A question of what's responsible
Two views in Vermont budget debate
Here's how the debate in the Vermont state house over Republican Gov. Phil Scott's proposed budget, which is opposed by Democratic legislative leaders, was captured in a pair of press releases this week.
First, a press release from March 15 from the office of Vermont House Speaker Mitzi Johnson:
Today, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson joined House Majority Leader Representative Jill Krowinski, Appropriations Committee chair Representative Kitty Toll, and the Ways & Means Committee chair, Representative Janet Ancel, to remind Governor Scott that Vermonters expect him to present responsible budget proposals.
The Governor’s January budget proposal shifted costs onto the backs of property taxpayers. Though the Governor asked local communities to level-fund their school budgets, voters last week sent a clear message to the Governor when they rejected his proposal by passing 90% of school budgets across the state. Legislators are working to build a solution that will grow Vermont’s economy without hurting the most vulnerable in our state or balancing the state budget on local property taxes.
The Governor promised Vermonters that he was ready to come to the table after Town Meeting week, but he continues to avoid the discussions. With only six legislative days left before the Appropriations Committee must vote out the budget bill, time is running out for Governor Scott to honor his commitment.
Just yesterday, the Appropriations Committee sent a memo inviting the Governor to join their conversation. They have not yet received a response. “We’ve done the work to close $52 million of the budget gap. We are asking the Governor to come back to the table to work with us to close the last $18 million,” said Appropriations Chair Kitty Toll.
Governor Scott’s proposal to increase property taxes by $50 million was irresponsible. The House remains committed to closing the budget gap in a way that will promote healthy communities, a strong economy, vibrant future for Vermont.
Speaker Johnson acknowledged that, “In every budget cycle, Governor’s stick with their original proposals for a period, but after the soundbites fade, they get down to work with the legislature to develop a plan that works for Vermonters. We’re now at that point, and Vermonters expect all of us to come to the table and work together.”
And here's what Gov. Scott had to say, in a press release issued March 17:
“As we reached the halfway mark of Vermont’s legislative session this week, it’s important for those of us in Montpelier to prioritize our efforts to make a real difference in the lives of Vermonters in the final eight weeks of this legislative session.
“On my first day in office, I signed an executive order establishing three goals that guide my Administration’s efforts: Strengthen the economy, make Vermont more affordable, and protect the most vulnerable. These are simple principles, but they are critical to solving the challenges we face and they should be the focus of each effort we undertake, and each policy we put forward.
“Vermont loses, on average, six workers from our workforce and three students from our schools every single day – trends that have persisted for years. Our population growth has been stagnant and a recent estimate by the U.S. Census Bureau showed an estimated 0.2 percent decline in Vermont’s mid-2016 resident population. National projections predict that by 2040 the number of working-age people in Vermont will drop by more than 10 percent.
“We must reverse these trends, which means it’s time to put party, politics and special interests aside. Instead of debating process and defending the status quo, we need a new approach that rethinks what state government can do. That includes rethinking how we approach the budget. We can achieve balance without raising taxes and fees, without cutting services to the most vulnerable, and while making critical investments in priority areas that will rebuild our workforce, attract businesses and working families to Vermont, combat our opiate epidemic, and protect our impaired waterways. That’s what my budget proposes to do, and there are still opportunities to achieve those critical goals.
“In the first half of the session, less than 10 percent of the bills proposed have a direct focus on economic growth. The Legislature is considering eliminating my budget’s essential investments in economic development and a cradle-to-career continuum of learning. We can’t afford a status quo budget that fails to invest in initiatives that will grow the economy, or for economic initiatives to take a back seat in policy discussions. If we want to change the State’s trajectory – and we must – we cannot ignore the need for these investments.
“I am encouraged to see many in the Legislature who agree with the goals put forward in my budget, which reflect the calls for relief I heard from Vermonters throughout the campaign. But we cannot relent or be resistant to change. Vermonters need us to spend these next eight weeks finalizing a budget and putting forward legislation that helps grow the economy, and allows Vermonters to keep more of what they earn. If we do, we will set a course for a more prosperous future that creates greater opportunity for all Vermonters.”