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



Here's how the $19.7 million deal came down

Friday morning at the appointed hour for the Joint Fiscal Committee meeting on the package of $19.7 million budget cuts, committee members were jammed in the office of Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin.

It was clear that the committee wasn't going to rubber stamp the package presented earlier in the week -- not after listening to two afternoons of compelling testimony about the dire affects of some of the cuts.

Shumlin and the presumptive speaker of the House, Rep. Shap Smith, D-Morrisville, talked with Gov. Jim Douglas Thursday about some other options, apparently without securing an agreement. The talks continued Friday.

Mid morning, Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville and Finance Commissioner Jim Reardon came over from the Pavilion and squeezed into Peter's office. It wasn't too much later, but I wasn't timing, that the pair walked out and left the Statehouse by the side door and headed down Baldwin Street -- the opposite direction from their office.

Around 11 a.m. Smith said there was a deal. It would take another half an hour before a sheet with the details was finalized. Committee members took their seats, prematurely, it turned out, because it took a while for Reardon to appear. He came alone. Lunderville didn't return to the Statehouse Friday.

Reardon wasn't smiling. Lawmakers were. Smith presented the deal, after the committee formally rejected the original package.

Reardon said he had to confer with others in the administration. He needed 15 minutes. Sen. Richard Sears, D-Bennington, said he needed to leave to try to beat the snowstorm. Reardon promised to come back sooner -- but he didn't. He didn't return for another 45 minutes.

Reardon brought a ream of paper -- the administration's version of the deal, the properly worded motion for its adoption and updated pages of the budget document.

The vote was unanimous. What's the deal? Lawmakers made $1.8 million in changes, including a reduction of the pain that the mentally ill and disabled would feel because of cuts to regional human service agencies. They restored half the funding to the micro-business loan and saving account programs that help the poor earn their way out of poverty. They put a change in eligibility for child care subsidies on life support, suggesting it might start in April instead of January. The administration had proposed elimination of the new eligibility standards.

Where did they find the money? One place was Next Generation scholarship -- sacred ground to the governor. They took $250,000 there and an equal amount from one of their favorite programs - the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board.

The Judiciary offered $245,000 -- which hadn't been on the table earlier in the week. That's a far cry from the $2.4 million that the Douglas administration had suggested as a cut target.

Lawmakers took back most of the dollars that had been earmarked for an energy efficiency loan program. Nobody had applied.

So now they begin work on the next round -- $46 million in budget adjustments.

--Nancy Remsen

So why did the Mental Health Agencies agree to a deal? They received assurances that they would be held harmless in the Budget Adjustment process but would be back on the table for the 2010 budget. Some deal. Does anyone think the JFC would have signaled them out for cuts given all the other hard choices they passed over on the suggested cut list, if they had not agreed to a cut? The unraveling of the safety net continues. Will we find our moral compass before it is too late?
So what are you proposing, new taxes? If so, then say so, and say how much, how they will be raised, and where (i.e., who) they will come from.
Policy changes should not come from who will "deal" but from a full spectrum review. I think given the magnitude of the shortfall the solution should have multiple aspects, including, economic stimulus relief, budget reductions and taxes. As to which taxes, not being an expert, I would lean to those that are more progressive and ones with the least adverse impact on our ability to move when the recovery happens. No one solution is big enough to handle the enormity of the problem, it has to be multi-pronged.
Why must tax increases be part of the solution? The list of potential cuts that were on the table seemed to include a wide variety of substantial savings that didn't impact "essential" services.


One that everyone should consider:

"Means tests – review income levels for program eligibility increase where appropriate."

During Gov. Dean's tenure, Medicaid and other programs were expanded to the middle class. In addition, the income sensitivity provisions of Act 60/82 have extended a tax break to not only the middle but upper class to get their support.

The bottom line is we were heading into this exercise all summer and fall, and it was an election issue. The only statewide candidates talking about it were in the Governor's and Lt. Governor's races. Douglas ran telling people that he was going to make sure Vermonters who needed help got it, but that if he won state government was going to do what families do: Get by on existing revenues. He got 54 percent.

Symington and Pollina were pretty clear that they wanted government to make "investments" and therefore raise taxes. Each got 21 percent.

