- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 15, 2014

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin proposed a state spending plan Wednesday that would eliminate a $70 million budget gap and increase money for drug treatment and social service programs without any new broad-based taxes.

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

Speaking to lawmakers, the Democratic governor said the state has added 11,000 jobs since he took office in 2011 and revenues have been recovering from the depths of the Great Recession, up $178 million in the past three years.

“Our challenge in balancing the budget is not to eviscerate worthwhile programs serving Vermont, but instead to curb the rate of growth and bring our programs back in line with our revenue,” Shumlin said.

In recent years the state has helped bridge budget gaps with between $44 million and $55 million from one-time funds such as legal settlements. Shumlin’s proposal this year would use $30 million in one-time funds, a little more than half of what was used last year, while the state tries to wean itself from such sources of money. Shumlin said they’re “a trend we know we must reduce.”

The rest of the gap would be filled through reductions in debt service costs, increases in federal funds and other sources.

The budget also included no cuts to state programs and it added about 18 jobs.

House Republican leader Don Turner, of Milton, criticized Shumlin’s budget as another in a series from the governor that have called for increased spending without the revenue to pay for those programs.

“This trend does not bode well for the future of Vermont and its economy,” Turner said as lawmakers prepare to debate the budget proposal in coming months.

Shumlin proposed $10 million in new spending to help counter the burgeoning opium-abuse crisis he outlined last week during his State of the State speech.

Some other initiatives of the governor’s budget proposal include:

- $4.3 million for anti-poverty initiatives, which includes a doubling of the rental subsidy program to $1 million and an increase of $300,000 to support emergency shelters. Those programs would be paid for with growth from the property transfer tax.

- A $686 million transportation budget, up $33 million last year. The money will include repairing or replacing more than 100 bridges, do preventative maintenance on dozens of other structures and expand car and vanpooling.

“While we have our differences at times about policy choices, we share - along with the citizens we represent - a common set of values: community, hard work and fairness,” Shumlin said. “These common values guide us and they will continue to ensure our success.”

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