Stimulus package could have major impact in Vermont

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(Host) The newly adopted federal stimulus package could have a major impact in Vermont in the near future.

State officials say dozens of bridge and road projects could be started in the coming weeks, and they expect these projects will boost employment in the construction industry.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Now that the federal stimulus package has been signed into law, state officials have a better understanding of how the bill will affect Vermont.

The state is expected to receive $130 million for a variety of transportation projects and the bill eliminates the need for the state to provide any matching funds for these projects.

Senate Appropriations chairwoman Susan Bartlett says Vermont is well prepared to use this money because the state has an established priority list for most transportation projects:

(Bartlett) "The great thing is because the priorities have been set and the projects are ready that we’re going to be able to start getting money out the door really fast. We do have a little thing called inclement weather up here that slows us down a little in the Spring but as soon as Spring rolls around I expect there are going to be a lot of construction jobs all over this state."

Bartlett is hoping that Vermont will have a lot of flexibility in using so called fiscal stabilization funds in the bill. The state is expected to receive $100 million from this program.

This part of the bill is designed to help states rehire teachers and police officers who have lost their jobs. Bartlett says Vermont doesn’t fall into this category and she wants to use the money for one time efforts to restructure state government:

(Bartlett) "We don’t want to do base building here, we don’t want to say oh boy let’s add 75 new whatever positions because at the end of two years this money is gone … and a lot of times you need some transitional money if you want to change the structure so I think we’re going to be looking at this money and saying gee here may be some structural changes maybe we can use this for some transitional changes.""

Vermont is expected to receive an additional $250 million for Medicaid programs but there are questions if the state will qualify for its full allotment. That’s because the legislation withholds some money if a state moves to limit eligibility in these programs.

The Douglas Administration has proposed increasing premiums, co payments and deductibles for some Medicaid programs. Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville thinks these changes can be made without jeopardizing any federal money:

(Lunderville) "We’re going to review that very closely there may be some flexibility there there’s a question of what exactly does the bill mean … because what it says and the things that we’re proposing may be fine we don’t know we’re trying to work that out."

There are also billions of dollars in the bill that are available for renewable energy and broadband projects on a competitive grant basis.
State officials are hoping to agree on a preliminary list of these projects by the end of next week.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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