Lawmakers react to budget cut proposal

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(Host) Democratic leaders say the budget proposed by Governor Jim Douglas could increase the burden on local taxpayers.

They’re also concerned that the cuts fall hardest on human services programs.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Politicians and lobbyists huddled outside the House chamber, ready to offer their quick reaction to the governor’s proposed budget cuts.

Nicole LeBlanc from Montpelier also wanted to speak out. She’s 23, and serves as a disability educator with Green Mountain Self-Advocates. As the name suggests, the organization encourages people with development disabilities to get involved in public issues.

LeBlanc says she could personally feel the impacts of the budget cuts.

(LeBlanc) “I get developmental services. I also get the primary care health plus, which if they were cut – that’s my only health insurance, which would have a negative impact.”

(Dillon) LeBlanc wasn’t shy about offering this advice to Governor Jim Douglas.

(LeBlanc) "We need a balanced approach. Cutting isn’t the only way. We need to raise taxes. Everybody needs to chip in."

(Dillon) Balance was also the watchword in the House speaker’s office, where Democratic leaders met with the media.

(Smith) "Is it really shared sacrifice among all Vermonters?"

(Dillon) House Speaker Shap Smith said he was concerned that the budget cuts may fall hardest on human service programs that support the state’s most vulnerable people.

And he said the governor’s proposal to shift the cost of teachers’ retirement to the Education Fund would raise local property taxes.

(Smith) "I have a real problem with that. I think you ought to be straight up with people if you’re going to increase the amount of money that they’re paying."

(Dillon) Senate President Peter Shumlin said the governor’s proposal for the Education Fund could increase an individual homeowner’s local property tax bill by about $200 a year.

Shumlin also said the legislature will need to decide the best way to raise money for transportation projects. Some Democrats have backed a gas tax – which they say will be paid in part by visitors traveling through Vermont. But Douglas wants to raise money by increasing motor vehicle registration fees. Shumlin questioned the governor’s proposal.

(Shumlin) "Every bit of that money comes from a Vermonter’s wallet, or is it better to take it from some out-of-state drivers who happen to be passing through our state. That’s going to be the policy question."

(Dillon) The Douglas budget would lower payments to health care providers who accept Medicaid. Hospitals would also see a tax increase.

Senator Doug Racine, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, says those costs will simply be shifted.

(Racine) “Cuts in Medicaid don’t mean cuts in health care, they mean that folks will end up in emergency rooms for more expensive care and of course the hospitals will have to cost shift that on to those who are paying for health insurance. So I think there’s a big increase coming here in insurance premiums as a result of all these costs shifts.”

(Dillon) Racine said he wants to see the administration tap its rainy day reserve funds, before making severe budget cuts.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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