Senate Votes For Bill To Reduce Spending By $38 Million

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(Host) The Vermont Senate has voted for a bill designed to cut nearly $40 million from next year’s budget by streamlining many state programs.

Although only one senator voted against the bill, many expressed concerns about how human service and education programs will be affected.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports

(Kinzel) In the first week of the session, Democratic leaders and Republican Governor Jim Douglas announced their support for the bill and they pledged to move it quickly through the legislative process. 

The bill includes many of the recommendations adopted by a special bipartisan commission. The goal of the legislation is to streamline the operations of state government and to incorporate a number of policy changes that are designed to save money.

For instance, almost $10 million is cut from the Corrections budget by eliminating jail terms for many nonviolent offenders and the bill also imposes new performance standards on hundreds of independent contractors who provide a variety of state services. 

Chittenden Senator Diane Snelling outlined some of the major goals of the bill:

(Snelling) "To pay for results and not effort or process, to give flexibility to produce results, to promote sharing and collaboration through incentives, to reduce unnecessary paperwork, red tape and procedures and to encourage innovation and better use of technology."

(Kinzel) Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Doug Racine says many members of his panel have strong doubts that these savings can be achieved in the next few months. Racine says he voted for the bill to keep the process moving.

(Racine) "Our concern is that these projected savings, if they aren’t realized through efficiencies, and we have doubts about that, become additional cuts. … And the potential impacts on our most vulnerable Vermonters could be very, very serious."

(Kinzel) Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett told her colleagues that she can’t guarantee that the bill will save $38 million next year. But she says it does create new opportunities.

(Bartlett) "We are finding a new way to do things. If we get to April and we find out that, man this looks like it’s bombing, then we say, ‘OK, then we’ve got to cut another $38 million out of the state budget.’ And if that’s what we have to do, that’s what will we do, Mr. President."

(Kinzel) Windsor Senator Dick McCormack was the only senator to vote against the bill. McCormack is a teacher and he compared the bill to some of the faculty meetings that he’s been required to attend.

(McCormack) "Because it is a lot of new words for old stuff. And one feels one’s head ready to explode from just hearing a long discussion about something that doesn’t seem to do actually, be about to, accomplish anything."

(Kinzel) The measure will come up for final approval in the Senate on Wednesday. It will then be reviewed by the House.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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