- Associated Press - Saturday, January 7, 2017

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A top Vermont lawmaker says getting down to crafting the state’s budget and priorities will be difficult without knowing how the policies of the incoming Trump administration will affect decisions on Medicaid, cleaning up Lake Champlain, and a variety of other issues.

Legislators are prepared to work with the office of Republican Gov. Phil Scott, the congressional delegation and other states, controlled by both Republicans and Democrats, to find common ground, said Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat-Progressive from Burlington.

“Yankee ingenuity will be needed, continuing a hundreds-of-years-long culture,” Ashe said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. Ashe was first elected to the Senate in 2008; he assumed the role of Senate leader this week.

Unknowns about Republican Donald Trump and how he will govern have hung over the Legislature since lawmakers returned Wednesday. Outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin said in his Wednesday farewell address that the country was entering an era of “narrow, outdated ways.” New Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman, a Progressive-Democrat, said in his inaugural address Thursday that Vermont needs to be a “beacon of hope” for the rest of the country.

In his inaugural remarks, Scott said the political divide across the country “feels as deep, and as personal as it ever has.”

U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said he would continue to work in Congress on behalf of the state and its priorities, including education, combating opioid addiction, infrastructure needs and cleaning up Lake Champlain.

“There is great uncertainty about whether the Trump Administration and Congress will push off to the states many responsibilities on which the federal government has long been an essential partner,” Leahy said in a statement.

Vermont’s new governor said Friday there is some uncertainty with any new administration.

“We are moving forward with our budget policy under the guidance of my strategic priorities to strengthen the economy, make Vermont more affordable and protect the most vulnerable, and we have a strong team in place that’s ready to respond to any changes at the federal level,” Scott said in a statement.

Ashe focused on the possible implications of those concerns on policy. Both Republican and Democratic states will be affected by possible changes to the Affordable Care Act, the federal health care law that Republicans in Congress have vowed to repeal.

Ashe said he worries Congress could make large cuts in federal Medicaid payments to Vermont.

“Any reductions mean we have to make cuts or come up with the money ourselves; the dollars are just so big it becomes almost impossible to contemplate,” Ashe said.

Vermont has been working for years to clean up the lake, and the state has embarked on a long-term program to do so, something that carries with it a price tag that over time will reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

There is great uncertainty going forward about Trump administration commitments to those programs and the federal funds that help Vermont pay for lake cleanup programs, Ashe said.

“That more than anything creates the most unpredictable budget process that I’ve experienced,” he said.

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