Land conservation advocates say cuts shortsighted

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(Host intro) Governor Jim Douglas’s plan to cut money for Vermont’s housing and land conservation program has come under fire.

The Vermont Housing and Conservation Coalition says the proposal would derail dozens of important projects. The governor’s supporters say the money is needed for various human service programs.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There are two elements to the governor’s plan.  First, all funding for the state’s land conservation program would be frozen for one year.

Douglas says the step is needed to help take pressure off of other parts of the state budget during difficult economic times.

Elise Annes is the co-chair of the Housing and Conservation Coalition.  She says the budget freeze will affect dozens of land conservation projects and she’s worried that the entire program could be undermined by these cuts.

(Annes) “So the 40 farms that we have now ready to conserve – they’re "shovel ready," as we call them – who are ready to protect their land base, to stimulate jobs locally and to improve their business will leave the pipeline. They can’t wait around. So what will happen will be they’ll either have to sell off lots. Some farms will close. So even a pause in the funding really can erode the entire system."

(Kinzel) Dorset Rep. Patti Komline is the House minority leader.  She says the freeze needs to be evaluated against deep human service cuts.

(Komline) “From our perspective there are really tough choices we have to make. Looking at freezing land conservation for one year versus cutting a Dr. Dynasaur program, which helps our most needy kids with their health care – if it’s a decision of either of those, then I’m supportive of cutting land conservation, freezing it for the year."

(Kinzel) Douglas also wants to reduce the affordable housing budget by $4 million. He argues that new federal funds can help fill this gap.

But Kenn Sassarossi of Housing Vermont says the federal funds come with restrictions that would force the cancellation of projects in Springfield, Troy, Newark, South Burlington, East Barre and Shelburne.

(Sassarossi) “The funds have to be tied to foreclosed-upon properties or blighted properties. So that means, for example, that a very successful senior housing project, which is in high demand and there’s an opportunity to expand that to bring other seniors in. You wouldn’t be able to do it because that’s new construction. That kind of activity is excluded right off the bat."

(Kinzel) The House Appropriations Committee is now reviewing the governor’s budget recommendations.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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