Budget

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Lawmakers pass budget bills

MONTPELIER — Lawmakers burned the midnight oil to pass budget bills and ultimately adjourn for the 2016 Legislative Session. Members of the House and the Senate worked late into Friday night to approve a budget for fiscal year 2017 that amounts to an overall increase of 2.4 percent. Lawmakers approved a spending appropriation of $2.46 billion in state funds, including spending for the General Fund, transportation and other special funds. The appropriation amounts to an increase of 3 percent when compared with current spending. Annual growth for the spending appropriation has averaged 3.9 percent over the past five years. Continue Reading →

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VSEA, Democratic candidates call for funding labor contract

Vermont State Employees Association Executive Director Steve Howard calls for lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract at a State House news conference. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The Vermont State Employees Association and the three Democratic candidates for governor are calling on lawmakers to fully fund a new labor contract for state workers recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board, but Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin says it is too costly. The VSEA and the candidates — Matt Dunne, Sue Minter and Peter Galbraith — held a State House news conference Wednesday calling on the Legislature to include a 2 percent salary increase for state workers in the 2017 fiscal year state budget and a 2.25 percent increase in the 2018 fiscal year budget. That increase was recommended by the Vermont Labor Relations Board Tuesday in a 3 to 2 split decision over the Shumlin administration’s proposal for a 1 percent increase in 2017 and a 1.25 percent increase in 2018. VSEA President Dave Bellini said Wednesday the union has been seeking a fair contract through collective bargaining since last August that respects state employees. “You show respect and support by putting your money where your mouth is — funding our contracts, our retirements, making investments in safety for the hardworking Vermonters who are state employees,” he said. Continue Reading →

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House votes to fund review of exchange

VTHealthConnect

MONTPELIER — The Vermont House overwhelmingly voted to fund an independent review of Vermont Health Connect Wednesday, appeasing minority Republicans who have been clamoring for an in depth study to help determine the future of the online insurance marketplace. By a vote of 136 to 5, the House approved an amendment to an unrelated housing bill that appropriates $400,000 for the review. The House Appropriations Committee included language in the 2017 fiscal year state budget it has already passed calling for the study, but did not include funding — angering some Republicans. House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, and House Health Care Committee Chairman Bill Lippert, D-Hinesburg, promised to find the funding. Johnson told her colleagues Wednesday that the promise was kept. Continue Reading →

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House Appropriations passes budget with a 2.6 percent increase

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, right, confers with Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville, center. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee voted to advance a 2017 fiscal year state budget Monday on a 10 to 1 vote that will hit the House floor later this week. According to the Legislature’s Joint Fiscal Office, general fund spending under the committee-passed budget is set to rise by nearly $58.88 million, or 4 percent, from $1.48 billion to $1.54. The total budget is set to rise by about $144 million, or 2.6 percent, from $5.63 billion to $5.77 billion. That includes an increase in federal funds of about 2.2 percent, rising to $2.04 billion. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said the committee has made gains with structural problems in the state budget that critics have complained about for years. Continue Reading →

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Child care, disabled services and after-school activities top budget hearing

MONTPELIER — Advocates for child care, after-school activities and the disabled called for greater funding for their causes during a hearing Thursday night at the State House. Perhaps it was due to the regional public forums happening next week, but Thursday’s hearing before the House Appropriations Committee drew a modest turnout. But, those people who did show up offered passionate testimony on behalf of their issues. Currently, the committee is reviewing the proposed budget from the Shumlin Administration for FY 2017, which includes a 3.1-percent increase compared with the current fiscal year, taking into account mid-year adjustments. According to Gov. Peter Shumlin, the proposed budget increase matches projected revenues. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin scraps Medicaid change after one day

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MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin said Friday he will scrap a $4.9 million budget-savings initiative he proposed just one day earlier that would have changed Medicaid eligibility requirements for pregnant women. Shumlin, who delivered his final budget address to the Legislature Thursday, had planed to raise the income level at which pregnant women qualify for the Medicaid from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 213 percent. That equates to about $16,000 and $25,000, respectively. Women who no longer qualified for Medicaid under the governor’s proposal would have been eligible for subsidized health plans on Vermont Health Connect, the state’s online health insurance marketplace. A change in state law would be required, however, to allow pregnant women to enroll in a health plan outside of the open enrollment period. Continue Reading →

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Story & Video: Lawmakers divided over budget address

Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo
House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, gives his response to Gov. Peter Shumlin's final budget address on Thursday in Montpelier.

MONTPELIER — Depending upon whom you ask, the proposals offered by Gov. Peter Shumlin during his final budget address are either steps to improve Medicaid and educational opportunities for children, or yet-another call for new taxes. Shumlin offered a number of ideas as he rolled out his final budget, such as new taxes for doctors and dentists to make up for the Medicaid funding shortfall, and and increased fees for mutual funds to offer savings accounts for every child born in Vermont. Sen. Majority leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, compared the speech to a host offering prizes on a game show. “I don’t think it should be anybody’s prerogative to stand at the podium like Bob Barker on ‘The Price is Right,’” said Benning, who took issue with the governor’s statement that last year’s rejection of an increase in the payroll tax resulted in federal matching funds being left on the table in Washington. “We have a wicked opiate problem in this state, and this legislature has a wicked addiction of its own, and that’s its enslavement to federal funding,” Benning said. Continue Reading →

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Shumlin seeks 3.1 percent boost in FY2017 budget, expansion of provider assessment

Gov. Peter Shumlin delivers the final budget address of his governorship inside the House chamber. (Times Argus/Jeb Wallace-Brodeur)

MONTPELIER — Gov. Peter Shumlin is looking to address a deficit in the state’s Medicaid program by expanding a tax on health care providers in the $1.537 billion 2017 fiscal year budget proposal he revealed Thursday. Shumlin, a Democrat who is not seeking re-election, delivered the final budget proposal of his tenure to lawmakers Thursday. His proposal, outlined in his 30-minute address inside the House Chamber, would boost spending by 3.1 percent over the current fiscal year — after mid-year adjustments are put in place. Shumlin touted his budget as responsible and necessary, noting he closed a projected $68 million gap between anticipated revenues and spending without the use of one-time funding for ongoing expenses for the first time since before the Great Recession. The 3.1 percent spending increase matches projected revenues, he said. Continue Reading →

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Budget adjustment goes to the House floor

House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson speaks to the committee about the annual budget adjustment bill. (VPB/Neal Goswami)

MONTPELIER — The House Appropriations Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to advance the annual mid-year budget adjustment bill after settling on how to appropriate the final $450,000 in available revenue in a give-and-take between members. The adjustment to the current 2016 fiscal year budget addresses about $85 million in needs. The majority of that — $52.6 million — is in the state’s Medicaid program. The budget adjustment covers the state’s $22.9 million share of the Medicaid gap. “We’re funding the Medicaid caseload,” Chairwoman Mitzi Johnson, D-South Hero, said. Continue Reading →

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State officials not banking on windfall from Keurig sale

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MONTPELIER — The pending sale of Keurig Green Mountain is set to make a number of shareholders wealthy, but it also could deliver a significant windfall to the state’s coffers through the collection of capital gains taxes. The acquisition of Keurig, the Waterbury-based coffee giant, by JAB Holding Co. was announced in December, but is expected to close some time in the first quarter of 2016. The $13.9 billion transaction is an all cash deal and will pay shareholders $92 per share. Generally speaking, anyone earning income through a capital gain can exempt the first $5,000 in earnings, according to Tax Commissioner Mary Peterson. Continue Reading →

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