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Political notes from Free Press staff writers Terri Hallenbeck, Sam Hemingway and Nancy Remsen



Controversial letter

Secretary of Administration Michael Smith sent a letter Thursday to House Speaker Gaye Symington and Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Welch that created a bit of a political stir. You will be able to read the full text below.

Smith said the administration is in the midst of developing a budget proposal for next year and he wanted to keep legislative leaders up to date with "where we are going." That's not controversial. Smith said the Douglas administration -- assuming Republican Gov. Jim Douglas is re-elected -- would propose a budget that wouldn't require any increase in any tax and he asked Symington and Welch "to join me in a pledge that urges the incoming legislature not to raise taxes in fiscal year 2008."

Scudder Parker, the Democrat challenging Douglas in the gubernatorial race, called Smith's letter "outrageous." Why? "I think it is destructive to have the secretary of administration engaging in political posturing on the part of the governor," Parker said. He also thought it was poor form to communicate through a letter, rather than a face-to-face chat.

Smith is asking the pair of leaders to take a pledge without knowing any of the details of the budget. Symington, a Democrat running for re-election to the House, said she wasn't ready to make such a commitment without knowing the choices the Douglas administration proposed to make to cover the obligation to the teacher retirement fund or to whittle the backlog of road and bridge projects.

So here's the letter.

October 12, 2006
State of Vermont
Agency of Administration
Office of
the Secretary
Pavilion Office Building
109 State Street
VT 05609-0201
Rep. Gaye Symington, Speaker
Vermont House of Representatives
Sen. Peter Welch, President Pro Tempore
Vennont Senate

Dear Speaker Symington and Senator Welch:

In a few short weeks, this election season will be over and Vennonters will begin to
focus on the upcoming legislative session. It is my job to start looking ahead.
Given the very short time frame between Election Day and the beginning of the
legislative session, I felt it was important to share with you some thoughts
about our current fiscal situation as the Governor's budget is being prepared.

I feel very strongly that the fiscal year 2008 budget can be balanced
without raising taxes. As the current leaders of your respective legislative
bodies, I am hoping that you - along with your leadership team and appropriation
chairs - will join me in a pledge to that effect. We have the opportunity
today to assure Vermonters that their tax burden will not be increased and
persuade the incoming legislature of the need to establish as a priority an
agenda to reduce the overall tax burden on Vermonters.

I have seen frustration - and outright anger - about the high level of taxation in this
state. It has been expressed most often at the property tax. The perception
of many is that the current system of funding our schools is creating
needless divisions between communities. It is creating divisions within
communities as well: taxpayers who own non-residential property - as well as
those residential taxpayers who do not qualify for income sensitivity - have
come to the realization that they are being asked to pick up the lion's share of
ever escalating property tax burdens.

The Governor believes that property taxes must be a primary focus of this upcoming session. Vermonters are demanding change without raising their tax burden, and,
especially, without raising the income tax.

As we struggle with property taxes, there is good news regarding the state's finances. Despite an earlier dire prediction from the Joint Fiscal Office, our projected Medicaid deficit is shrinking. We project a shortfall of roughly $11 million for FYO8, a far cry from the $43 million that your analysts warned of in June. This deficit may shrink even further as we examine expenditure trends. The Governor's 2008 budget will be presented in January with no Medicaid deficit and will be able, as was the case with his previous 4 budgets, to protect those most vulnerable Vermonters. I am sure you agree that the Global Commitment waiver the Governor secured from the federal government has helped pull us out of the mess we were in and put
Vermont's finances on a much more sustainable track. I thank you for your
support of Global Commitment through last year's budget process.

Our stable finances should be comforting news to Vermonters, who are fearful that they will be asked yet again to make up the shortfall between what state government collects and what it spends. General and Transportation fund revenues remain on target, and the Vermont economy continues to grow. Vermont is ranked number one in New England for year over year job growth in private and public sector jobs.

The Governor will submit a balanced and compassionate budget for FYO8. It
will be balanced without raising taxes.

As the leaders of your respective chambers, I ask you to join me in a pledge that urges the incoming legislature not to raise taxes in fiscal year 2008. Your voice will have considerable impact upon every returning and new legislator and will set the
agenda for the upcoming legislative session. Vermonters are already struggling
with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation; it is only fitting that
we heed their pleas and promise that we won't make their plight even worse.

Mike/Michael K. Smith, Secretary, Agency of Administration

So is that policy or politics? Probabaly depends, right?

-- Nancy Remsen

Symington and Welch ought to respond with a pledge asking the governor to join them in not to raising "fees".
Did he really call us "Vennonters"?
Did he really call us "Vennonters"?
What great timing for this proposal. I guess you have to pull out all the stops when you get desparate.
Oh yeah, Douglas is really desperate.
When will someone actually LEAD and acknowlegde what this pitiful war is costing our state? Not a peep from our milque toast governor.
The Governor's proposed state budgets in recent years has had higher percentage increases than Vermont schools as a whole. Maybe the School boards should send Douglas a letter.
Just a poor dumb backwoods Vermonter here (as in native) so my opinion doesn't count for spit to all the folks "from away" who've come here to save us from ourselves (and make us pay high taxes) BUT, I see nary a problem with that letter a'tall. Of course, asking Symington and Welch to agree not to raise taxes is like asking Bernie Sanders not to get angry for 5 minutes in a row. Ain't gonna happen folks. Those liberal spendthrifts won't be happy til they spend every last dollar they can squeeze out of us on their beloved social programs. Ayup, gonna make us the social progam mecca of the US of A. God save us and hang on to your wallet.
Calling that letter controversial doesn't make a lick of sense Nancy. Why do we individually live within our means yet insist on sending big-spending liberals to Most Peculiar to spend like drunken sailors? (No offense to sailors you understand). Time to get the checkbook back from these out-of-touch Socialists and give it to someone with a clue about finances. Symington and Welch pretending to be offended by this letter is one of the most laughable lies of the year. Yawn.
Why did he send the letter to WELCH ????

The dude's not even going to be in the legislature next year. From this point forward, Peter Welch has nothing do to with the state wide tax rates.
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