Senate and governor at odds over state budget

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(Host) The Vermont Senate and Governor Jim Douglas are on a collision course over next year’s budget. The Senate on Friday gave its strong approval to a budget plan that will require a small tax increase. But the governor says he’s absolutely opposed to this idea.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) The governor is upset because the Senate wants to spend eight million dollars more than he does in next year’s budget, and because the Senate plan will require a tax increase. Senate Appropriations Chairwoman Susan Bartlett says much of the additional spending in the Senate budget is for projects supported by the governor including money for new state troopers and a plan to open the Springfield prison on time this summer.

Another key part of the senate budget allocates $3.5 million for a comprehensive substance abuse program that includes new money for prevention, treatment and enforcement efforts. Bartlett says it makes sense to raise a small amount of new revenue to pay for these critical programs:

(Bartlett) “A very minor revenue increase and that’s right you’re looking at a billion dollar budget and we’re talking about six million dollars. So for six million dollars you get to open Springfield on time, put a total of 13 new troopers on the road, deal with health care in a manner that’s very effective and goes a long way towards addressing the issues of cost shifting and stops those cost shifting, and deals with providing permanent and significant substance abuse treatment for the state of Vermont.”

(Kinzel) Douglas says he’s disappointed that the Senate budget is out of balance. The governor is making it very clear that he will not support any plan to raise new revenue for the budget:

(Douglas) “We need a balanced budget without new taxes. I obviously support the initiatives that I included in the balanced budget that I presented to the Legislature. You know, Vermont families [and] Vermont businesses have to make tough decisions – they have to live within their means, they have to agree not to do everything if their resources are limited. I was able to present a balanced budget with no new taxes. The House was able to pass a balanced budget with no new taxes. I believe the Senate should do the same.”

(Kinzel) A House-Senate conference committee will meet early next week to begin their negotiations over the budget plan. The major challenge facing the committee will be finding a way to increase spending on some of the Senate’s priorities without raising new taxes.

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

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