Human Service Advocates Call For Tax Increases

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(Host) A coalition of human service advocates says that budget cuts proposed by Governor Jim Douglas will hurt the most vulnerable Vermonters.

They’re urging the Legislature to raise state income tax rates to balance next year’s budget.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Chris Rowley and her husband have been parents to 8 foster children and have adopted 3 of them.  She says two of the children receive special needs services – services that she says will be devastated by the proposed cuts:

(Rowley) "I’m asked occasionally why I do it, when it’s so hard. And my response is usually ‘because if people like me don’t do it, who will please?’ Don’t make it financially impossible for families like mine to help the kids who need it the most."

(Kinzel) Lisa Maynes has a child who has a life long disability.  She says proposed cuts in services for her child will have dramatic consequences:

(Maynes) "Reduction of personal care attendants will force me to cut or perhaps even stop working. And sadly my plan, vision and dream to rise out of poverty and give back to the state by helping its people will be at risk of never happening. That’s my story and it could be anyone’s – there are many like me."

(Kinzel) Bonnie Beede says the state’s Reach Up program has helped her secure reliable transportation so that she can get to work. She says cuts to the program will hurt a lot of working Vermonters:

(Beede) "The proposed cuts to these programs would be very detrimental to a family who’s struggling to make ends meet – and even struggling harder to make sure that their children are happy, healthy and well taken care of."

(Kinzel) The advocates are urging lawmakers to temporarily increase Vermont income tax rates in order to raise tens of millions of dollars to balance the state budget.

Martha Heath is the chairwoman of the House Appropriations committee – a panel that’s reviewing the proposed budget for next year. Heath says she doesn’t know just yet which cuts will be necessary but she says the state is facing a projected 150 million dollar deficit unless some action is taken:

(Heath) "We’ll do the very best we can to hold the citizens of Vermont who are most dependent on government services because they’re elderly or disabled to do as little harm to those groups as possible."

(Kinzel) And Heath says it’s too early to talk about balancing the budget by raising millions of dollars in new taxes:

(Heath) "I can understand why advocacy groups would be talking about it now because they’re understandably afraid of what might come. But for the Legislature, we have a lot more process to work through before we say that we can’t solve this problem."

(Kinzel) Heath says she hopes to have the budget on the House floor for a vote by the end of next month.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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