Lawmakers briefed Monday on how the Douglas administration plans to save $38 million using a new budget strategy predict much hand wringing today when the rest of the Legislature and special interest groups see the document.
Monday’s briefings – working sessions, according to the administration -- weren’t open to the public.
“People will look at this and see big heartburn,” said Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett, D-Lamoille, after her briefing. She noted, however, that lawmakers would have a say whether the administration’s proposals go forward.
Under a bill passed earlier in the session, the Legislature agreed that the Douglas administration would address one portion of next year’s $150 million revenue shortfall using a new budgeting technique. The Legislature set a total savings target, $38 million, and listed the outcomes it wanted achieved in selected areas of government operation. It left to the executive branch the task of figuring out how to achieve the outcomes and the savings.
The report that will be unveiled at noon today in a hearing in the House chamber represents the administration’s first response to the challenge, “but there is not going to be a detailed list that adds up to $38 million,” said Tom Evslin, the administration’s point man for the project.
The plan also includes law and rule changes the Legislature would need to make before adjourning should lawmakers agree to the administration’s proposals and suggested measures of outcomes.
Evslin said of the report, “There are certainly going to be things that are controversial. There will be lots of topics for heated discussion.”
Evslin said there are five themes that recur: Improved integration of programs and services; increased use of technology to improve efficiency and access; more personal attention from professionals when appropriate; creation of “paths to independence” to wean people from services; and performance incentives for vendors and groups that receive grants.
“There were some interesting ideas, some of which would be pretty challenging” said House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown, without elaborating. He expects House committees to begin vetting the proposals immediately. They have less than two weeks to refine proposals or offer alternatives that would produce both the required outcomes and needed savings.
The challenge strategy doesn’t ask state managers and staff if they can save $38 million. They have to – the money isn’t available to spend. The challenge is to take the money that is available and figure out how to deliver the same or better service.
“There is going to be plenty in here to criticize,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Peter Shumlin, D-Windham. “It is incumbent on us to find new approaches in area where we have concerns.”
For example, one challenge concerns economic development. Bartlett said Monday she didn’t like the administration’s recommendations. “There are other ways to reach the results.”
The “challenges for change” law directed the Douglas administration to redesign the state’s economic development initiatives to focus on spending that gets measurable results. The law suggested potential savings of $3.4 million, but allowed for $400,000 to be spent on planning and development of measurement infrastructure.
Julie Tessler, executive director of the Vermont Council of Developmental and Mental Health, said her group is wary of ideas affecting human services that it heard about during discussions state officials had earlier this month with developmental and mental health providers.
“There are ideas on the table that have potential, but they are going to take time to analyze and work through,” Tessler said. She worried Monday that big changes were on a fast track that could jeopardize the health and well being of vulnerable Vermonters.
“The Vermont Council does not want to obstruct the process,” Tessler said. Slow it down – absolutely.
-- Nancy Remsen
Labels: vermont politics; state budget