House Speaker says more cuts must be made

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(Host) House Speaker Shap Smith says lawmakers will have to accept some difficult program cuts in order to reach a compromise budget agreement with the Douglas Administration.

The cuts would provide less money for several key Democratic priorities, including the Housing and Conservation Fund and the state Education Fund.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has more:

(Kinzel) Speaker Smith says the additional cuts are going to be needed because state revenues for the 2010 fiscal year were recently downgraded by another 35 million dollars.

Smith, Senate President Peter Shumlin and Governor Jim Douglas are trying to reach an agreement on a broad outline of a compromise that would include more cuts to high priority programs and additional tax revenue.

Speaking on VPR’s Vermont Edition, Smith said the cuts could affect the Housing and Conservation Fund, the next Generation college scholarship program, closing down state Motor Vehicle offices one a day a week and reducing payments to health care providers:

(Smith) "I think that everything’s going to have to be on the table I think that we’re going to end up looking at things that we don’t really like but that we’re going to have to do…it’s going to be across the board and it’s not going to be very pretty."

Smith also agrees with the Governor that steps need to be taken to reduce spending in the state’s Education Fund – it’s a position that Democratic leaders rejected at the beginning of the session:

(Smith) "I don’t like doing that anymore than anybody else. I’m a property tax payer and I have kids in the school system but we need to take a balanced approach to addressing this situation."

Smith says he’s in constant contact with the members of the House Democratic caucus because he knows that some of these cuts aren’t going to be popular.

He says the situation is similar to one that took place 18 years ago when Republican Governor Dick Snelling drafted a budget agreement with House Speaker Ralph Wright.  That agreement implemented program cuts and raised taxes:

(Smith) "My recollection is that they got 76 votes for the passage of that bill and I wouldn’t say that this is going to fly over the finishing line with many more votes than that."

Smith says he hopes to reach an agreement with the Governor in the next day or two – if that doesn’t happen, the Speaker says lawmakers will forge ahead with their own budget plan that won’t include some of the governor’s priorities.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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