By Rep. Kate Webb
Last week brought a flurry of activity to the Statehouse as committees wrestled to complete policy work to either send to the full House for debate, or on to the two money committees for review of potential impacts on spending or revenue.
The recent news from Washington certainly cast a pall across Montpelier. Last year, Vermont’s budget was balanced using around $2 billion in federal funds to cover approximately 35% of the total state budget. These federal funds have historically been used to support a broad array of programs and services across the state including affordable housing, home heating assistance, and expanded health coverage that brought our uninsured rate to record lows.
Grants to municipalities to maintain safe drinking water and wastewater disposal would see drastic cuts, as would funding to manage the stormwater carrying pollution to Lake Champlain and other waterways. Also on the list are cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and elimination of Century-21 grants that build successful afterschool and summer programs for children.
Although the federal budget proposal is anticipated to change as it moves through Congress, the governor and legislature remain mindful that federal funds will be reduced. Neither our limited state reserves nor our taxing capacity come close to making up the proposed difference. Reduction in programs is inevitable.
The challenge in determining where to make cuts rests in knowing how these cuts will impact our state and our citizens, now and in the future. The various state agencies hold extensive information on how funding changes affect state and local programs and goals, and these are typically clarified for the legislature through testimony.
At the end of last week, however, the governor restricted access to agency heads, making it difficult to ascertain what the true impact of a specific cut would mean. The Senate will next control the budget process and perhaps have more time to gather this necessary information.
Because the final federal budget goes into effect four to five months after the Vermont legislature adjourns, the Vermont budget must be built on best estimates for federal support. We are fortunate to have Senators Leahy and Sanders on key budget committees and will stay in touch with them as the budget moves through the process.
Representative Brumsted and I will be in the Pierson Library from 6 to 7pm on Tuesday, March 28 to discuss issues of interest. We will notify the library if we need to cancel should the orders of the day be incomplete and we need to remain in Montpelier. Over the next two weeks, we will report on bills that are voted out of the House and sent to the Senate. I am available to meet by appointment in Montpelier from Tuesday to Friday and in Shelburne Saturday to Monday. I can be reached by email or cell phone at email@example.com or 802-233-7798.