By Don Turner
Last week, Montpelier turned the page after an eight-year spell of overspending and financial irresponsibility. Since 2009, the House Republican Caucus has advocated for an annual budget that does not raise taxes or fees, balances overall spending with revenue growth, and promotes economic vitality in Vermont. We are proud to support a budget that will finally bend the curve on our state’s overspending crisis.
Governor Phil Scott has said that his election last November was a mandate on affordability, and a direct response to the unchecked spending under the previous administration. His vision and leadership, along with the efforts of Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee, played an instrumental role in delivering much-needed change. By closing a $70 million gap in the $5.8 billion budget without raising taxes or fees, the 2018 fiscal year budget represents an important first step toward securing a more promising future for all Vermonters.
House Republicans support the FY 2018 budget because its fundamental framework is fiscally sound. It increases spending at a rate of less than 2 percent, while the projected revenue growth remains under 3 percent. Further, the budget does not rely on one-time funding for base budget needs, and raises revenue from tax compliance strategies instead of creating new taxes or fees or increasing existing ones. The budget also accepts significant savings proposed in Gov. Scott’s budget ($4.5 million in administrative savings), and includes additional savings such as reductions to the Legislative Branch, Sargent at Arms Office, and Legislative Council. In fact, these cost-cutting measures will serve to improve the efficiency of state government operations.
The improved structural integrity of this budget calls for much celebration. However, we should not forget that a one-year budget cannot and will not fix the overspending trend that has plagued Vermont for the past several years. Therefore, it is essential that lawmakers consider this budget as a springboard for long-term changes in our socioeconomic policies. For this reason, House Republicans introduced a budget amendment to address a number of our Caucus’ long-standing priorities related to affordability and economic revival in Vermont.
The amendment moved to close the Windsor prison (a recommendation included in Gov. Scott’s budget), and invest the proceeds toward retaining and expanding the state’s workforce population. For example, these savings would fund early education, measures to better the business climate such as job training, scholarship programs for Vermont National Guard members, and improved housing for the middle class without negatively impacting the most vulnerable Vermonters. We look forward to working with the Senate as it considers the bill, as well as continued collaboration with the Governor’s office, to ensure that the budget supports initiatives aimed at economic development and prosperity.
If state legislators are serious about turning Vermont’s poor economic outlook around, then we must adopt a fiscally responsible approach to public economics henceforth. I conclude with the hope that the 2018 budget marks the beginning of an enduring partnership between Majority Democrats and House Republicans – one that is committed to making difficult, but necessary, decisions that curb state spending and establish a more affordable and economically vibrant Vermont.
Rep. Don Turner (Milton) is the House Republican Leader.