MONTPELIER – Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin’s budget address Thursday drew both praise and criticism from lawmakers on the other side of the aisle.
Republican legislators praised initiatives that they claimed to be their own, while continuing to hammer Shumlin on the budget and the nearly $100 million shortfall.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, took issue with raising the payroll tax as a method to leverage more money for Medicaid.
“We’re in a really tough budget year. Everybody knows that, so when you hear a budget that is still relying on federal money, is still relying on another tax, that becomes problematic to me,” Benning said. “We have got to get out of the habit of trying to raise our own money to leverage federal dollars because it’s a never-ending circle and we just keeping coming back to having to repair the budget. We are doing, as I’ve said before, too much for too many for too long with too little, and we’ve got to get out of that habit if we’re ever going to get this budget under control.”
House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, slammed Shumlin’s handling of state finances for the entirety of his tenure as governor.
“First, Vermonters need to understand that these annual budget gaps have been self-inflicted by the Democrats. Our caucus and everyone else familiar with sustainable and responsible spending have been predicting this, year after year,” Turner said. “The reckless financial mismanagement by the Shumlin administration and large Democratic majorities in the legislature is reflected by the growth of the annual budget gap, which has grown from just over $20 million in his first year to just under $100 million this year.”
Rep. Kurt Wright, R-Burlington, praised the governor’s proposal to eliminate the ability of the state’s K-12 teachers to go on strike.
“I’m particularly pleased about the governor’s education agenda. Many of his proposals mirror those on the Republican side,” Wright said. “For example, I have long championed banning teacher strikes and collective bargaining reform that would eliminate a school board’s ability to impose finality and replace it with a binding arbitration system.”
Overall, Wright said he was “pleased with the tone, that we need to act and we need to act now because I know there are those in the building here that will be obstacles to true, serious reform. Some will be organizations. Others might be legislators.”
Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, complained the budget address was lacking in fiscal details.
“I had been hoping to call my constituents back in Bridgewater, Chittenden, Killington and Mendon and report back to them with some hard numbers that the governor had given us today. I’ll give you one: this year, we’re projected to spending $70 million just to service our debt,” Tate said. “It still feels, as a freshman legislator, that we’re driving in the rain without the wipers on. The governor had the ability to clear the windshield for all of us, but instead it was long on vision and short on sight.”
Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland, took issue with Shumlin’s rosy description of job creation in the state.
“When I hear about job growth, none of it is in Rutland,” Flory said. “We’ve consistently lost jobs.”
Flory did praise Shumlin’s proposal to raise Medicaid reimbursement rates, saying “In Rutland, getting the Medicaid reimbursement up is good because we have a large number of Rutland people on Medicaid.”
Flory also welcomed news that Shumlin is not proposing any budget cuts to the Department for Children and Families.
“I did really like his comments on DCF,” Flory said. “That’s something that, when we finally come up with what needs to happen, it will be funded. For me, one of the legitimate purposes of government is to protect its citizens, and nobody is worth protecting more than kids.”