Scott submits mid-year budget proposal

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MONTPELIER — The Scott administration is proposing increasing appropriations for the state's juvenile rehabilitation center, the Vermont Veterans' Home and making other changes as part of the annual budget adjustment process.

The proposal also would put money into a reserve fund and would help pay off a deficit associated with the fiscally troubled Vermont Life magazine.

Lawmakers on the House Appropriations Committee began considering the administration's $6.2 million proposal to adjust the current year state budget last week.

Generally the first major financial initiative of a legislative session, the bill is an opportunity to adjust the annual state budget partway through the fiscal year to match actual levels of spending.

Deputy Administration Secretary Brad Ferland and Finance and Management Commissioner Adam Greshin outlined the proposal to the panel.

The proposal Gov. Phil Scott's administration put forward this year uses $6.2 million that lawmakers appropriated for debt service for this year that was not used because the state treasurer did not issue bonds in September as initially expected, according to the officials.

An additional $1.4 million comes from revised estimates that predict the state will spend less than anticipated on renters' and homeowners' rebates and the current use program.

Some of the savings would go to cover the costs of certain programs that are on track to outspend initial appropriations, such as $449,000 to pay for overtime and temporary nursing expenses at the Vermont Veterans' Home in Bennington.

The budget adjustment involves setting aside nearly $5 million to pay for the full costs of running Woodside Juvenile Rehabilitation Facility.

Historically, the state has covered part of the costs of the facility with federal funding through the Medicaid program. But the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service determined last year that the facility does not qualify because the residents are "inmates" at a public institution.

The state appealed that decision and is optimistic federal support will be restored, according to Ferland and Greshin. However, the federal government has not yet indicated that Woodside will be eligible to get Medicaid funding in this current year, so the administration recommended the mid-year appropriation as a "worst case scenario" item, Ferland told the committee.

Meanwhile Department for Children and Families officials expect to save money by reorganizing the leadership of the district offices in the division that manages economic benefits programs like food stamps and general assistance.

The Scott administration recommends using much of the remaining savings to bolster state reserve funds. It would also put $3.2 million toward paying off the deficit associated with Vermont Life, a publication run by the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.

In this year's budget, lawmakers directed the administration to put together a plan for remedying the magazine's finances, including possibly selling it. The state is currently considering applications, according to Greshin.

Under the administration proposal, an additional $1.8 million would go into a fund to help cover the costs of a 27th pay period, an accounting occurrence similar to a leap year when there is an additional pay period within the year.

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