Gov’t Shutdown: How It Would Have Played Out In Vermont

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(Host)While politicians in Washington blame one another for the budget stalemate, federa lworkers around the country prepare for a shutdown of the government.

In Vermont, roughly 4,000 people work for the federal government.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, some of them will have to report for work. And some won’t.

(Sneyd) You might think this would all be a simple equation. If congressional authority to spend money runs out, all workers stay home, right? Well, not really.

There are "essential" and "nonessential" workers, after all. The essential ones will be on the job, even during a shutdown. But determining who’s essential is no easy task.

Take the Marsh Billings Rockefeller National Historical Park in Woodstock. It’s a cultural institution and it closes during a shutdown.

But Superintendent Rolf Diamant says each of the park’s 22 employees is not necessarily equal.

(Diamant) "We have 16 historic structures, multiple systems, HVAC and heating systems. Yeah, I mean this is Vermont. And as we know the weather can be unpredictable."

(Sneyd)Translated, that means the park’s facilities manager has to show up for work.Everyone else gets time off – without pay.

Throughout the federal government, it’s a similar story. At the U.S. attorney’s office in Burlington clerical and support staff would be greatly reduced.

Civil cases would be suspended. But crime doesn’t respect a shutdown, so criminal cases would proceed. FBI agents and U.S. Marshals officers report for duty. But their office operations staff doesn’t.

A large part of the federal work force in Vermont is comprised of staff in the Department of Homeland Security and a lot of its offices continue to operate regardless of th epolitics in Washington.

Congressman Peter Welch has been frustrated because he says budget talks in Washington got caught up in social issues.

(Welch) "The second thing that I think is actually just a bad way to proceed is that it completely holds the Pentagon harmless. It just takes it out of the whole equation. So, low-income heating assistance gets cut, scholarships get cut. It’s going to increase significant burdens on our state like Vermont, where that will ripple to the state taxpayer and the local property taxpayer."

(Sneyd)Congress will certainly have plenty of opportunity to debate those and many other spending decisions in the months ahead. The discussion on spending for the next budget year have only just begun.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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