Governor Jim Douglas

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This week we learned that the state is taking in less money than officials budgeted for. The revenue downgrade wasn’t a surprise, but it compounds the deep budget problems facing Vermont. On the next Vermont Edition, Governor Jim Douglas joins Bob Kinzel to discuss the state’s fiscal condition and the impact a stimulus plan could have on Vermont’s economy. We’ll also look at the governor’s plan to repeal Act 60 and Act 68. (Listen)

AP Photo/Toby Talbot

Listener emails:

Laurie from Middletown Springs:
While I recognize that the number of children attending schools may be declining, the number of children being identified as needing special education services is on the rise. If we are not providing services to these children through Medicaid and are proposing to also cut the budgets for schools, how does the State intend to meet the needs of these children. Aren’t we simply postponing the inevitable in the sense that the State will pay to a larger degree later as these problems are not addressed now?

Mark from Charlotte:
The governor is talking about restricting spending for the schools. Is this what we can expect if the state takes over our health care? Have we transferred the right to make decisions about our educational priorities out of the communities and to the state? It seems that the problems arise when voters make democratic decisions that don’t fit in line with social planners.

Why were the most vulnerable people — people with develomental disabilities and mental health problems — hit the hardest in December’s budget cuts?

John from Burlington:
The most pressing issue at the moment is the Governor’s proposal to eliminate all state prescription drug programs. This obviously would have a terrible affect on the 14,000 seniors who currently use these programs, all of whom are low income. Just last week the Governor promised to protect Vermont’s most vulnerable – how does eliminating prescription drug programs for low income seniors protect the most vulnerable?

Patty from Underhill:
Why doesn’t the Governor sit down and work with on issues with the Legislature?

Christina from Winooski:
For people on ReachUp, are full family sanctions being considered for those who are noncompliant with their self-sufficiency plan? What does this mean for the family, particularly the children with a parent who still refuses to work? Do they lose their subsidized housing with no income for rent? Do they lose their food stamps? Are the children at risk of going into foster care for lack of food and shelter?

Is Gov. Douglas asking us to level fund per pupil spending or to level fund the bottom line of the school budgets? These are not the same; here in Middlebury we are projecting a slight increase in students. If we level fund per pupil spending, the bottom line of our budget will still increase. If we keep the bottom line of the budget the same, we would have to reduce per pupil spending. Please clarify. I am a school board member in Middlebury and this question arose at a school board meeting last week.

Terje from Montgomery:
I am concerned about the impact the Governor’s proposed drastic budget cuts will have not just on state services, but also on the state’s economy. How can Governor Douglas go to Washington and ask the federal government to spend hundreds of billions of dollars for the states in additional federal deficit spending as part of an economic stimulus package, while at the same time cutting hundreds of millions in state spending? Won’t those cuts have an anti-stimulative impact on the state’s economy, further weakening employment, revenues, and spending in Vermont communities? Vermont has the option of running a budget deficit and/ or dipping into the Rainy Day Fund. Shouldn’t we wisely do that as part of an effort to stimulate the economies of our local communities? Isn’t refusing to do
that going to have the effect of depressing the state economy?

Kathleen from Rutland:
Can you comment on who authorized the Vermont Health Department’s breaking Vermont law in allowing the increase in radiation levels at Vermont Yankee. Can you also comment on why the department of health would not be making public the increased numbers of thyroid cancer incidence within Vermont, a marker on increased radiation exposure. What are you going to do to ensure the Department of health does report on the health effects caused by VY on Vermonters?

Fred from Windsor:
You say we must all suffer the budget cuts, will you and the state workers union consider cutting your benefits too? ie; health insurances etc…?

Marjorie from Lowell:
The state roads seem to be in worse shape during snowy nights. Is it true that you are not going to plow roads after 9:00 at night? If so, I really disagree.

Keith from Fairfield:
The problems that we have with the education system and how it’s funded is, that we vote on a school budget in March but we don’t know what the state’s portion of the funding is until the state’s fiscal year ends in July. This means that when we vote on the school budget we do not know how much it will raise our property taxes. Also I don’t think that it’s fair that tenured teachers in some school districts earn $72,000.00 for a year that is only 175 days long.

Bill in Burlington:
Does the Govenor agree that a $50 million shortfall amounts to about 2% of total state tax revenues from all sources ($2.4 billion)? And, does he agree that a 2% across the board surcharge on all state taxes would generate about the same $50 million amount? For example, someone who now pays $10,000 in all state taxes, including real estate taxes, would pay an additional $200. This seems to be a small increase to cover a once in a lifetime financial crisis. Why not use a marginal, temporary tax increase instead of destroying parts of state government?

I would like to ask the governor why he describes the business permitting process as "a culture of no" when 99.1% of the act 250 applications are approved and 85% of those n the first 180 days.

Darlene from North Springfield:
I would like to know where we stand with the Catamount health plan. What are we receiving in health care contributions from employers, premiums from
participants and what are we paying out for health care expenses? I have not seen any information available to Vermonters regarding this plan and believe we should be keeping a close eye on this program.

Will from Burlington:
A new gas tax could have a rebate program based on the milage report of state auto inspection. The certification of milage will be filed with state income tax.

Paul from Bridport:
Just a tiny note for the future. There are 1 X 10 to the twelve seconds in a trillion seconds. It works out to be about 31,700 years.

Mike from Charlotte:
You would like all school districts to level fund their budgets. However, many school districts, despite decreasing enrollments, are dealing with older buildings that require repairs as well as increasing costs of health insurance and other costs that are difficult to control. Level funding would , therefore, require either increasing class size or eliminating programs or both. What cutbacks in our children’s education are acceptable in your view?
Regarding your opposition to an increase in the gas tax, Vermont hasn’t had an increase in the gas tax since 1997 when a gallon of gas cost less than a dollar. At 20 cents/gallon, Vermont has the lowest tax in the northeast. At the same time VT gas prices are about the same as NE New York prices, which include a 44.5 cents/gal tax and which means that 24 cents/gal more is going to the oil companies from Vermont. In the last year we’ve seen price fluctuations of $2/gallon. Certainly a 10 cent increase in the tax will not impact us that much and would put the money to work for VT as opposed to increasing oil company profits. I also think that using the diversion of transportation funds as an excuse is nothing more than a red herring and is basically irrelevant considering our budget crisis.



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