Once again, Gov. Peter Shumlin has put forth a diverse state budget that demonstrates good fiscal management without raising taxes on hardworking Vermonters. And while it fuels his critics, most Vermonters should be encouraged to see the strides the state’s chief executive officer is taking to grow our economy.
Notably, the governor is proposing to close the gap on one-time money, federal ARRA funds, that had been flowing into the state during the Douglas administration, the height of the recession. “Our job now is to wean ourselves of that money,” Shumlin said in a post-address interview on Wednesday.
The budget encourages investment in the infrastructure of the state’s downtowns; makes a continued push for renewables; it contains the largest transportation budget in the state’s history; it takes on the state’s poverty crisis by making more emergency money available for low-income Vermonters to pay their rent as well as provides funding for additional staff to help struggling Vermonters; and this budget encourages further development of the education system, including funding toward early childhood education and higher education, including the state universities and colleges. It provides more beds for psychiatric units, and it offers $19 million toward rail development along the Western Corridor. These are all steps that need to be fostered to create jobs and, subsequently, make Vermont even more attractive for businesses, taxpayers and visitors.
“It’s a diversified economic recovery, and I think this budget speaks to it,” he said of his broader “silver-bullet” approach. “There isn’t only one sector we should be pushing.”
During his address, he stated, “Every spending proposal I have pursued as governor has been designed to promote economic development and prosperity for all Vermonters. This budget is no different.”
The budget also speaks to the governor’s high-profile initiative, detailed in the State of the State address: Tackling Vermonters’ addiction to opiates.
“I have also included in this budget new funding to support the ambitious drug abuse prevention and treatment agenda I laid out for you last week. This new funding will mean a 14 percent increase in prevention services and a nearly 40 percent increase in treatment services for those who are suffering from addiction,” he said.
Republicans quickly offered their take on Shumlin’s plan, scolding the governor from their firmly-planted platform: “Again this year the Governor is proposing a budget that includes spending above and beyond the state’s current projected revenue capacity, depletes reserves, relies on more federal dollars and utilizes one-time revenue sources to balance. ... Proposing a budget that exceeds the growth of Vermont’s economy and the paychecks in taxpayers’ wallets is bad policy and is not financially sustainable,” said House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton in a statement. “Republicans will work this session to reign in general fund spending, reduce the state’s dependence on federal dollars, grow reserves, address the pension fund shortfalls, improve eligibility systems to reduce federal penalties, and continue to seek finite details on the governor’s initiatives such as health care reform and pre-kindergarten education. ... The well-being of Vermonters is at risk here. It’s our job to represent their interests as we promised; Vermonters deserve it.”
The response was predictable yet sufficiently cautionary. Now it remains to be seen how the Legislature will respond. Early meetings thus far have shown little pushback from members of the House and the Senate, but discussions in the coming weeks, and pressure from lobbyists, will further define whether this proposed state budget is the one that accurately reflects what Vermonters want. For certain, many groups will say the governor does not go far enough, especially for helping the struggling middle class.
“I don’t think you will see the kinds of challenges you saw last year, with different views on how best to make investments,” Shumlin said. He remains encouraged the budget will pass.
While Washington, D.C., is now being forced to make draconian cuts to the federal budget to keep the government operating, Vermonters should feel assuaged that this diversified budget points toward the hallmarks of our state’s traditional pride: the governor offers fiscal responsibility, prudence, and makes investments where we can afford to.
Despite what the critics say, that’s a smart budget, and a good way to start the discussion.
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