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.