• Medicaid, housing up for boost in state budget
     | January 23,2014

    MONTPELIER — The Vermont House is set to consider an annual midyear budget adjustment today that deviates very little from Gov. Peter Shumlin’s proposal.

    The House Appropriations Committee advanced the legislation last week with bipartisan support. In the 10-1 vote, the lone dissenter was Rep. Phil Winters of Williamstown. Two of Winters’ fellow Republicans on the panel voted for it.

    The committee agreed to add more than $12 million in funding sought by the administration, financed by higher-than-expected revenues and about $3.4 million in reserve funds.

    Among the major items in the bill is a $7.17 million increase in Medicaid funding. The additional money is needed to cover higher enrollment trends in the shared state and federal program.

    An additional $2.5 million is sought by the Agency of Human Services to help cover the cost of emergency housing. Lawmakers had cut back on funding in the fiscal 2014 budget for motel vouchers for homeless Vermonters who would otherwise be out in the cold.

    Lawmakers sought to redirect funding to programs aimed at reducing the need for motel vouchers, but that effort has yet to pay off.

    The Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington, facing a projected budget deficit, is set to receive about $2.85 million in additional funding. The budget adjustment will provide $1.87 million to help cover the funding gap at the home, the only state-owned veterans facility.

    A further $980,000 will cover federally required Medicaid payments that were not anticipated.

    Nearly an additional $1.38 million for winter road maintenance has been added to the budget adjustment. Clearing and treating roads from early season snow and ice storms led to the additional funding.

    And $200,000 was included, at the administration’s request, to help scale back waiting lists at treatment facilities for opiate addicts. Shumlin called for the funding in his State of the State address, which was devoted entirely to the issue.

    Also in the budget adjustment:

    $1.55 million to cover the jailing of a higher-than-expected number of suspects awaiting trial.

    About $2.7 million to cover unexpected rental costs related to Tropical Storm Irene.

    Spending authority of $500,000 for economic development in Windham County, part of an agreement between the state and Entergy.

    Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon praised the committee for its “very timely” consideration of the bill, and for largely approving the administration’s request.

    He also praised the committee’s decision to pad the state’s reserve funds after a rosy revenue forecast was revealed last week.

    “Because things were tight, we used a good share, if not most of it, of the reserve account to balance the books,” Reardon said. “They got an uptick in the revenues, and instead of them spending more, they actually used that uptick in the revenues and preserved more in the reserve account.”

    After taking up the midyear spending adjustment bill today, the full House is expected to turn its attention to sorting through Shumlin’s fiscal 2015 budget. Lawmakers are already questioning the governor’s assertion that general fund spending will rise only 3.56 percent under his spending plan. Shumlin said in his budget address last week that the growth represents the replacement of one-time funds used in the 2014 budget with ongoing funding streams.

    According to Democrats and Republicans alike in the Legislature, the general fund spending increase in Shumlin’s proposed budget is around 5 percent.

    Shumlin, in an unrelated news conference Wednesday, told reporters that both numbers are correct, depending on how one factors it.

    “When you look at year-over-year spending, you have to take into account that we … backfilled a good part of last year’s one-time money,” the governor said. “So that’s relevant. You can look at it from the other side, too. My team and the Legislature don’t disagree on the numbers.”

    neal.goswami @rutlandherald.com

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