Gov. Peter Shumlin is staunchly defending his plan to transfer money from the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to fund early childhood education subsidies, hitting the road this week to make his case.
Shumlin visited the Trinity Children’s Center in Burlington on Monday to reinforce his proposed plan to redirect $17 million from the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, to a low-income child care subsidy program.
Under current law, poor working Vermonters can receive cash refunds of some of the taxes they’ve paid. Shumlin’s plan would divert some of that money to pay for childcare subsides.
On Monday, the governor seemed genuinely stunned that some have said his budget package lacks empathy.
"I would argue that there’s no greater compassion that we can have as Vermonters than taking care of all of our children and giving them all a strong start, and taking care of all of our parents and having a system that doesn’t penalize mostly single moms who want to get a job and are stuck in a system that punishes them when they get a job and move up the economic ladder," Shumlin said. "Let’s fix that together."
While the Legislature has yet to take up the governor’s proposal, it has already come under fire – from all sides. Still, Shumlin said there’s little room for compromise because the state is facing a tight budget with limited new revenues.
"We gave this a lot of thought," Shumlin said, surrounded by members of his administration. "I know that some have said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t think you’ve given it enough heart.’ This is a proposal that is brought to you by people that care deeply about solving Vermont’s poverty problem and making sure that kids get a strong start."
Dave Yacovone is commissioner of the Department for Children and Families. Shumlin urged him to break down the administration’s proposal for the public.
"For a family of three, a single mom with two children – her out of pocket cost will go from $850 a month to around $350 a month," Yacavonee said.
"Perfect," Shumlin responded.
"We’ve needed increases for a long, long time," said Maureen Danielzyck, executive director of the children’s center. Danielzyck said the 70-student preschool operates on a shoestring $850,000 budget, so it’s critical that the state move forward with the proposal.
"Early childhood is really only five years," Danielzyck said. "Then the kids go into a school system and things change. There really isn’t any funding for families before their kids go to public school and they have to work all day."
But the governor’s plan has met resistance in Montpelier. Rep. Curt McCormack, D-Burlington, said cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit is a mistake.
"It benefits people who work – usually full-time workers who do not make enough money to get by in today’s economy," he said.
McCormack argued if early childhood education is worth expanding, that doesn’t mean another low-income program should get slashed. He said that’s the problem with the governor’s budget package – and his spending priorities.
The Senate Finance Committee will take testimony on Shumlin’s EITC proposal from members of the Administration on Wednesday.
You can follow all of VPR’s reporting from the Legislature on the VPR News Blog.