Vt. lawmakers hear of tight budgets to come - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. lawmakers hear of tight budgets to come

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"We have some major challenges ahead of us," Vt. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding told lawmakers in Montpelier Wednesday.

The biggest challenge for lawmakers? The budget. There is a projected gap of $70 million.

"I want to come in in January and hit the ground running," said Rep. Shap Smith, D-Vt. House Speaker.

Smith organized this briefing. He says money will dominate the session, from property taxes to pension shortfalls to health care costs. He did not give specifics about where to cut or taxes, but says lawmakers need to think creatively.

"I think we'll have a $60 million to $70 million-dollar gap that's based on growing spending and growing revenues, but not fast enough," Smith said.

Lawmakers learned from the state economist taxes are close to targeted numbers, but they should not count on those tax dollars growing. There is no rescue coming to fix the budget.

"I'm glad I'm not on the Appropriations Committee, they have a difficult job ahead of them this year," said Rep. Tom Koch, R/D-Barre Town.

Republican lawmakers say the answer is not more taxes. Some want Democrats who firmly control the Legislature to re-look at programs and tighten requirements.

"Spending is out of control because that's what we're talking about today-- how do we get it under control?" Koch said.

Something Vermont can't control-- spending decisions in Washington. Programs like heating fuel assistance, food stamps and temporary housing are being cut on the federal level. The Shumlin administration says fewer federal dollars coming in will put pressure on the state budget. Also there are questions about federal funding as a new budget is worked out in Washington, D.C.

"We don't know what's going to happen with the budget agreement and that will affect what happens at the state level," Smith said.

"A lot of our economic prospects have as much to do with what happens outside of the borders of Vermont than what happens inside the borders of Vermont," Spaulding said.

A financial snapshot now-- a clearer picture is expected in January.

There's a $13.5-million budget adjustment this year. Things like higher rent for Agency of Natural Resources workers who were spread out after Tropical Storm Irene, paying sheriffs to monitor mentally ill patients in hospital emergency rooms and a growing number of pre-trial detainees are just a few of the reasons.

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