Budget recommendations letter

August 10, 2017

The Honorable Janet Ancel, Chair of the Joint Fiscal Committee
The Honorable Ann Cummings, Vice Chair of the Joint Fiscal Committee
Vermont State House
115 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05633

OVrescissionletterDear Representative Ancel, Senator Cummings, and Members of the Joint Fiscal Committee,

The vision of One Vermont is a state that works for everyone—where everyone has access to opportunity and can thrive, and where government improves the people’s lives.

As you consider your response to the latest revenue forecast, we urge you to carry out the intent of the “purpose of the state budget” statute adopted five years ago. The statute states: “The State budget should be designed to address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity” and that “Spending and revenue policies will reflect the public policy goals established in State law and recognize every person’s need for health, housing, dignified work, education, food, social security, and a healthy environment (32 VSA § 306a).”

Despite passage of the law, the budget process has continued to focus on simply making state spending fit revenue estimates. Since Vermont began facing annual budget gaps in the wake of the Great Recession, policymakers typically start with estimates of available revenue and then cut spending to make things balance. To better serve Vermonters, the process should start with an assessment of Vermonters’ needs in addition to available revenue, followed by a discussion of spending and revenue policy changes required to address those needs. The current discussion of potential rescissions and 2 to 4 percent agency reductions are the latest examples of revenue (or the lack of it) driving the conversation about state spending, instead of addressing the measurable, unmet needs of Vermonters.

Vermont has structural fiscal problems. Health care has been consuming a bigger and bigger share of available revenue, which has squeezed the rest of state government. And since 2000, revenue growth has not kept pace with economic growth. Vermont will continue to have budget gaps until these problems are solved. And the cuts, transfers, one-time solutions and other tweaks to the state budget do not address these underlying problems.

Meanwhile, these cuts are hurting Vermonters. The $5 million in administrative savings assumed in the fiscal 2018 budget, for example, may seem innocuous, but combined with previous cuts and rescissions, the ability of state government to do its job for Vermonters is being eroded.

Vermonters want a vision for what the state can be in five or 10 or 20 years and a path to a more prosperous future. It’s time to begin to address the state’s chronic problems like poverty, especially among young single mothers; the lack of affordable, high quality child care; unaffordable higher education; underfunding of the mental health care system; pollution of the state’s waters; and jobs that don’t pay enough to support a family. Waiting and hoping that the revenue will become available to make needed investments is not working. Until we reform our revenue policies to secure more resources and create greater equity, we cannot begin to substantially improve Vermonters lives.

Before you approve any rescission plan that includes additional cuts to public services, please consider these points:

  1. Vermont has been making cuts to the budget for years and continues to face gaps.
  2. Budget cuts tend to have larger negative effects on the economy than modest broad-based revenue increases.
  3. Budget cuts tend to hurt the most vulnerable Vermonters.

We hope you will consider beginning now to make a shift in the state budget process. We recognize that this is not easy. We also recognize that revenue reform is not within the purview of the Joint Fiscal Committee, but needs to be taken up by the entire Legislature. But by resisting rescissions early in this fiscal year and urging the Legislature to begin to address revenue reform in 2018, you can start to move the state in a sustainable direction for the benefit of all Vermonters.

Until and unless we address both our spending policies and our revenue policies, we are not taking to heart the lawful purpose of the state budget: to address the needs of the people of Vermont and advance equity.

Sincerely,

One Vermont Coalition
Dan Barlow, Public Policy Manager, Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility
Paul Cillo, Executive Director, Public Assets Institute
Carlen Finn, Executive Director, Voices for Vermont’s Children
John Freidin, Middlebury
Christopher Gagné, Founder, Chairman of National Board of Directors, Director for Prisoners’ Rights Investigations
Bud Haas, Bradford
Dan Hoxworth, Executive Director, Capstone Community Action
Dr. Grace Johnstone, Hardwick Chiropractic
James Duff Lyall, Executive Director, ACLU of Vermont
Karen Lafayette, Legislative Advocate, Vermont Low Income Advocacy Council (VLIAC)
Traven Leyshon, President Green Mountain Labor Council, AFL-CIO
Charlie Murphy, Bennington
Kirsten Murphy, Executive Director, Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council
Scudder Parker, Middlesex
John and Fiona Patterson, Burlington
Ed Paquin, Executive Director, Disability Rights Vermont
Sandy Paritz, Poverty Law Project Director, Vermont Legal Aid
Julie Raboin, Newport
Colin Robinson, Political Director, VT NEA
Karen Tronsgard-Scott, Executive Director, Vermont Network Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

cc: The Honorable Mitzi Johnson, Speaker of the House
The Honorable Tim Ashe, President Pro Tempore of the Senate
The Honorable Phil Scott, Governor
The Honorable David Zuckerman, Lieutenant Governor