Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin delivered his budget address to a joint session of the Vermont Legislature Wednesday afternoon.
The governor set a positive outlook for the state despite some fiscal challenges. He began by noting that more than 11,000 jobs have been created since he first took office three years ago, downtowns are experiencing a surge of revitalization and tourism is strong. He cautioned that it will require discipline to close the current $71 million budget gap, especially with shrinking federal funds and no stimulus funding. “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. Over the past five budgets, we’ve been relying on between $44 and $55 million in one-time funds to balance our books, a trend that we know we must reduce. Today, I present you with a budget that closes our gap by relying on only $30 million in one-time funds, about half as much as we did last year.”
Governor Shumlin said his $1.4 billion general fund budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015 marks a spending increase of 3.56 percent. Shumlin said every proposal promotes economic development by focusing on education, job and business growth, affordable health care and protection of the state’s environment and quality of life. He called on the legislature to pass a universal pre-kindergarten bill. He chastised voters for continuing to pass school budget increases. “I urge Vermonters at town meetings across our state this year to carefully scrutinize school budgets that increase per pupil spending and grow faster than our incomes.”
The governor proposed $2.5 million to begin fixing problems with the teacher pension program, doubling the Vermont Rental Subsidy to $1 million, increasing grants to support homeless shelters by $300,000, increased support for children and Medicaid reimbursement rates. He expressed his disappointment in the rollout of the state-based exchange. “The difficult rollout of the exchanges here and across America should remind us once again that we need – and we can have – simple, universal, affordable, comprehensive health care for all.”
Public Assets Institute Fiscal Analyst Jack Hoffman found this budget more inclusive than previous budgets from Shumlin.. “The kinds of things he’s talking about, the kinds of investments that he’s committing to, are ones that we think have been proven to give good returns. Things like investments in infrastructure and education and health care and early child development. Those certainly are the things that Vermont should be doing. We haven’t looked at the details yet, but at least the things he’s talking about, I think, are the right things.”
Vermont House Republican Leader Don Turner says he’s happy to see the governor addressing how the state has been using one-time funds to balance and grow the budget. But he says the Republican minority is very concerned about the level of the budget increase. “Which is way more than inflation and is more than Vermonters are getting in additional pay in their paychecks. To continue growing the budget at these percentages is just not sustainable going forward. We’ve been working with and we will continue to work with the governor’s people and with the super-majority to try to identify areas where we can start to use our money more wisely.”
Audio from the governor’s budget address is courtesy of Vermont Public Radio’s live stream from the Vermont Statehouse.