Gov. Peter Shumlin entered the House Chamber to applause Wednesday before his budget address.
He made the same journey last week for the State of the State, but instead of focusing on one issue, this time he covered dozens.
"Today, I am honored to present my fourth budget, one that is balanced and fiscally restrained," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
The governor's finance team says the spending proposal does not cut funding for any program, but does slow growth rates.
The plan calls for spending $10 million to combat opiate abuse, almost $5 million for anti-poverty initiatives and doubling the outlay for rental assistance.
Under his plan, eligible child care providers would see more cash, Medicaid reimbursement rates would be hiked and $10 million would be spent to clear backlogs in human services.
Vermont would spend more on transportation than ever before, and both state colleges and students would receive more cash from the state.
"It invests in areas critical to our most vulnerable and to our future job growth, while rejecting broad-based tax increases on hardworking Vermonters," Shumlin said.
That does not mean no additional taxes. The proposal would create a new tax on insurance claims which administration officials expect to be borne by insurers and passed on to consumers. A 7-cent property tax hike to fund ballooning school budgets appears inevitable.
"None of us, however, can afford higher spending and higher property taxes year after year, while our overall student population continues to decline. I urge Vermonters at town meetings across our state this year to carefully scrutinize school budgets that increase per pupil spending and grow faster than our incomes," Shumlin said.
Shumlin's budget would rely on $30 million in one-time funds to balance the books, a figure about $25 million less than in the last year. It would backfill some federal programs which sustained cuts, but also benefits from increased federal health care funds.
"I look forward to a productive session serving the Vermont we all love. Thank you," Shumlin said.
The proposal now sits in the hand of legislators, though their true counterproposal is unlikely to surface until the spring.
The administration gave reporters a sneak peek at the budget Wednesday morning but not legislators. Republicans, Democrats and Progressives all expressed cautious optimism but say the plan's details will need to be examined thoroughly.
The Joint Fiscal Office-- the Legislature's financial research arm-- arrived at slightly different figures than the governor's team. The disparities between the two aren't large but will certainly be points of contention as the session continues.
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