Administration secretary works on solution to fees bill

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(Host) Vermont’s judiciary and the Secretary of State’s office have a two million dollar gap in their budgets because the Legislature did not pass a bill to raise various fees. Lawmakers were unable to resolve their differences over the bill on fees before they adjourned. But Administration Secretary Michael Smith says he’s got a plan to deal with this situation.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) Frustrated that the House would not take up legislation calling for the labeling of genetically modified seeds in the final days of the session, Senate leaders attached the GMO provision to a bill they thought had to pass before adjournment: the so called “fee” bill.

The legislation was designed to help raise new money for three departments of government: the judiciary, the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the Secretary of State’s office. The bill raised a variety of legal filing fees to provide the judiciary with an additional $1.5 million, it increased various fees for a number of professions regulated by the Secretary of State and it raised some overweight truck fees at Motor Vehicles.

But in the final hours of the session, House members refused to consider the fee bill because of the GMO section and the legislation never passed. Administration Secretary Michael Smith says the money needs to be appropriated and he’s trying to borrow money from other accounts until the Legislature can deal with this issue next January:

(Smith) “We’re looking at several strategies right now. One is – assuming that we didn’t have the fees – how can we accommodate the budgets of these various agencies without the fees? Number two is, if we can’t probably look at it through a budget adjustment in January on how we’re going to accommodate the fact that these fees didn’t get through.”

(Kinzel) While the legislation increased fees in a number of areas, it also decreased fees that many businesses pay to the workers compensation fund. Smith is disappointed that this decrease cannot be directly passed on to the state’s business community at this time:

(Smith) “Those reductions didn’t take place. We’re going to have to look at how to either retroactively or prospectively make those changes in the future.”

(Kinzel) Smith says he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to find ways to appropriate these funds while still balancing the state budget for the next fiscal year.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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