North Country News
12:30 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

Public Hearing On Shumlin Budget Lightly Attended

Credit WAMC/Pat Bradley

A statewide public hearing last night on Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin’s proposed 2015 budget drew few people, but those who testified made it clear that social services must be protected.

The Vermont House and Senate Appropriations Committees held a joint hearing on Governor Peter Shumlin’s proposed 2015 budget Monday. The $1.44 billion proposed budget would be a 3.56 percent spending increase. It eliminates a $70 million budget gap and sets aside money for expanded drug treatment programs.

The legislative panels utilized the statewide network of video conferencing through Vermont Interactive Technologies to allow people at 17 sites to comment on the proposed budget. The state representatives remained quiet during the testimony. House Appropriations Committee Chair Martha Heath began the hearing by explaining the rules.  "We will be rotating from site to site. We’re going to ask you to limit your remarks to three minutes. Right now we have  no one with us here in Williston.”

There was very light turnout for the hearings.  Despite low attendance, those who did testify emphasized the importance of maintaining funding to social services. In Bennington, Vermont Workers Center President Mary Garish reminded committee members that last year a bill was passed that requires community needs assessments.  "You really don’t have any way of knowing unless the communities tell you what the needs are. So when a budget is made up in Montpelier and what’s looked at is what was spent in the past, and then what we think we can afford to spend in the future, that may or may not be appropriate. Because it’s not based on an actual assessment of what the real needs are."

Several commented on funding for the Vermont Veterans Home, including Barbara King of Arlington, who works at the facility.  "I want to thank the administration for the 1.3 million that they gave from general funds to the veterans' home. It seems as if we’ve come to a place we can’t get past. We had agreed to part-time workers. And unfortunately now our administration has decided that they don’t want to bargain with us about that. We need to staff the building. And in order to do that we have to have part time workers."

Melissa Walsh has worked at the veterans' home for 20 years and echoed the need for an appropriation to fund part-time workers.  "Our main goal is to take care of the veterans and make sure they’re safe, healthy and happy. We would like to be able to have part-time people to fill in for the areas that we need them. I’m just hoping that the administration will open up talks again with us so we can come to an agreement on this."

The majority of those who testified discussed funding for Pathways Vermont, a statewide network that works with state agencies to aid those with mental illness and to find homeless individuals places to live.  Janet Hubbard of Brattleboro said she is a Pathways client.   "I have a bipolar disorder and mental illness. We need the income to help everyone that is in the Pathways  so that we don’t become homeless again."  Pathways client Leo Moran of Barre adds "I was very suicidal and hopeless. Pathways has saved my life. Please continue to fund Pathways, not only for me, but for the other 200 people that rely on them for their support and housing."

Audio from the hearing is courtesy of Vermont Interactive Technologies, which streamed the budget hearing.

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