The Vermont House has given its preliminary approval to the first important bill of the session. The legislation makes adjustments in the current year’s budget, and it contains both some good news and some concerning news about a number of Human Service programs.
The legislation is known as the Budget Adjustment Act. It includes a total of $25 million in new spending requests and revenue reductions that are largely offset by savings in a number of other programs.
House Appropriations chair Martha Heath says she’s concerned by increased caseloads in the state’s Reach Up Program, the General Assistance program for the homeless, and the Developmental Services program.
The good news, according to Heath, is that utilization in the state’s Medicaid program is running almost $13 million below projections.
"One would like to think that it’s partly about the fruits that we’re making in the Blueprint for Health and within the Department of Vermont Health Access," said Heath. "First to address chronic care and also to address the high cost cases and to try and manage those peoples’ care better."
The plan also creates a new state "Rainy Day" Fund. Health says the new Fund is needed because many lawmakers and members of the public looked at the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund as a source of money to offset budget pressures.
But she says the primary purpose of the Stabilization Fund is to show Wall Street Bond companies that the state has a reserve in the event of a dire budget emergency. That’s why Heath is pleased that the new Rainy Day Fund has been started with just under two million dollars:
"So that’s a place that we can put money that comes in unexpectedly or is left at the end of the year so that when we do have downturns and hard times that we do have a place to go to build a bridge to better times."
The House Appropriations committee will now turn its attention to next year’s budget. Heath says the panel begins its work facing a roughly 60 million dollar shortfall. She says this is the 6th year in a row that her committee has had to deal with serious budget pressures:
"As you use up the possible strategies, the strategies that you can contemplate get more and more difficult and so I expect it’s going be a very hard year."
Governor Peter Shumlin will outline his budget priorities in a speech to a Joint Session of the Legislature on Thursday afternoon and then the House and Senate Appropriations committees will begin their review of the Governor’s plan.