Report from Montpelier

By Joan Lenes

The governor will deliver his budget this week. The executive branch develops this budget with input and design from all the secretaries and commissioners of each department. It is then our job to examine it, take testimony, and develop our version of the budget based on what we know, learn, and believe are important priorities. Actually, the only thing that the legislature must accomplished in a legislative session it to pass a budget. We are not, under law, required to pass a balanced budget but Vermont believes that is the right thing to do for Vermonters and always puts a balanced budget forward.

During these first few weeks of the session, the Appropriations Committee has been working on the Budget Adjustment Act (BAA) that is completed before they begin work on the new fiscal year’s budget. The BAA is a mid-year adjustment of the budget we adopted in the preceding year. After six months of the fiscal year, it is not uncommon to need to make changes in budgets because of normal operating adjustments that any organization experiences. In addition, the need for some of the state government’s services are hard to predict – either because of emergencies, such as Tropical Storm Irene, or unanticipated events like an increase in demands for services.

You can look at the documents that House Appropriations is basing their work from on the committee’s as well as Joint Fiscal Office’s websites.

Some of the budget adjustment numbers are coming from savings from retirements and open positions that have not been filled. The state also achieved, and in some instances exceeded, the projected target of statewide efficiency savings.

An area we are grabbling with is called the “53rd week.” This occurs every few years. What this means is this FY16 year cycle has 53 weeks of Medicaid payments instead of the normal 52-week cycle. The amount necessary for payment in this extra week is $10.3 million.

In addition, the legislature is considering a proposal to convert 11 temporary positions to permanent ones and create an additional 24 positions to meet the urgent need to provide enough social workers and support staff in the Department of Children and Families. The need for these positions is associated with the increase in numbers of children taken into state custody due, in large part, the substance abuse situation we are facing in our state and nationwide.

The Appropriations Committee is delving very thoroughly into the work before them. They are the “money” committee but they are asking the policy committees to give them input. It is here, in policy committees, that programs are analyzed and assessed for the quality of their outcomes. We all work hand in hand to make sure we are offering Vermonters the best services in the most efficient manner. This is not an easy task but I believe it is an approach we must take.

Please join me on Tuesday mornings at Bruegger’s Bagels from 7:30am to 8:30am. Feel free to stop by with concerns, questions or great ideas. Also, I can be reached at jlenes@leg.state.vt.us or (802) 999-9363. A message can be left for me at the Sergeant at Arms office (800) 322-5616. It is important for me to hear from you.

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