In the earliest budget address in a decade, Gov. Peter Shumlin today will outline a $5.1 billion spending plan that increases overall spending by more than 5 percent over last year without raising any broad-based taxes.
Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding said during a press briefing earlier this morning that the budget “finishes the job of Irene and makes strategic investments in our economic future.”
The transportation budget, up by 7.5 percent over last year thanks to additional aid from the federal government, will include more than $4 million in aid to towns and cities whose roads suffered severe damage in the late-August floods.
“For communities especially hard hit by Irene, we a proposing an expansion of the state match in the federal highway aid program,” Spaulding said, noting that the state will also pick up full freight of the cost to repair some town roads.
The governor will also dedicate about $2 million of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board’s $13.6 million budget to “flood mitigation.” That essentially means VHCB will buy out the homes and properties of people who lost their assets in Irene.
An unexpected windfall in the estate tax will fund an $8 million plan for “innovation” in higher education, including $4 million for the University of Vermont and $4 million for state colleges.
The money will in part fund a continuing education program for older Vermonters interested in developing the math, science and tech skills needed for a career change
Though general-fund spending is up by more than 5 percent, or $65 million, Reardon says that more than $20 million of that is needed to offset lost federal revenue, meaning the increase is “really only like a 3 percent increase.”
Spaulding said the administration has ensured full funding for existing human-services programs, but drew a line in the sand when it comes to starting new initiatives.
For that reason, he says, the administration has proposed eliminating a new mandate that would require the state to fund services for children with autism. Scrapping the new mandate, expected to cost about $10 million annually, helped the state balance the budget without raising taxes, Spaulding said.
“The governor’s budget tries to balance the appetite for spending on untold needs and Vermonters’ ability to pay for them,” he said.
Spaulding said the administration will catch flack from two sides – those who say the 5 percent increase is too much, and those who believe the state should raise taxes to pay for things like the autism mandate.
Save for a 0.1-percent increase in the hospital provider tax – a surcharge Spaulding said won’t impact their bottom lines (it’s being used, he said, to draw down federal funds – the administration’s spending plan doesn’t raise a dime in new taxes, officials said.
The budget does rely on a “fee bill” that will increase revenues from fees at places like the Agency of Transportation and Agency of Natural Resources by $11 million annually.
Spaulding said those are regularly scheduled increases designed to keep pace with the cost of providing services.
House Republicans will offer a critique of the plan at a press conference later this afternoon.