Local News
March 23, 2016

Panel approves $5.77 billion budget

By Elizabeth Hewitt, VTDigger.org

After nearly three months of work, the House Appropriations Committee voted out a budget bill for fiscal year 2017 Monday, March 21.

The committee passed the package on a vote of 10 to 1.

Rep. Marty Feltus, R-Lyndonville, the lone dissenter, said, “We each look at it the way we think is best for the citizens of Vermont.”

The total general fund appropriation under the House proposal is $1.54 billion, slightly higher than the governor’s recommendation. The Shumlin administration and the Joint Fiscal Office say the growth rate is 4 percent, based on mid-year budget adjustment figures. Last year’s budget, as passed by the Legislature and approved by the governor, was $1.47 billion and the growth rate based on that figure is 4.8 percent.

Including all funds, the budget is $5.77 billion, an increase of 2.5 percent over the fiscal year 2016 budget after it was adjusted earlier this session.

For Rep. Robert Helm, R-Fair Haven, that is the right number.

“That was in the area that I thought we needed to be,” Helm said after the vote.

Helm lauded the bipartisan work on the committee and said he supports it because he feels the panel was “effective” at making some reductions in spending.

But Helm does not plan to support the revenue package when the time comes to vote on the floor.

“I just don’t want to vote for more costs for my constituents out there,” Helm said.

Rep. Mitzi Johnson, D-Grand Isle, the chair of the committee, said that the Appropriations members put together the budget by drawing on recommendations from policy committees.

“Every committee got some of their top priorities,” Johnson said.

The committee worked to “hammer out” some of the proposals in Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget that “raised people’s blood pressure,” Johnson said, citing the removal of the proposal to change the procedure for medicating psychiatric patients against their will.

The final bill also includes increases for areas of state government that have been level funded for some time, Johnson said. She pointed to increases in the state appropriation for state colleges and a 2 percent cost of living increase for the designated agency network that provides mental health and developmental services throughout the state.

After the vote, Johnson thanked the committee for their work “combing” through the budget pages and coordinating with other committees.

Rep. Peter Fagan, R-Rutland, said that he thinks the budget is a positive step.

“We continue to bring down our spending such that we are closer in line with the revenues that the state of Vermont gives us,” Fagan said.

Fagan supports the budget in part because he says the committee removed new initiatives, “because we are not doing a good job funding current initiatives.”

Fagan was a strong proponent of a $3.2 million increase in the appropriation for the designated agency system. Asked if he expects support for the budget from his fellow party members, Fagan said he doubts it, “but that’s OK with me.”

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