Public Rally Criticizes Budget Cuts

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(Host) Lawmakers returned to Montpelier Tuesday amid warnings that the state faces a serious budget crisis.

Governor Howard Dean has already cut $35 million from the current year budget. Lawmakers will soon consider additional cuts. But more than 100 people packed a State House hearing room Tuesday to urge legislators to spare the programs that help low income people. VPR’s John Dillon was there.

(Sound of room noise, people in discussion)

(Dillon) Room 11 at the State House is one of the largest meeting places in the entire building.

But on Tuesday, the room overflowed with people. Dozens strained to listen at the doors as speaker after speaker called on lawmakers to protect programs that help the less fortunate.

They say that steep budget cuts are not the inevitable choice of the current state fiscal crisis. And they say that slashing programs causes real pain to real people.

Kim Daniels from Northfield is the mother of a disabled boy. Her son Troy is a high school senior and has a job at a local convenience store.

But Daniels says the governor cut funding for the support staff her son depends on. She says when the state closed Brandon Training School, the governor promised money to help disabled people stay in their communities.

(Daniels) “He promised that to me. Where’s that promise today? What do I say to my son? He has a job. He worked hard. He needs just a little help to be employed. He’ll lose that job on June 15.”

(Dillon) Other advocates asked legislators to consider both sides of the budget equation. They say that instead of simply cutting the budget, the state should raises taxes on higher income people.

Representative Steve Hingen, a Burlington Progressive, says Vermont should hike taxes on capital gains, which come from the sale of stocks and bonds.

(Hingen) “There’s a capital gains loophole in Vermont. We’re one of only three states in the entire country that taxes unearned income at a lower rate than earned income. When you go out and work for your money, you get taxed at a higher rate than stocks bonds and investments. Let’s close the loophole. Millions of dollars.” (Sound of applause.)

(Dillon) A number of lawmakers attended the rally. Representative Francis Brooks, a Democratic from Montpelier, says Vermonters must not forget their neighbors:

(Brooks) “Who is it that might be in some way disadvantaged? Who is my neighbor? When I ask that question, it says to me that I have to reject the statement that we often hear that the best government is the least government.”

(Dillon) The advocates who packed the State House on Tuesday promised to be here throughout the session to let legislators know their own budget priorities.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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