Governor To Give Budget Address Thursday

Jan 14, 2015

Vermont Statehouse
Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is scheduled to deliver his budget address Thursday afternoon. WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley takes a look at what’s expected.

Democrat Peter Shumlin will appear before a joint session of the Vermont Legislature to deliver his budget address, the content of which he hinted at during his inaugural address last week.  “This is the hardest budget I’ve had to create and it will take a balanced approach to bring our state spending in line with future revenue projections. I’ll address critical policy areas including workforce development, educational quality and spending, health care, child protection, and continuing our progress with drug addiction.”

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis says there are four fiscal issues the legislature must address this session.  “The first is the budget gap, which is estimated at about $100 million. State spending in Vermont has been increasing at a rate of about 5-percent a year, whereas the state’s economy and revenues have been increasing at a rate of about 3-percent a year.  Second I’ll be interested to see whether the governor takes the lead in proposing something to control the costs of K-12 education and reduce property taxes or whether he defers to the legislature on that. The third issue has to do with Medicaid reimbursements. And the fourth issue involves the transportation budget. The revenue that the state is collecting from the gas tax is down. It’s also down because there are more fuel efficient cars on the road. So those are all big issues and I expect the governor will have something to say about all of them.”

Rob Roper, president of conservative think tank the Ethan Allen Institute, expects the governor to talk about the big issues facing the state.  “What are we going to do about health care now that he’s not going to pursue a singe-payer financing strategy? What are we going to do about property tax reform and education reform? And what are we going to do about the $100 million deficit that we’re facing for the next fiscal year? They just had to cut the current fiscal year budget.  But what he needs to talk about, I think, is the fact that we have this budget deficit but it’s not the result of less money coming in. The state is taking in record amounts of revenue from we the taxpayers. It’s being projected out there as if they’re taking in less money. They’re spending more. We have a spending problem, not a revenue problem. And that’s what needs to be addressed, although I don’t think he’s going to talk about that in his speech.”

The governor’s inaugural was disrupted by protesters upset over his decision not to move forward with a single-payer health care financing plan for the state. The Burlington Free Press reported that at least one Republican representative is urging his peers to leave the chamber if protesters disrupt the budget address. The Vermont Workers Center organized last week’s rally and coordinator Keith Brunner expects a more subdued approach this week.  “We’re planning to listen and review what the governor has to say. A number of supporters of the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign will be present. We were invited to join a press conference that faith leaders are putting on tomorrow morning and so we’ll have people there present at the press conference. We’re not planning an organized rally like last week.”

The address is scheduled before a joint session of the Legislature at 2 o’clock Thursday.