Legislative panel votes on additional budget cuts

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(Host) A special legislative panel voted Thursday to trim spending in this year’s budget by an additional six million dollars. But the committee postponed action on another five million dollars in more controversial cuts because it hopes to find some creative ways to avoid these reductions.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Earlier this week, the Dean administration unveiled its plan to cover a nearly $40 million revenue shortfall in the current fiscal year. The proposal contains roughly $12 million in actual program cuts and it deals with the rest of the shortfall by transferring money from a number of special funds into the state’s General Fund. The Legislative Joint Fiscal Committee has two weeks to accept these cuts or recommend changes to the administration’s proposal.

Some of the cuts are very controversial. For instance, the administration wants to reduce spending for Social Security benefits, it wants to make changes to the Medicaid drug program, and it wants to cut back on local highway programs and DUI enforcement efforts.

Senate Appropriations chairwomen Susan Bartlett says it’s her goal to avoid making many of these painful cuts by searching for funds that can be used on a one time basis:

(Bartlett) We have real concerns because, of course, a lot of time what happens is very vulnerable people – it doesn’t take a lot of change in income to have a very serious impact on them. So what we’re trying to do is see how we can move some money do some one-time monies to help address some of these issues and to make as few recissions as possible that have direct impacts on very poor people.

(Kinzel) Bartlett says the committee’s deliberations offer a glimpse at the very difficult budget decisions that the next Legislature will face:

(Bartlett) If we spent exactly the same amount of money next year, in other words there’s no growth in cost of state government, all we have is an additional two million dollars to spend. Medicaid is growing at more that $40 million dollars a year. The money that we have to put into the Education Fund is many millions of dollars. Regular growth in state government is running between 4% and 5 % a year. We have no money next year to do that. That’s the real story.

(Kinzel) The committee plans to meet at the end of next week to finalize its budget cutting plan.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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