Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > Make the most of the Public Budget Forums

Make the most of the Public Budget Forums

The Shumlin administration’s scheduled Public Budget Forums—today and Monday—provide an important new opportunity for citizen participation in the state budget process. Until today, there has been no way for Vermonters to weigh in on the development of the governor’s budget proposal. Now there is.

Why is this important?

Vermont will spend $5 billion this year to support the state services that are essential to our lives, including health care, electricity, education, telecommunications, transportation, care for the elderly, libraries, and regulations that ensure clean air and water and safe food.

Over the past 20 years, however, policymakers have focused less on these needs and more on the revenue they already are collecting—that is, on getting by without raising tax rates, even if that has meant shaving state support for services.

While you can make whatever comments you like at these hearings, there are three areas that would benefit from public comment:

1. Fiscal 2014 budget strategy:  Anticipating a deficit in the neighborhood of $50 million, the Shumlin administration has asked its managers to submit their spending plans assuming the same funding they received last year.  This amounts to a budget cut, because costs for health care, energy, and other essentials have increased. By our math, Vermont is spending about $240 million less this year than the 25-year, pre-recession budget growth trend would suggest is needed.

Maybe it’s time for Montpelier to take stock of where the state is after years of budget cutting and get onto a tack that is more in line with Vermonters’ essential needs.

2. Needs assessment: Each year the administration and the Legislature put significant time and resources into coming up with accurate revenue projections. That’s a marked improvement over the way things used to be done. But revenue is only half the budget equation. The other half is Vermonters’ needs.

The administration can put need on equal footing with revenue by building a statewide community-based infrastructure to conduct an annual needs assessment. Then policymakers could have an informed debate each year about how to balance need with revenue.

3. Participation process: The Legislature has directed the administration to develop its budget proposals with “direct and meaningful participation from Vermont residents.” The budget forums today and Monday are the administration’s response to that directive. Is this enough? Do these forums constitute meaningful participation? This should also be the subject of comment.

The Shumlin administration deserves credit for making a serious effort to engage citizens in the budget process. Now Vermonters need to step up and engage.


Posted by Paul Cillo on November 13, 2012 at 1:23 pm

2 Responses to “Make the most of the Public Budget Forums”

  1. Gillian Franks says:

    This is a good step but it will require a lot more publicity and much more access to be useful. Town meeting is well publicized, and much information goes out to a targeted market. With that kind of warning and support it is still challenging for people to present their case. I doubt if clients of my non-profit employer would know of this in the normal course of events.

    If I did get clients interested, there are other logistics…2 buses and then: the room that broadcasts this in Chittenden county couldn’t host 300 people…a small percent of the area. So even if they show where will they be?

  2. Peter,

    We have deferred for far too long the so badly needed investments in early childhood. You understand, I know, the relation between this lack and the escalating costs in corrections, IEPs, drop outs, and adults lacking work skills or ethics and therefore depending on the state rather than contributing to it. The pay-off for the early childhood investment takes 20 years, far longer than any political term. Please be a visionary and act for the future of Vermont!