List of $40 million in budget cuts presented to lawmakers

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(Host) The impact of Vermont’s revenue shortfall became very real this afternoon. That’s when a list of nearly $40 million in budget cuts was presented to key lawmakers and the Douglas Administration. The group needs to select $25 million in reductions from the list in the next few days.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) It’s a list that no one wants to be on and it’s one that spans the spectrum of state government. The unveiling of the list sent advocates and lobbyists scrambling to protect their programs. Legislative leaders and the Douglas Administration want to reach a consensus on a plan to cut spending in next year’s proposed budget by roughly $25 million. To start the process, the group received a list of $40 million in cuts but not all will be needed.

Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says the list represents a cross section of many state programs:

(Bartlett) "There’s everything on the table I don’t think there’s anything on here that anybody wants to do the issue becomes what we need to do."

Here are some of the big ticket items being considered:

  • Cut another 200 jobs from state government – this is on top of 400 positions that the Douglas Administration already wants to cut
  • Completely eliminate all state assistance for prescription drugs for the elderly and boost co-payments for other drug programs
  • Level fund all higher education programs and cut funding for the Next Generation college scholarship program by 50%
  • Close the St. Albans jail and sent the inmates to an out of state facility
  • Cut funding for the Housing and Conservation budget by $4 million
  • And increase premiums for state health programs like Dr. Dynasaur and Catamount Health Care.

Bartlett says the cuts are tough but she says they don’t undermine the basic safety net that the state maintains for Vermonters in need:

(Bartlett) "It’s not going to be painless but certainly our goal is to keep the systems that provide services intact."

Administration Secretary Mike Smith says he doesn’t like the higher education cuts but he says everything has to be on the table in order for this process to work:

(Smith) "There are some things that I may or may not agree on this list but nonetheless everybody had to have skin in the game here to make this work."

And Smith says he feels it’s appropriate to consider further cuts to the state’s workforce:

(Smith) "We have to put everything on this list and putting additional reductions in terms of our employees is something that’s legitimate to look at."

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders and the Douglas Administration hope to agree on $25 million in cuts by the end of the week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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