VTDigger: Budget-writers find $10 million in reductions

Full article at Vermont Digger
by Anne Galloway | May 14, 2013

The final budget deal was set on Monday after 10 days of negotiations between House and Senate leaders.

The chairs of the two Appropriations committees pieced together $10 million in savings as part of an agreement with the Shumlin administration. Legislative leaders agreed to rescrub the budget in lieu of raising new General Fund taxes.

A new revenue report in April that projects a $16 million surplus for fiscal year 2013 helped to ease that budget reduction process. House leaders were insistent that lawmakers leave the session with $9 million in cash reserves in order to prepare for anticipated federal cuts next year; the surplus enabled them to set aside $8 million without having to raise revenues.

The $1.3 billion General Fund budget is balanced by about $60 million in one-time savings or revenues that will not be available next year. That means unless the economy improves and tax receipts exceed expectations, the state will continue to face the difficult post-recession problem of filling an ongoing gap between revenues and spending.

Gov. Peter Shumlin proposed to increase spending by about $34 million to fund child-care and energy efficiency programs, but lawmakers dialed back those proposals, and in the end also cut down the administration’s request for new positions in state government from 79 to about 60.

Sen. Jane Kitchel and Rep. Martha Heath, the budget chairs, set out to make $10 million in reductions in the remaining days of the session without touching human services programs. In the end, with the exception of a $2 million cut to services for developmentally disabled Vermonters that had already been agreed to, they succeeded.

“It was a lot of work, but when resources are tight, we need to make sure government is efficient,” Kitchel said.

Heath cited higher provider reimbursements and an agreement on Reach Up as the two most significant changes to the budget this year.

“I think a budget document is a values statement and in that sense it is a political document,” Heath said.