State Budget Gets Initial Approval In Vt. House

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(Host) The Vermont House has given its preliminary approval to the state budget for next year. The bill increases spending by roughly 6 percent and about half of the new spending is a response to damages caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

Most Democrats voted for the bill and many Republicans voted against it.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The budget for 2013 allocates $1.3 billion to pay for the basic operations of state government.  House Appropriations chairwoman Martha Heath told her colleagues that a significant part of the overall 6 percent increase is due to tropical storm Irene

(Heath) "The past year has brought Vermont unprecedented natural disasters. We will be dealing with the effects of these storms, particularly Tropical Storm Irene, for years to come. Almost half of the all the funds increased in the budget before you today can be attributed to the spending needed to help our state recover."

(Kinzel) Heath says the state has been able to control its spending on many Medicaid programs and she says that makes it easier to maintain funding for other essential Human Service programs.

(Heath) "This year we were able to avoid some of the painful decisions we faced during the worst years of the recession. Our budget fully funds caseload increases in developmental services and other Human Service areas."

(Kinzel) Democrat Cynthia Browning of Arlington expressed the concerns of a number of members of her caucus when she said the overall spending level was too large.

(Browning) "I cannot support a budget and the taxes to support it that, number one, shifts a greater burden onto the property tax and raises that rate, and fails to address or adjust or reduce in any way the system of tax expenditures that constitute a shadow budget of over one billion dollars."

(Kinzel) Newfane Rep. Richard Marek said that while a number of Republicans had supported Irene relief and recovery efforts and had backed funding for critical Human Service programs, they also took the opportunity to vote no on the budget.

(Marek) "However, now that the time has come to actually appropriate the money to let all those good things happen many of those who joined me in supporting them suddenly are unwilling to join me in paying for them. My constituents won’t let me have it both ways. They expect Vermont to pay its bills just as they do."

(Kinzel) The legislation will come up for final consideration in the House on Friday and it’s expected that a number of amendments to trim spending will be offered at that time.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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