Lean budget year creates political tension at Statehouse

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(Host) It’s a lean budget year in Vermont.

The economy has slowed, so there’s less money coming into state government. Demand for services – like road repairs and health care – is high.

And so are the political tensions at the Statehouse.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) Democrats held an unusual news conference to blast Governor Jim Douglas’s spending plan. They say the governor has failed to show leadership. And they say Vermonters will see the impact.

House Speaker Gaye Symington says the pinch will felt by towns as they try to make up for cuts in road funding, and by patients who could end up paying more for health care.

(Symington) In essence this is a deficit budget, unless we buy into these hidden tax increases in health care, property taxes and cost shifts.

(Dillon) Senator Doug Racine, who chairs the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, says the administration’s budget shortchanges hospitals – and that the cost will be shifted to patients. He says Medicaid patients will have to pay more in premiums, which means poor people may be unable to afford health care.

Racine is a veteran of many budget battles. In the early 1990s, he led the state Senate when Republican Governor Richard Snelling joined forces with Democrats to push through a temporary income tax increase.

(Racine) And I got to tell you we didn’t hear a whole lot of rhetoric from Governor Snelling. What we got was leadership. And he did sit down and he did face these tough choices. He put didn’t all this wiggly language in his budget. And he didn’t shift costs. He sat down, we had a very open discussion about what needed to be done. And we all made tough choices about what needed to be done.

(Dillon) But Administration Secretary Mike Smith is clearly irked by the inference that the governor has failed to lead on the budget.

(Smith) Showing leadership is making the tough decisions.  The governor has made the tough decisions. It’s time for the legislature to make the tough decisions and agree with governor’s budget. Listen, we pointed out everything they have mentioned. Everything they have mentioned.

(Dillon) Smith also disputes the Democrats interpretation of the budget impacts. He said the impact on hospitals is very slight, and that the increases in Medicaid premiums represent a return to what people were paying several years ago.

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


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