State Budget Cuts Will Include Health Care Programs

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(Host) Vermont’s economy continues to show signs of weakness. The Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee has lowered revenue projections for the new fiscal year by nearly $40 million. Governor Howard Dean says there’s no doubt that some health care programs are going to have to be scaled back as part of an overall budget reduction package.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) One of the final actions of the Legislature last month was the passage of a new state budget that calls for an overall appropriation of $890 million for the state’s General Fund. Now just two weeks into the new fiscal year, that budget is going to have to be cut by roughly $40 million because state revenues are not meeting projections.

Over the course of the next month, the Dean administration will draft a plan to cut the budget. It will then be reviewed by the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Committee. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett says it will be hard to avoid painful cuts during this process:

(Bartlett) “We’re talking about the elimination of some services by state government. So I think some programs are probably going to have to be eliminated and nobody can answer what right now. This is the time when every agency has to go back and say, ‘What’s our core mission? And what is it that we absolutely have to do? And what are things then that you eliminate that when times get better again we can add back in the future?'”

(Kinzel) The governor says he plans to target programs where spending has increased dramatically in the past few years, like many of the state’s health care programs:

(Dean) “There are going to have to be cuts in health care. I made the pledge at the beginning of last session. I continue to make the pledge today. I will not cut one single person off the rolls, but we will not be able to sustain the same benefit level that everybody has.”

(Kinzel) Dean will also propose using $9 million from the state’s national tobacco settlement fund to ease the state’s budget problems:

(Dean) “Well, I think the attorney general and others are going to be very upset about the tobacco settlement money, but the Legislature specifically set it aside in this year’s budget. It’s not something that I prefer to do because it is one-time money and it’s also money that I think should be in the trust fund. But I know very well if I don’t use it, the Legislature will.”

(Kinzel) The governor says he hopes that he won’t have to propose any job cuts for state employees but Dean says that’s not a promise he can make at this time.

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

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