(Host) Governor Jim Douglas says providing more money for efforts to help clean up Lake Champlain will be a top budget priority for the new fiscal year. Douglas says this program will be one of the few areas in the state budget where he will recommend an increase in spending.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.
(Kinzel) By most accounts, the deliberations over the state budget for the next fiscal year are going to be very difficult. The state is facing a roughly $60 to $70 million deficit in the Medicaid program and requests for new spending far outweigh available resources.
While it’s expected that many state programs will be level funded or will face reductions in their budgets, the governor will propose increases in a number of areas – including an initiative designed to protect Lake Champlain and the state’s watersheds. It’s a program known as the Clean and Clear Action Plan. The overall price tag for the program is $150 million over a seven-year period and it’s expected that federal funds will make up a large majority of the money that’s needed for the plan.
The initiative is a collaboration among the states of Vermont and New York and the province of Quebec and it’s designed to reduce the amount of phosphorus that goes into the lake. To launch the program, the state last year allocated $7.5 million to the effort.
Douglas says he’s not sure if the state can afford a similar appropriation in the next fiscal year but he’s left no doubt that the program is one of his top priorities:
(Douglas) “But the priorities that I’ve talked about over the last couple of years will remain: public safety, economic development, higher education and a commitment to this program that’s so important to our state’s economic and environmental future. So it’ll be a priority as we built our capital and operating budgets for next year.”
(Kinzel) The state has also launched a new Web site to help educate Vermonters about the environmental problems facing the lake and the state’s other major waterways. Natural Resources Agency Secretary Wibs McLain says the goal of the Web site is to alert Vermonters of the steps they can take to reduce phosphorus use:
(McClain) “There has been a tradition for a long time of people wanting to blame someone else for the problems in the lake. And perhaps suburban homeowners have not seen that they are a part or a potential part of the solution or problem, if you want to be in the negative as to our lake. For now that acre for acre developed land is a bigger contributor of phosphorus to the lake than farmed land.”
(Kinzel) The address for the new Web site is www.vermont.gov/cleanandclear.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier