Service Providers Testify Against Budget Cuts

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Advocates for a variety of human service programs urged lawmakers on Wednesday afternoon to dip into the state’s “rainy day fund” to help balance this year’s budget.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

In the next two weeks, the House Appropriations Committee is expected to vote out a supplemental budget bill that makes some important changes to this year’s budget. The changes are necessary because state revenue projections for the current fiscal year are now $50 million lower than they were a year ago.

The committee is reviewing nearly $35 million in budget rescissions proposed by Governor Howard Dean and it also needs to find another $15 million in cuts to this year’s budget.

Janet Dermody, who represents the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition, urged the committee not to take money away from these programs:

(Dermody) “I am here today to ask that the commitments made last year be kept. I’m asking that you do not approve the rescissions. I’m asking you to consider the use of rainy day funds to provide those truly one-time emergency expenditures needed to protect and house the most vulnerable of the Vermont population.”

Craig Pinkham of the Vermont Coalition for Runaway and Homeless Youth said proposed budget cuts in these preventative programs would result in far more expensive treatment options in the future:

(Pinkham) “Further cuts to community based family intervention initiatives could critically hamper our ability to meet the needs of youths and families in Vermont. This notion is particularly dangerous in a time when we can expect to see more instances of family stress leading to the need for services.”

Committee chairman Richard Westman says he is sympathetic to the needs of these advocates but Westman says the bottom line is that spending needs to be scaled back:

(Westman) “You can’t have revenues drop by $50 million and not have to look at cuts. This is not an easy process. This is a painful process and we’re just trying to make the best decisions we can based upon that.”

The Dean administration has just unveiled a plan to offset the new $15 million revenue shortfall in this year’s budget. The administration wants to empty out funds from more than a dozen separate state accounts that contain some surplus money at this time.

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

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