Douglas wants to exempt State Police from budget cuts

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(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says he now wants to exempt the State Police from any upcoming budget cuts because of concerns about public safety.

But Douglas says he is willing to look at a plan to save money by closing some of Vermont’s district courts.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) As the Douglas Administration and members of the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee struggle to find as much as $37 million in cuts in this year’s budget, the Governor is making it clear that he doesn’t want to reduce spending on the Vermont State Police.

To deal with declining revenues, most departments of state government have been asked to outline the impact of reducing their budgets by another 8 % by the end of the month.

At the beginning of this process, Governor Jim Douglas said no department would be exempt from the new cuts, but speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, the governor expressed a change of heart about the State Police:

(Douglas) "I can say definitively that I do not plan to cut the budget of the Department of Public Safety…in fact when the budget adjustment is considered by the Legislature next month I’m going to recommend an increase in the budget for the Department of Public Safety because…we have to ensure that we have the resources necessary to protect the people of our state and our visitors as well. Public safety is one of the most important responsibilities of government."

Earlier this week, the Chief Justice of the Vermont Supreme Court, Paul Reiber, warned that imposing more budget cuts on the Vermont Judiciary could result in the closing of half of the state’s courts.

Currently, most courts are closed half a day a week to meet budget reductions.

Douglas says closing some of the state’s courts is an option that needs to be considered:

(Douglas) "That’s the kind of decision that might have to be made and that doesn’t mean access to justice would be limited but a geographic inconvenience to litigants and those who are involved in the criminal justice and the civil litigation process…and I think at a time of limited resources where we have to make some decisions about curtailing state spending in a very substantial way then we might have to put up with some inconvenience."

Key lawmakers and the Douglas Administration are still negotiating the details of a budget reduction package. The Joint Fiscal Committee is expected to vote on that package late next week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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