Senate Gives Preliminary Approval to Budget

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(Host) With very little debate, the Senate yesterday afternoon gave its preliminary approval to the state budget for the year. The vote on the bill was 19 to 8. The proposal increases state spending by roughly 5%.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) A key to the Senate’s proposed budget for the 2003 fiscal year is a decision by the Senate to allocate more tax revenues than the House did to fund the programs of state government. The House supported a 36-cent increase in the cigarette tax, the Senate voted to raise this tax to 67 cents. The Senate also decided to block the passing through of federal tax cuts for corporations and it’s set to give its approval to a bill that raises nearly ten million dollars for a variety of government fees.

The Senate has used these additional revenues to increase the student block grant for education and to restore many of the cuts in the Medicaid program that were imposed by the House.

Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett says the proposed budget reflects the concerns of many groups who testified in front of her committee:

(Bartlett) “I believe that what your Senate Appropriations Committee has produced, Mr. President, is an honest budget that shows the needs of the state; that addresses the priorities of the people of this state; that we have all heard loudly and clearly from our constituents; and we have done so in a responsible sustainable manner.”

(Kinzel) Bartlett says her committee drafted the budget using several key goals:

(Bartlett) “The major one was to maintain as many services as possible for Vermonters through a lean time and not inflict unnecessary pain on folks. And in doing that we felt it was very important not to cost shift back onto our local communities. That’s why we funded the educational block grant at $14 million, that’s why we funded the transportation fund and the local roads program at $15 million, and that’s why we have not taken services away from our most vulnerable folks in the way of Medicaid services.”

(Kinzel) It’s likely that additional amendments to the budget will be considered when the Senate gives its final approval to the legislation later this week.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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