This year, for the first time, the public will be able to weigh in on the state budget priorities before the governor presents his spending proposal to the Legislature in January. The administration has scheduled two public hearings this month.
The budget is a lengthy tome outlining the state’s revenues and expenditures. But behind the numbers lie the priorities that the governor and legislators have decided Vermont should spend its money on, and in that sense it has an impact on the lives of all Vermonters.
The traditional budget making process starts with the governor, who develops it then presents it to legislators.
Senator Jane Kitchel who chairs her chamber’s Appropriations Committee says beginning this year, a new step has been added to the budget process to give the public a chance to weigh in earlier, while the budget is still being crafted by the governor.
"It would be better to allow that opportunity for needs and recommendations about the budget to occur before it actually got into the development phase," says Kitchel.
Last session, Kitchel’s committee wrote legislation approved by lawmakers that requires the governor to provide the opportunity for public input on budget priorities while it’s being created.
The Vermont Workers Center had pushed for the legislation and also for the inclusion of a statement outlining the purpose of the budget, which lawmakers also passed.
The statement says that budget goals should quote "recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security and a healthy environment."
Worker’s center director James Haslam views the hearings as a first step in greater public involvement in outlining what the state’s budget priorities should be.
"This is a critical time," Haslam says. "What are our priorities in Vermont? Why are we spending all this money in taxes to provide these services? What services are they going to be providing to our communities. We feel we can do a whole lot better."
In a statement announcing the public hearings, Commissioner of Finance and Management Jim Reardon says they’ll include a presentation about revenues and expenditures and a budget exercise.
Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding will moderate the forums, which will take place Tuesday, November 13th and Monday, November 19th at Vermont Interactive Television sites around the state.