The Vermont Legislature's six budget negotiators sat across the table this afternoon trading questions and essentially treading
water. Why? They are waiting for the "parameters" for budget cutting
to be sketched out by House Speaker Shap
Smith, Senate President Pro Tempore
and Gov. Jim Douglas.
"Until we have that box we really can't do much," Sen. Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille
said to her two Senate colleagues and three House counterparts.
But she had a message -- more for the audience than the other negotiators. "We know, no matter what the parameters are, we going to have to make some significant
reductions." She continued, "I tell everyone there is nothing sacred or safe."
The negotiators have already suggested they won't tap the rainy day funds to make up for $14.6 million in revenue projected to evaporate by June 30 and $43 million that won't come in as earlier projected next year.
Speaking of the budget, House Republicans called a news conference to chastise Democrats for failing to get busy sooner on budget belt-tightening. House Republican Leader Patti Komline
, R-Dorset, said, "Since before this session began, House Republicans have been calling for significant
structural changes in state government in an effort to make it leaner and more efficient."
The announcement about the news conference said House Republicans would unveil a plan to tackle the short and long-term state budget crisis. The plan was pretty general -- keep services for the state's most vulnerable and make cuts to non-essential services. Long-term, develop a plan to restructure government and cap school spending next year.
When asked for specifics -- ideas that might help the budget negotiators come up with $43 million in savings next year and $14.6 million in the current budget -- House Republicans suggested cutting conservation funding ($4 million), and a new welfare program called Reach Ahead (less than $1 million) and cultural support (over $1 million)
They brought out a "master list of reduction ideas" assembled last December, plus a proposal Assistant House Republican Leader Pat McDonald, R-Berlin, developed in early January. McDonald said these were ideas to explore, not ideas the caucus endorsed.
Since House Republicans didn't have the solution in hand, what were they trying to do?
"We are hoping to inspire them (Democratic leadership, since Democrats have majorities in both the House and Senate) to become a lot bolder," Komline
said. And, she stressed, look first at cuts before considering raising taxes or fees.
Bartlett warns of big cuts.Komline
calls for bold cuts.
Advocates have got to be worried that "big" plus "bold" spells bad news for their funding priorities.
-- Nancy Remsen