State budget deficit: How deep should cuts be?
BRISTOL — Citizens who attended the weekly Legislative Breakfast on Monday heard from lawmakers about their struggle with the fiscal year 2016 general fund budget, which is facing a projected $112 million revenue shortfall.
Among the proposed cuts under consideration to shore up the budget are two of the Vermont Department of Public Safety’s four Public Service Answering Points (PSAPs) — better known as E-911 dispatching centers — in Derby and Rutland.
Lincoln resident Mary Harrison said the Vermont State Firefighters Association, among others, is concerned the closing of the two dispatching centers could compromise public safety, in terms of police response time to emergency calls.
“We’re concerned that the public is going to be put in jeopardy if they close those PSAPs,” Harrison said.
Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, acknowledged concerns about the potential closing of the dispatch centers, featured on a lengthy list of cuts currently being evaluated by the House Appropriations Committee. Gov. Peter Shumlin has suggested laying off as many as 400 state workers barring some concessions from the state employees’ union.
“Those cuts are extraordinarily difficult and painful,” Sharpe said. “Anybody who thinks there’s a whole lot of waste in government and you can just cut a few spots and you’re fine, has to take a second look when you look at that list.”
Addison resident Paul Boivin said it is time for the state to make some deep cuts that will have a long-term impact. He said Vermont could trim its school bureaucracy, which he argued is too top-heavy with administrators — particularly with superintendents making in excess of $100,000 annually.
“Are we running into a problem with too many chiefs and not enough Indians?” Boivin said.
“This state is in a very serious situation — I call it bankrupt,” he added. “You keep on raising taxes. If we don’t do some serious cutting … we may end up looking like Detroit before we get done.”
Sharpe noted the committee that he chairs — the House Education Committee — recently passed out H.361, a bill that would dissolve supervisory unions and create larger school districts, each with a single budget and governing board. That measure, he believes, would encourage more shared resources among schools and the need for fewer administrators.
Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, said he believes the House Appropriations Committee is tackling the budget crisis in a reasonable way.
“Their approach is one I heartily agree with — to solve this dilemma over a series of years,” Baser said. “What they are doing now is trying to look for savings in programs, savings that will be ongoing in nature.”
One-time cuts will also likely be needed, according to Baser, a member of the House Commerce and Economic Development Committee.
He stressed the Legislature should not ask Vermonters to solve the current financial mess with increased taxes.
“I don’t feel it’s appropriate to go to the taxpayers with a problem that was a creation of the people who are under the Golden Dome,” Baser said. “It’s clear to me that the reason we have a shortfall is because of poor money management and decisions that were made in the past, not because of some catastrophic thing that occurred or conditions beyond legislators’ control.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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