• Public gets chance to have say on Vt budget plan
     | February 11,2014

    MONTPELIER — Vermont residents gathered at sites around the state Monday for a public budget hearing that drew low turnout but heartfelt testimonies from organizations either praising Gov. Peter Shumlin’s administration or requesting more money.

    Max Barrows, of Green Mountain Self-Advocates, praised the funding the developmental disabilities-focused organization would be receiving from the budget.

    Karen Schwartz, executive director of the Vermont Developmental Disabilities Council, said the budget was better for developmental services providers than in years past.

    Shumlin is proposing a state spending plan to eliminate a $70 million budget gap. The budget features no cuts to state programs and includes funding increases for transportation and anti-poverty initiatives and $10 million in new spending to counter the state’s burgeoning opiate-abuse crisis.

    The $1.44 billion budget the governor proposed would be a 3.56 percent spending increase over 2014 and would take effect July 1.

    The public hearing Monday conducted by the House and Senate appropriations committees gave Vermonters one more and possibly the final chance to weigh in on the proposed budget. Shumlin’s plan is subject to approval by the Legislature.

    Both Karen Topper, a state coordinator with Green Mountain Self-Advocates, and Sandy Gaffney, of the Vermont Workers’ Center, said that word about the hearing did not get out to as many people as usual.

    “Regular people are not aware of it,” Gaffney said.

    Topper said it took her longer than usual to find out when the hearing would be.

    “When there’s usually a large turnout, it’s because advocacy organizations find out about it and then they go out and mobilize the grass roots to come here,” Topper said.

    Schwartz said that holding forums last fall before Shumlin’s administration drafted the budget might have allowed an outlet for people to express their thoughts on the proposals.

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