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Vt. lawmakers to address big budget shortfall - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers to address big budget shortfall

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

It's quiet at Vermont capitol Tuesday, as a few scattered voices echo through the nearly-empty halls. By Wednesday morning, the building will be teeming as the year's legislative session opens.

"We have a lot of challenges ahead of us right now and the only way we're going to accomplish them in a way that's fitting for Vermont is if we do it together," said Sen. John Campbell, D-Vt. President Pro Tem.

This year lawmakers are expected to wrangle with social issues from death with dignity/physician-assisted suicide to marijuana decriminalization, but say they can't allow side issues to distract from putting together the next state budget, one projected to come up $50 million-$70 million short.

"First thing, of course, is the budget," Campbell said.

The House Appropriations Committee began work patching a nearly $4 million gap in the current budget passed last year. That requires only minor moves, but Finance and Management Commissioner Jim Reardon foresees drastic changes if a funding crisis is to be averted in the upcoming budget:

Debt payments are rising, as are worker wages

Human service needs are expected to keep ballooning unless addressed

And more money must be transferred from the general fund to the education fund.

In previous years, the legislative bodies have relied on one-time federal dollars in order to balance the book; however experts say that well is running dry.

"We will balance it without raising broad-based taxes," Reardon said.

Reardon says more detail can't be revealed until after the governor's Jan. 24 budget address. But he says they're relying on better tax revenue and cuts-- though where he can't say-- in order to balance an even bigger budget.

The Vt. Transportation Agency is also looking at a $150 million shortfall in the coming budget. Reardon says there's no way to cover all of that, but smart action can get the state on the right path to address that growing deficit.

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