Douglas vetoes state budget adjustment bill

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas has vetoed a bill that makes adjustments to this year’s state budget.

The veto may be a preview of more problems between the Governor and the Legislature.

One example – The Democrats’ want to cut nine state employees who do PR for the administration.

Democrats say the money should be spent on human services programs.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) With a stroke of his pen, Governor Douglas signed the veto message that sends the budget adjustment bill back to the House.

(Douglas) “I’m rejecting it. I’m sending it back to the legislature and urging them to send me a new budget adjustment act that contains scholarship support for the families of our state.”

(Dillon) Douglas warned weeks ago that he would veto the bill because it doesn’t contain money for a scholarship program. Leaders in the Democratically controlled House and Senate say the money will be there in next year’s budget.

President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin says the veto is not a problem, since the budget writers can add the adjustment funding into next year’s budget.

(Shumlin) “This is mostly inside baseball. The House has passed an extraordinary bill that includes both workforce training and college scholarships. The Senate is going to work on that bill, hopefully make some changes, make it even better. And we’re going to have the best college scholarship program when we leave this building.”

(Dillon) The annual budget is the one bill the Legislature has to pass each year. It takes weeks of negotiations for both chambers – and the administration to reach agreement.

That bargaining has started now that the House Appropriations Committee has passed out its version of the 2008 budget.

The budget eliminates funding for 9 positions – appointees who handle a variety of public information tasks for state agencies. Westford Democrat Martha Heath chairs the panel.

(Heath) “It was a matter of priorities. And we felt that serving Vermonters in the year when there were a lot of unmet needs was a higher priority than funding positions that seemed to be largely about public relations.”

(Dillon) Cutting the positions will save about $800,000. Officials say the positions were created, although they not always were funded under previous administrations.

Michael Smith is Secretary of Administration.

(Smith) “You know they’ve singled out nine individuals who are hardworking state employees at the same time when they’re increasing their staff and when they’re increasing a whole host of consultants.”

(Dillon) But Senate President Shumlin says that in lean budget times, it makes sense to cut those jobs.

(Shumlin) “I think that it’s a real shame that we’ve moved to a system under this administration don’t speak for themselves, that they have to hire spin doctors from the press to do the speaking for them. That’s not the way we do things in Vermont.”

(Dillon) The administration and the Legislature remain far apart on other items in the budget bill as well.

Secretary Smith says he’s concerned that the budget creates a shortfall in the 2008 Medicaid budget. E said Wall Street bond rating agencies look closely at the state’s debt, and will be concerned if that budget is in the red.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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