departments of state government to develop a plan to cut their spending by 5%. The governor-elect is exempting three departments from this review. The first is economic development:

(Douglas) “It’s important to have the resources necessary to work with the business community that exists in the state now and to grow it. It’s very important to me to have the resources necessary to make the investment we need to create more jobs for Vermonters.”

(Kinzel) The second area exempt from any budget cuts is higher education:

(Douglas) “We’re 49th in the nation or something like, that in terms of relative support for higher education. The cost of attending the University of Vermont is quite high compared to other states. I want to be sure Vermonters whose incomes in relative terms are well below the national average have access to a higher education.”

(Kinzel) The third area that Douglas wants to spare from budget reductions is public safety:

(Douglas) “I think after 9/11 I have a greater concern about the public safety than they did before. They want to be sure that they’re safe in their homes and communities. The state police have 30 or 40 vacancies that I believe need to be filled. It will take awhile because there’s a six-month rotation of classes at the training academy. We need to begin that process.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says it’s unlikely that he’ll propose budget reductions for all the remaining departments of state government. But, Douglas says, he wants to see how these cuts will affect the delivery of essential state services before he makes any final spending decisions.

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

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