In face of “big challenges,” Shumlin offers “bold action”

In the face of “big challenges” that he says will “require more tough choices and restraint,” Gov. Peter Shumlin on Thursday unveiled a $5.34 billion budget that “matches Montpelier’s appetite for spending with Vermonters’ ability to pay.”

The proposal represents a 3.69 percent increase over current year spending and, according to Shumlin, closes a $67 million general fund shortfall without raising broad-based taxes.

That doesn’t mean the second-term Democrat isn’t looking for revenue increases. He funds a $17 million initiative to fund thermal efficiency programs and renewable energy subsidies by imposing a 10-percent tax on “tear off” tickets – a largely unregulated lotto industry most commonly found inside private organizations like the Elks Club and American Legion.

Shumlin also wants to raise an additional $30 million to $35 million in new revenue for the state’s ailing transportation fund. Without the new money, Shumlin says, the state risks losing out on as much as $40 million in federal transportation revenue.

Shumlin, however, hasn;t said how he aims to raise that money. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says Shumlin wants to work with the Legislature to come up with a mutually agreeable plan.

Spaulding said a gas tax “isn’t off the table.”

Shumlin today reiterated his call to fund $17 million in new childcare subsidies by reducing by two-thirds a state earned income tax credit that currently eases the tax burden on working class Vermonters.   The plan, which would hit about 45,000 tax filers, has drawn scathing criticism from Democratic lawmakers.

Shumlin however said “we have to ask ourselves: Is a once a year check from the state … the best help we can offer to lower-incomer Vermonters who are struggling to stay in the workforce? … Our answer is: no.”

Shumlin today also introduced a welfare reform proposal will limit the amount of time unemployed Vermonters can stay on a program known as “Reach Up.” Unemployed Vermonters will be able to spend no moire than five years on welfare – and no more than three years consecutively. The proposal will save about $5 million annually, though Spaulding said the decision was motivated more by policy considerations than financial ones.

“Benefits for Vermonters who are able to work must be temporary, not timeless,” Shumlin said. It is long past time for Vermont to reform our welfare system from one that discourages work to one that makes prosperity achievable for all Vermont families, including those living in poverty.”

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