Vermont lawmakers asked for budget cuts
MONTPELIER -- The Shumlin administration asked a legislative committee on Monday for budget cuts that would leave seven vacant state trooper positions open and require reductions in Medicaid funding in a range of human services programs.
"Today's situation is caused by revenue that continues to grow, but at a more modest level than projected earlier," Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding wrote to lawmakers in a letter accompanying the list of requests.
The requests for cuts were prompted by a July 24 revenue forecast showing the state was expected to take in more than $28 million less in tax revenues that support its general fund than had been forecast in January.
The cuts come a bit more than a month into a new fiscal year for which lawmakers just finalized a budget in early May before adjourning for the year. State law allows the Joint Fiscal Committee to make adjustments if revenues dip.
With other budget issues factored in, Spaulding and Finance and Management Commissioner Jim Reardon said the administration was looking for $31.28 million in cuts from the general fund budget of nearly $1.4 billion.
The committee agreed to hold a public hearing on the proposed cuts at the Statehouse on Tuesday, with hopes of giving final approval on Wednesday to a possibly modified package of cuts.
Spaulding and Reardon urged that the cuts be made soon; waiting until after lawmakers return in January would mean the reductions would have to be absorbed within the past few months of the fiscal year, taking a bigger bite out of programs.
The two officials described nearly $10 million in proposed cuts to pieces of Medicaid funding. The result would be less support, for instance, to nonprofit community mental health centers that provide psychiatric services under contract with the Department of Mental Health.
"It appears that the community mental health system is on the table for (an) over $6 million reduction," Julie Tessler, executive director of the Vermont Council of Development and Mental Health Services, wrote in an email. "Clearly, there is a lack of recognition about the value of people we serve and the importance of these services to them."
Other recommendations by Gov. Peter Shumlin's aides include elimination of the 1 percent budget increases that had been earmarked for the University of Vermont and state colleges. Vermont has long ranked at or near the bottom among states in support for public higher education.
In a year when Shumlin devoted his entire State of the State Address to the need to combat drug addiction in Vermont, Monday's cuts called for reducing the Health Department's alcohol and drug abuse programs by nearly $683,000.
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