The people were pretty clear what they wanted the state to do.
Again with this factually-challenged fiction of yours, Indy.

Whether it's Brooke Bennett or the Budget, Doogie doesn't tell anybody anything. He waits for it to become common knowledge and the sclm to stop sitting on the story.

Then he blames everyone else for his mistakes.

And cut the "everyone knew it" nonsense. No, we didn't.

People knew things were slowing and looking bad, but anyone, anywhere who predicted anything approaching a doogie deluge of these proportions was told that the fundamentals of the economy remained strong and dismissed as a whiner in the midst of a mental recession.

Things looked to be slowin' but it was nothin' that gutting Act 250, pretending the Brigham Decision never happened, breaking the VTNEA, giving a blank check to Entergy and continuing to make excuses for their criminal negligence and incompetence wouldn't cure.

Alas, unlike clueless mcsame, doogie managed to fool enough of the people enough of the time to get himself reelected before the wheels fell off and the truth was revealed as to just how shamelessly incompetent he is and just how much he's been lyin' to the State of Vermont.

Not a day goes by without doogie or one of his hacks telling us that they had no idea how bad things were, how deep a hole we were heading into or how deep the cuts were going to have to be and how he's as surprised by this as everyone.

After all, it's not like the Vermont he inherited from Howard Dean was in much better shape than the one we live in today to say nothin' of the one comin' at us like a runaway train in the next and last two years of his incompetent-trash reign of error

He's the overpaid, under-qualified, incompetent-trash, gop-slime Governor of Vermont, Indy.

It's kind of his job to know these things to see these things comin'.

If he wants to start makin' out like this is all news to him or that he had no more idea that the gop-slop was about to his the fan than the next guy, he can start makin' amends by resigning yesterday, givin' the money back and embarking on a new career making license plates, 'cause if he didn't know or see this comin', he's either too frickin' dumb to be governor, lyin' scum or both.

My money's on door number three.

Get yourself a case and a clue.

Always a pleasure.
Independent Vermonter, budget cuts will be needed but I do not think the list of ideas that the JFC initially passed over will solve the problem which is now estimated between $216 to $251 million after the $19.7 that was just cut.

To be clear there are some ideas that can be adopted on the list and I am sure there are other ideas that will be forthcoming but I do not see them totaling over $200 million. Some just don’t seem plausible. For example one idea is to eliminate the state share of the SSI payment for aged blind and disabled Vermonters. The total SSI payment is around $675 a month and the state share of that is around $200. Sure folks on SSI are likely to get fuel assistance and food stamps and definitely get Medicaid, but even with that do we think they can survive on around $475 per month? They live a life of desperation on $675 a month.

My point is after you peel the onion on some of these ideas and understand the real human impact I don’t think Vermonters will find them acceptable; nor will they yield enough to close the deficit gap. For sure we need to reduce spending but we also need to examine taxes and be ready to select the best one(s) that will help solve the problem and not delay the upturn when the recovery starts.
Save your breath. Indy only fixates on the fact that Doogie - an incumbent governor who trashed his Dem opponent and all but ignored his Independent challenger until the last two weeks of the campaign got 54 percent of the vote against the combined 42 percent of his challengers.

He doesn't want to know about the two outta three voters who went for Obama or the fact that the best the gops could come up with for a nominee to challenge incumbent Dem Congressman Peter Welch was incumbent Dem Congressman Peter Welch.

He doesn't want to know that the Dems in the Vermont Legislature maintained their overwhelming 23-7 margin in the Senate or that they added to their overwhelming majority in the House while both the gops and the Progs lost seats and the Dems - unless the gops get some help from the remaining Progs and Independents - are now approaching the veto-proof legislative majority in the House the Bubbas, Nekkies and Indys of the world have been claiming they've had all along because they refuse to acknowledge the reality that Indies and Progs aren't Dems no matter what the gop-slime minority in the House does.

Indy doesn't want to hear that because reality keeps him from retreating to the comfort of his happy place where Doogie is a popular governor who's universally loved and adored by all Vermonters instead of some incompetent hack who managed to fool enough of the people enough of the time and get himself reelected before the wheels fell off by spending significantly more than both his opponents combined to relentlessly trash them instead of pointing to his own accomplishments because there aren't any to point to.

