Gubernatorial candidates disagree on tapping rainy day fund

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(Host) In Vermont, budget cuts have been proposed in higher education, the judiciary and child care.  

Some political leaders say the state should tap into its rainy day fund to avoid the cuts.  

The three main gubernatorial candidates have different points of view.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The Joint Fiscal Committee will consider a plan this week to reduce spending in the current fiscal year by roughly $32 million. Not all of the money is coming from cuts. Some funds are being transferred from a number of state programs to help finance the package.

Under the plan, some programs are exempt from any cuts. These departments include the state police, corrections, debt service and property tax relief efforts.

Most other departments face between a 2.5 percent and 5 percent reduction.  

The state’s rainy day budget fund has roughly $60 million dollars in it. And independent candidate Anthony Pollina thinks it’s time to make a withdrawal to avoid these cuts.

(Pollina) “So what we’re talking about here is whether we’re going to throw more people out on the street and have more people go without needed services. Or whether we’re going to come together as a family here in Vermont and say, `This is an emergency. We’ve got some rainy day funds socked away. Let’s take them out and let’s see how we can use them to make sure that we can all survive."

(Kinzel) Democratic candidate Gaye Symington disagrees. She thinks the state may face further cuts in November and she wants to save the rainy day fund in case this happens:

(Symington) “I don’t think it’s appropriate to tap into the rainy day funds unless we know where you’re going next and you can see that you’re coming out of it. And that’s not what the economists are telling us."

(Kinzel) Symington blames Governor Jim Douglas for much of Vermont’s economic downturn. She says he’s failed to provide a comprehensive long-term economic plan for the state.

(Symington) “Six years after Governor Douglas has taken office we have the highest unemployment that we’ve had in 14 or 15 years. We have the second slowest job growth in New England. And Governor Douglas simply passes that off as, `Oh it’s a national problem,’ and, `Oh it’s George Bush’s fault.’"

(Kinzel) Douglas says Symington’s criticisms are off the mark and he says the Vermont economy would be in much better shape if she had supported his economic initiatives.

(Douglas) “So on the one hand she complains that we haven’t grown the economy as much as we should. But on the other hand she takes away the tools that are necessary to get the job done."

(Kinzel) But Douglas agrees with Symington that this isn’t the time to tap into the rainy day funds.

(Douglas) “The rainy day funds are there. They are a resource. If it becomes necessary at some point during the fiscal year to access them we certainly can do that."

(Kinzel) There’s growing concern that a reduction in child care subsidies could have a major impact on working families and it’s likely that the Joint Fiscal Committee will delete this cut from the overall package.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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