Governor, Senate Leaders at Odds on Key Issues

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(Host) Governor Howard Dean is accusing Senate Democratic leaders of adopting a state budget for next year that is bloated and fiscally irresponsible. Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin says the governor has a lower bottom line because Dean is willing to abandon those Vermonters who need help the most.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) One of the rites of spring at the Statehouse is hearing Governor Howard Dean strongly criticize the Legislature for supporting a state budget for next year that Dean thinks contains excessive spending. But this year there is a new twist to the issue. Dean is leveling his criticism at Senate leaders instead of the House, as he has in past years.

The governor says the Senate budget plan contains too much money for education and does not make any structural reforms in Medicaid. Dean says he will veto this bill if it reaches his desk:

(Dean) “The Senate budget is in la la land. They’re pretending there’s no such thing as a recession and it’s not going to fly and when it gets to this office ¿ it’s going to get sent back¿. I’m not going to sign a budget that’s not balanced, first of all. I’m not going to sign a budget that leaves a big fiscal mess for the next governor either.”

(Kinzel) Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin says the Senate has rejected Dean’s Medicaid cuts because they’ll have a devastating impact on lower income elderly Vermonters:

(Shumlin) “Well, we welcome the governor back to the state to share his views with us. I understand he’s touched down for a few minutes to pass judgment on the budget that we’ve been working very hard on. The fact of the matter is, we have a philosophical difference. They believe ¿ the governor and the Republican House ¿ that we should throw vulnerable Vermonters off the prescription drug program because it’s costing too much money. We believe in the Senate that we should raise the cigarette tax to 67 cents to pay for that program and then fight for fair prices for prescription drugs.”

(Kinzel) Legislation dealing with the medicinal use of marijuana is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor on Thursday. Dean says the debate is a waste of time:

(Dean) “I think it’s time for these people to stop fooling around with stuff like this. Balance the budget and go home. I don’t think they ought to spend all this time messing around about medical marijuana and all this nonsense. People want them to get out of here. Pass the budget, pass the capital bill, stop fooling around, stop spending money you don’t have and go home.”

(Kinzel) But Shumlin says he views this issue very differently from the governor:

(Shumlin) “There are a lot of Vermonters who are struggling right now with medical conditions for which marijuana gives them relief, often in their last days of life or towards the last months of their life. If the governor feels that taking care of those people and insuring that they get some relief isn’t important, then I guess the Senate disagrees with him on that too.”

(Kinzel) In an action that further highlights the differences between the governor and the Senate, members of the Senate voted 22 to 7 to restore even more money to the state’s pharmaceutical assistance programs on Wednesday afternoon.

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

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