Vermont lawmakers face $45M budget gap

By  | 

MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) The new year will bring some old fiscal challenges to the state.

"Priorities is the word that comes to mind. We are going to have to set priorities not knowing what's going to happen in Washington," said Rep. Kitty Toll, D-Danville.

Vermont is facing a $45 million budget gap in the 2019 fiscal year. That's less than the $70+ million hole last year.

"I was in the building when we started out with a $179 million gap and I'm not saying this is going to be an easier process but as we constrain programs and constrain spending, 45 is still a very large number," Toll said.

Lawmakers heard at a briefing Thursday that it's driven by familiar themes-- state payroll, debt and general fund dollars sent to the education fund.

The Legislature's economist, Tom Kavet, says the country is in an extended period of growth. The growth has been modest, at best. He says another recession is not imminent. That's small consolation for lawmakers and the Scott administration. They face lackluster revenue growth and ongoing budget pressures.

On the plus side, a revenue downgrade in January seems unlikely right now.

"I don't see anything that would suggest a very large swing in either direction in January, but that's why we go through a long process of crunching all the numbers," Kavet said.

Also on the plus side, Kavet says the rising stock market could bring a capital gains windfall to the state in the coming weeks.

With the legislative session looming and the fiscal picture taking shape, familiar political battle lines are already forming.

"We're going to look at pieces in the budget that will help us reduce cost. We're going to support the governor in not raising taxes, not raising fees and right-sizing Vermont government," said Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton.

Turner says the state workforce has grown substantially since 2010 and should be reviewed.