Of course, even unhappy, vindictive Progs being Progs aren't likely to support doogie's continuing attempts to help the rich by stickin' it to the poor as he pretends to be the champion of Vermont's remaining middle class by vetoing everything in sight, so his veto override-proof days may well be a thing of the past as he spends his last two years as governor becoming increasingly irrelevant as the facts come to light and he's exposed for the incompetent hack he's been all along.

Just don't tell Indys of the world 'cause they don't wanna know.

I disagree. Throwing up the most heart-wrenching examples as you have is a good PR strategy and the advocacy groups did a nice job this past week.

But I think if Vermonters saw the income levels of some families who are eligible for Dr. Dynasaur or other Medicaid programs, they'd say, "Hmm, that's about what my family makes. Why are they getting health care on my dime? I have a huge deduction from my paycheck every week, and still have a hefty deductible. Why can't this family do it?" And there is some serious money to be saved by lowering the means tests for these programs.

And then there are the millions to be saved in truly non-essential functions. VSNIP, the program to provide free spaying/neutering to low-income Vermonters? Capital improvement projects for historic sites that get a couple of hundred visitors a year? One of the items on the list is "Groundwater mapping – Can this be done more inexpensively by contracting for service instead of in house activities?" Hey, is there a federal mandate with funds attached? If not, let's skip groundwater mapping altogether this budget year. Same for buying conservation rights, historic preservation grants that come from the General Fund, and the new Current Use law that allows "sensitive areas" -- that could never be developed anyway -- to be enrolled.

The problem is these expenditures all have constituencies who will howl that they're essential. And once you've put a tax hike on the table, every one of them starts jockeying to get spared.

Whack them all. Leave in the funding for SSI payments for the blind and aged. And if we get to May or June, and we're still short, talk to me about a tax increase then. Until then, I'll stand behind Douglas and fiscal conservatives who say the State of Vermont should do what it's asking its citizens to do: Get by on what you've got. WE have to.
Well, Indy, ya can always make like your boy, doogie, does and pray for Obama and Congress to pull your chestnuts outta an open fire before taking credit for it, 'cause short of that, doogie will be about as popular in Vermont as Bernie Madoff at a Menorah lighting this week and deservedly so.

Happy Holidays.
VDLamoille persists in avoiding saying what taxes he will raise, how much will need to be raised, and where it will come from.

Coop-nut persists in being a blatantly dishonest partisan in blaming Douglas for this recession
But you have not given specifics as to where to make cuts. Just saying "cut Medicaid" isn't a specific plan. (plus it will end up costing the taxpayers MORE to cut Medicaid because a lot of people won't have access to healthcare - and they'll end up in the ER with a condition that could have been cured - with less cost, if caught in the early stages.)

All options for balancing the budget are up for discussion. Budget cuts, tax increases, bonding, tapping the rainy day funds. These are all things that were part of getting us out of the past 2 recessions. These are all things that were done in the Republican administration of Richard Snelling. And they worked! After the recession, the targeted tax increases were rescinded.
Under Snelling, the top income tax rate was 13.5%. It's now 9.5% -- not to mention the substantial reductions in federal taxes for those at the top.
I guarantee that the Governor & his inner circle are trying to figure how to package tax increases so that they don’t look like tax increases (like by robbing the Education fund & raising FEES – he will do both.)
So what is the specific plan? Which programs to cut? Which jobs to eliminate? Which Salaries to reduce? Which taxes & fees to increase? That all needs to be hashed out. The point is that it's all on the table right now. To rule out anything before evaluating what has worked in the past is not responsible.
Well, Captain, the beauty for doogie of raiding the Education Fund and using it for other purposes while raising taxes is that he can blame the VTNEA when property taxes go up and he still doesn't do a damned thing about roads and bridges or emergency services or anything but adding to his ministry of propaganda by hiring another flack or two to hide what an incompetent hack he is, so, as always, it's a lose-lose for Vermont and a win-win for doogie.
Ah, yes, more informed, illuminating debate:

factually-challenged fiction
criminal negligence and incompetence
shamelessly incompetent
frickin' dumb
lyin' scum
Get yourself a case and a clue
incompetent hack
incompetent hack
incompetent hack
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