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



Making money decisions

Three House committees wrap up work on the bills that state government needs to operate after July 1 – the budget bill, the transportation budget bill and the capital project bill.

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Martha Heath, D-Westford, seemed confident Monday that her committee would recommend a budget that addressed the $150 million shortfall without decimating state services.

Heath gave the House Ways and Means Committee a sketch of the budget late last week. Here are some highlights about how the committee closes the gap:

*$15 million from changes in teacher retirement

*$38 million from structural changes through Challenges for Change process

*$9.2 million from changes in employee contract

*$20 million in redirected use of revenues proposed by Douglas administration

*$15 million carried forward in Medicaid

*$8 million anticipated from recertification of state psychiatric hospital

*$7 million in expected additional revenue from hospital provider tax

*$19 million in other changes that include $1 million from restructuring courts and $13.3 million from payments the state won’t have to make to Medicare

*and $10 million in cuts in human services.

That would leave about $9 million still to find. “We believe we will,” Heath said Monday.

Transportation Committee Chairman Patrick Brennan, R-Colchester, also reported being close to finished with the transportation project budget.

The committee had one recent surprise, he noted Monday. The panel found out it would have $3.5 million less than expected because the Appropriations Committee wasn’t going along with as big a reduction in the amount of transportation taxes supporting the Department of Public Safety as the Douglas administration recommended.

Brennan said the committee has found a potential solution – toll credits. Because the Lake Champlain Ferry is having a new boat built, there will be toll credits available that the state can use as its match for federal transportation dollars. The toll credits free up the state dollars needed to cover the public safety expenses the panel hadn’t counted on.

“I think everybody is OK with that,” Brennan said.

The Capital bill -- detailing how the state would spend $71.8 million in borrowed money -- could be voted out of committee on Wednesday, according to House Institutions Chairwoman Alice Emmons, D-Springfield.

Emmons said one of the expenses the bill will start to cover is the need for investments in rehabilitating the state office complex. The need is extensive, she said, noting there are code issues and roof problems.

The bill also provides $6.9 million to put toward the cost of the new state office building in Bennington. That, added to $8 million set aside last year, is enough to get the construction underway, Emmons said.

-- Nancy Remsen

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Why is the state holding onto rainy day funds?

It is time to use them.
If you think it is raining now, wait until next year.
How much money did VTrans save in its budget by not having to salt and sand nearly as much as usual this winter? And not having to pay as much overtime to drivers? Maybe the legislators can move some money out of VTrans to help the budget?
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