Gov. Shumlin Outlines Budget Plan; Closes Budget Gap Without Cutting Programs

Governor Peter Shumlin outlined how he wants to spend the state's money Wednesday in his annual budget address to the Vermont legislature.
MONTPELIER - Governor Peter Shumlin outlined how he wants to spend the state's money Wednesday in his annual budget address to the Vermont legislature.

Last week, Governor Shumlin made the unusual choice to focus his State of the State address exclusively on opiate addiction.

Wednesday was the first chance lawmakers had a chance to hear about the economy, jobs, transportation, and education from the governor. Governor Shumlin said ahead of time he wasn't planning to raise taxes to fill a more than $70 million dollar budget gap for Fiscal Year 2015.

On Wednesday, he also said no programs will be cut to fill that gap.

"So our challenge in balancing the budget is not to eviscerate worthwhile programs serving Vermonters,  but instead to curb the rate of growth and bring our programs back in line with our revenues," Gov. Shumlin said.

Instead, the gap in the general fund will be filled with one-time money that came into the state this year, along with millions from non-general funds, special funds, and funds from the federal government. The one-time money partially comes from court settlements, including $5 million from Vermont Yankee.

The Governor also asserted his desire to wean off of federal money given since the recession. The FY 2014 budget included $55 million in those one-time funds; FY 2015 will reduce that to $30 million.

His budget did include new spending; some of the largest numbers were $33 million for transportation, $10 million for the opiate addiction plan he outlined last week, and $4.3 million for anti-poverty initiatives.

"This is the biggest investment in our transportation system in our state's history, and I ask for your support," said Gov. Shumlin.

The enormous new transportation funding would help replace more than 100 bridges, lay 300 miles of pavement, and support a "Green Highway" with electric car charging stations connecting Montreal to Vermont and New England.

"Let's continue rebuilding our aging transportation network to make up for the maintenance and repair neglected for years, so that we provide Vermonters will good roads and strong bridges once again," Shumlin said.

Lawmakers across party lines were happy about the increase in transportation funding.

"We have 33 million reasons to smile, and I'll be smiling all the way home," Vermont State Rep. Patrick Brennan (R-Colchester) said. "Very pleased to hear the governor's commitment to our transportation system."

"When people own a home, they don't only do things that pay off in the first year, they do things that pay out over time," State Sen. Tim Ashe (D-Chittenden County) said. "That's how we have to think of our budget."

Now it's time to crunch the numbers.

"During the Shumlin era we have seen significantly higher spending levels without the revenue to support it," Vermont State Rep. Don Turner (R-House Minority Leader) said.

"I think it's got great foundation," State Sen. John Campbell (D-President Pro-Tem) said. "Now we just gotta go in and scrub the numbers and see if they work for the priorities we have."

The budget also included a 2% increase in Higher Education funding, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

Starting in 2015, Vermont will also have to start contributing to the new health exchange rolled out under the Affordable Care Act. So far, Vermont Health Connect has been completely funded with federal dollars.

The Governor's budget will go to the House first to analyze and make changes. Once the House passes a budget it will head to the Vermont Senate.
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