by Reps. Joan Lenes
and Kate Webb
In the last of our end-of-session articles, we discuss some elements of the 2017 budget. Over the last biennium, the legislature has tackled a long-standing disconnect between the way we raise money and the way we spend it. The upward pressures on state services and programs are very real. As we address the impact of the rising cost of health care, our aging infrastructure, repairing past environmental mistakes, and continued economic fragility of many Vermonters, citizens are also asking that we do so in a way that is conscious of costs and prepares for the future. The $5.62 billion balanced budget that goes into effect July 1st sets an overall increase in state spending of 3%, includes a federal spending increase of 2.1% for an overall total budget increase of 2.4%. Sources of funding can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/jsaul8f.
The expansion of Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act means that one-third of Vermonters are now included. Although 90% of the costs associated with this expansion are borne by the federal government, Vermont is responsible for the remaining 10%, the expense of higher caseloads, and other contractual obligations. This year’s budget assures that those costs are covered so that patients and providers aren’t left susceptible to greater risk.
Vermont’s opioid abuse crisis and slow recovery from the Great Recession strained our child protection system nearly to the point of breaking. The “belt-tightening” that took place beginning in 2008 resulted in cuts to over 200 agency jobs and millions of dollars in program and service support for children and families in crisis. This biennium, the legislature took steps to safeguard funding for child protection services, access to legal and judicial services and direct resources for children and families.
55% of our total transportation funding of approximately $593 million comes from federal funds. Although this is down from last year by about $18 million, the legacy Jeffords’ earmarks allow Vermont to receive a little more than our share of national funding when compared to larger states. For many years, Vermonters have asked for increased access to public transportation. Combining a recent federal grant of $10 million with $16 million in state and federal related funds will help to complete the long anticipated Western Rail Corridor. This will fund vital track upgrades between Rutland and Burlington, ultimately clearing the way for the long anticipated extension of services from New York City to Burlington.
This year the legislature increased funds to support economic development in the upcoming fiscal year. An additional $25 million appropriation to Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA), our statewide economic development finance lender, will allow more Vermont entrepreneurs, manufacturers, small business and agricultural enterprises access to business loans. Their single loan size will also increase from $2 million to $5 million.
These are but a few places our state and federal tax dollars will go in 2017. We believe this year’s budget looks responsibly to the future by not using any one-time funding for ongoing needs. It fills our stabilization reserves to their required level, honors our contractual agreements with state workers and sets a contingency for future needs.