Statehouse budget cutting process back on track

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(Host) The process to cut next year’s budget by $25 million is back on track at the Statehouse after a major flare up on Thursday.

Legislative leaders and the Douglas Administration do agree that some programs should be spared from the budget knife. But they disagree on which programs should be cut.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The goal of this group is to find a package of budget cuts and revenue enhancements that total roughly $25 million.

After considering a list that includes $40 million in cuts, Legislative leaders are now seeking a package of just over $17 million in budget reductions and $7 million in additional revenues.  The details still need to be worked out with the Douglas Administration.         

Speaking on VPRs Vermont Edition, Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says the cuts were selected with a specific goal in mind:

(Bartlett) "To spare our vulnerable populations as much as possible folks are already struggling to buy food pay their heating bills, health care is such a gigantic issue for everyone in this state so the Legislative goal is to make as few of those reductions, or increase costs or cost shifts onto those vulnerable populations."

Bartlett says that’s why she can’t support a plan to increase premiums for state health care programs or totally eliminate a $7 million state appropriation that covers gaps in the federal Medicare Part D Drug Program:

(Bartlett) "This is a really classic example of where the federal government fails Americans and fails the states and Vermont has always had a very aggressive pharmaceutical program and helping folks with pharmaceutical benefits."

Finance commissioner Jim Reardon says it’s likely that the Administration will also oppose the drug program cuts. Additionally, Reardon says the governor doesn’t want cut programs designed to increase economic activity in Vermont. That’s why the Administration opposes a $4 million cut in the Next Generation / Higher Education scholarship program:

(Reardon)"That’s an area that provides workforce development and training as well as scholarships to maintain and keep Vermonters in state and we feel that those investments are important in growing our economy."

At the same time, Reardon says the Governor will continue to push for a $4 million cut in the Vermont Housing and Conservation program:

(Reardon) "That is a good thing to do in good times you certainly wouldn’t want to reduce that but if there is a choice between land conservation and protecting the most vulnerable in our Medicaid programs that’s a place that I would go to to make a reduction to the Vermont Housing Board in order to protect benefits such as the prescription drugs"

Senate leaders are hoping to finalize the budget cut list by Monday afternoon.  That’s because Senator Bartlett wants to bring next year’s budget to the Senate floor for a vote on Tuesday.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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