Political firestorm erupts over state budget

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(Host ) A political firestorm over the state budget erupted today at the Statehouse.

Democratic leaders and Republican Governor Jim Douglas are locked in a struggle that threatens to derail a bipartisan effort to resolve big budget issues.

And some lawmakers are furious that Douglas says it’s appropriate to relax some environmental regulations to stimulate business activity in tough economic times.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel has our story.

(Kinzel) Legislative leaders said they were astonished to learn that while they’ve been negotiating with the Douglas Administration over future budget cuts, the governor has withheld information from them about a plan to stimulate the state economy.

The Democrats argue that the two issues are inevitably linked together and can’t be considered separately but the Governor says that’s not true.

Douglas was pressed by reporters for some details about his $100 million economic stimulus plan but he said he couldn’t do that because those details haven’t been worked out:

(Douglas ) "I’ve asked for a menu of options from my team it will include steps we can take right away to increase economic activity and grow the job opportunities for Vermonters but I’m still working on it."

(Kinzel) Senate President Peter Shumlin said it was incredible that Douglas couldn’t offer any details about a major economic plan that the governor expects lawmakers to pass in the next two weeks:

(Shumlin) "What I find particularly discouraging is that at a time when Vermonters are struggling to pay their gas bills, to fill up the car, to put food on the table the governor’s going to play political games with an economic stimulus that even he can’t seem to explain."

(Kinzel) Douglas did say that his affordable housing plan, which has already been rejected by the House, would be a key part of his proposal and the governor says it’s appropriate to relax environmental regulations to encourage new home construction.

(Douglas) "It’s critical if we’re going to provide Vermonters a place to live…we have to respect the commitment that we’ve made historically to environmental quality and the land control law that’s landmark around the country but do it in a way that does not impede the ability of Vermonters to have a place to live."

(Kinzel) That comment drew the wrath of House Speaker Gaye Symington. She says Douglas is reviving the old debate pitting the environment against the state’s economy:

(Symington) "So his economic stimulus package basically means…shred Act 250 and you’ll create housing, large houses that low income Vermonters can trickle up into. I just don’t think Vermonters buy that… and to pretend that that is going to account for $20 – 22 million worth of an economic stimulus package is really a sham."

(Kinzel) Symington also questioned the governor’s commitment to create more affordable housing because Douglas has proposed a $4 million cut to the state’s Housing and Conservation program.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.


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