Shumlin: Increase fees on doctors, mutual funds
MONTPELIER >> Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday unveiled a $1.53 billion general fund budget for the upcoming fiscal year that calls for new or higher fees on independent doctors and dentists as well as mutual funds, and strengthens security at state buildings following the August murder of a child protection worker.
"This proposal ensures a balanced budget that does not raise income, sales or rooms and meals taxes on hardworking Vermonters," Shumlin said a letter delivered to lawmakers before his annual budget address. "It is responsible and sustainable and it spends within our means, and for the first time since the Great Recession it does not rely on one-time funds to cover ongoing funding obligations."
The Democrat used his address to lawmakers to call for $38 million in cuts, including the closure of a Corctions Department work camp in St. Johnsbury, and for $30 million in new revenue.
He'll raise the latter by imposing the state's tax on health-care providers to "independent" doctors and dentists — those not affiliated with a hospital; and by doubling the state's $600 annual fee per mutual fund that is offered in Vermont.
Minority Republicans in the House and Senate said they were not impressed.
"We cannot support raising taxes on these hardworking people (Vermonters) who are already struggling to make ends meet," House Republican Leader Don Turner said in a prepared statement. "We must balance the budget by reining in spending this fiscal year."
— The $38 million in program cuts and $30 million in new revenue to close what had been projected as a $68 million shortfall of revenues versus expenses in fiscal 2017, which begins July 1. The budget calls for growth of about 3.1 percent over the current fiscal year in general fund spending.
— $9.9 million in new funding for the child welfare system, addressing caseload growth at the Department for Children and Families that is blamed in large part on the explosion of heroin abuse in the state. The money will allow for 35 new state employees at DCF, offices for state's attorneys, an additional judge in the court system and more contract attorneys working with the Defender General's Office.
— $2 million — split evenly between the general fund and the separate capital fund, which is borrowed through bonding — for stepped-up security at state buildings following the August shooting death of DCF social worker Lara Sobel, allegedly by a mother upset that the state had removed her daughter from her home.
— The 2.35 percent tax on health care providers who previously had escaped the tax paid by hospitals and providers affiliated with them; that's expected to raise $17 million.
— On higher education, Shumlin's budget level-funds the University of Vermont and Vermont State Colleges system, but adds $1 million for a new "Step Up" program for young people in low-paying jobs who want to try a semester of college; and a $250 contribution to the family of each newborn child to start a college savings plan.
— On Corrections, Shumlin lauded the successful efforts to reduce the state's inmate population, with aides saying it was projected to hit 2,800 this year but instead stood at less than 1,800. Aside from closing the St. Johnsbury work camp, Shumlin said he would close field sites operated by the Community High School of Vermont, an education program for people in the custody of Corrections; and reduce the number of inmates housed out-of-state by 43.
— Among health care changes, Shumlin wants to save $4.9 million by lowering the income at which pregnant women are no longer eligible for Medicaid from 218 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent — the threshold at which others are deemed to be making too much to be eligible for Medicaid coverage. For a household of 3, 138 percent of this year's federal poverty level is $27,724.
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