New Session Opens With Budget Agreement

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(Host) The 2010 Legislative session opened today with an important budget agreement between Governor Jim Douglas and Democratic leaders.

The group endorsed a plan to trim state spending next year by almost 40 million dollars by streamlining a number of human service and education programs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Speaker Smith)"Would the House please come to order members kindly take their seats…)

(Kinzel) House Speaker Shap Smith formally opened the 2010 session and reminded House members that it’s the second year of the biennium and to expect quick action on a lot of bills that were introduced last year.

As the session starts, the state is facing a projected 150 million dollar gap for next year’s budget.

In a rare display of budget bipartisanship, Governor Jim Douglas, Lt. Governor Brian Dubie, House Speaker Shap Smith and Senate President Peter Shumlin announced their joint support for a plan to trim the budget gap by 38 million dollars.

The plan will be considered as a formal bill and the goal is to pass it in the next few weeks.

The proposal reduces outside government contracts, it streamlines the delivery of many human service programs, it provides jail alternatives for non violent offenders, and it cuts local education administrative expenses.

The governor says the proposal is an effort to improve the operations of state government:

(Douglas) "This is not just a cost cutting exercise, this is an effort to improve the way state government does business. It’s an effort to improve the outcomes to ensure that we focus on the people whom we serve and not just on the structure and organization of government."

(Kinzel) House Speaker Smith says he’s hopeful that the plan will create better results for people who depend on human service programs:

(Smith) "How do we create a state government that allows people to go to one place so that they can get the help that they need? So that they can get the health care for their kids, so that they can get the child care that they need and make it work better for people."

(Kinzel) Senate President Shumlin says he expects some criticism over the plan but Shumlin says critics have a responsibility to offer a better solution:

(Shumlin) "I would say to anyone that criticizes this proposal – ‘fair enough, it’s easy to criticize in government particularly when you’re talking about substantive change. But you show us the money of how we’re going to balance this budget.’ If we don’t take these actions that’s the reality."

(Kinzel) The Senate Appropriations committee is expected to begin its review of the legislation later this week.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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