Lawmakers reach agreement on budget adjustment bill

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(Host) House and Senate leaders have agreed on the details of a new budget adjustment bill. The legislation provides additional money for several state programs and it authorizes Vermont to join Powerball this summer.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) This bill has been stuck in legislative limbo for many weeks. The purpose of the legislation is to allocate additional funds to departments of state government that have experienced unexpected costs in the current fiscal year. For instance, the bill provides an extra $4 million to the Corrections Department so that the state can send an additional 250 inmates to prisons in Virginia to relieve overcrowding in Vermont jails. Several million dollars is also being allocated to the Human Services Agency because of growing caseloads in a number of programs.

When the House originally passed the bill, it included a plan to lower the statewide property tax rate of Act 60 by three cents. The Senate responded by attaching a comprehensive reform of Act 60 to the legislation. House and Senate negotiators were deadlocked for weeks over the Act 60 provisions.

This week, in order to jumpstart the legislative process, the negotiators agreed to remove all language about Act 60 from the bill. House Appropriations Chairman Richard Westman (R-Cambridge) says it’s critical to pass this legislation now because there are a number state departments, like Corrections, that desperately need more money.

(Westman) “We understand how important it is for government to continue to run. But to take a budget adjustment and that’s all mixed up with the Act 60 debate and all of the other things, I think it’s more appropriate to start over and get this done and keep government running.”

(Kinzel) The bill also contains a provision that allows Vermont to join the national lottery game known as Powerball. It’s estimated that Powerball will bring an additional three to five million dollars into the state’s education fund:

(Westman) “Powerball’s in here. That didn’t seem to be a large area of disagreement between the senators that we worked with and the House.”

(Kinzel) The legislation also allocates an additional $670,000 to Amtrak to keep the state’s two passenger trains running until July 1. Legislative leaders hope that both the House and the Senate will be able to take final action on the bill by the end of the week.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel.

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