Public Assets Institute > Policy Areas > Vermont Budget > The clock is ticking for public input in the budget process

The clock is ticking for public input in the budget process

Vermont’s fiscal 2014 budget development process is officially under way. And in what has become the new normal, the Shumlin administration is asking its agency managers to cut their budgets.

Fiscal 2014 begins on July 1, 2013; this budget will occupy the Legislature’s attention beginning in January. Under instructions issued two weeks ago, state managers should have submitted their proposed budget summaries to the Agency of Administration last Friday. Their final budgets are due in mid-December.

We don’t know what’s in those summaries; that part of the process isn’t public. In fact, other than the instructions to agency managers and the state revenue estimates, none of the administration’s budget development process has been made public. At least not yet.

This year the Legislature wrote into its fiscal 2013 budget bill (Secs. E.100.1 & E.100.2) language that requires the administration to include the public in its budget development process. That language was part of a larger People’s Budget effort promoted by the Vermont Workers’ Center. The public process was supposed to have started on October 1, but the administration now says that won’t happen until sometime after the election.

Meanwhile, agencies and departments across state government have their marching orders: find a way to get by in fiscal 2014 with the same amount of money you had this fiscal year—or perhaps even a little less. That sounds like level funding, but it’s actually a cut in many state services when you consider that general inflation, increased health care costs, and impending federal cuts create increased demand on state resources.

Public participation now—early in the budget development—is crucial, because historically that’s when the real decisions have been made. Part-time legislators do incredible work during short legislative sessions. But they rarely make big changes to the administration’s budget, whose goals and strategies are set even before the governor delivers his budget address in January.

And if legislators have limited time or ability to make major changes, it’s way too late for the public to weigh in meaningfully.

For years now, both Democratic and Republican administrations have proposed budgets that have cut state services and weakened state government’s ability to serve Vermonters. In a report earlier this year we provided one take on the level of these cuts just since the start of the recession in 2008. The report notes in Figure 3 that the fiscal 2013 budget would be $240 million higher had the Legislature merely followed the same spending trend that state had been on for the 25 years before the Great Recession.

Cutting services without meaningful input from Vermonters—the people affected by the state budget—is a disservice to the state. We look forward to seeing the administration’s plan for inviting that input, and opening its doors. The sooner the better.

Posted by Paul Cillo on October 24, 2012 at 4:53 pm

4 Responses to “The clock is ticking for public input in the budget process”

  1. Richard Walter says:

    To all of our Vermont legislators: the State of Vermont needs to maintain at a minimum, and expand when the tax coffers overflow, legislative budgets that fund much needed financial resources into benefitting those Vermonters who most need help in these troubled times. Many of my friends rely on these services because they have chosen to work in challenging jobs that do not pay much, but benefit others in ways most people would ignore. It’s gritty and financially unrewarding for those who choose this path. To my way of thinking, the rest of us, who don’t want to inconvenience ourselves, challenge ourselves, make sacrifices for the benefit of others on a daily basis doing this type of work, need to be willing to appropriate some of our tax dollars so those who do can at least enjoy some of the basic comforts of life such as food, shelter, health insurance and perhaps even a perk or two like heat, electricity, and good drinking water. I do not mind paying taxes if I know that money is being used wisely for the benefit of my fellow citizens.

  2. Bob Smith says:

    I was a state employee for almost 40 years, and most of that time a manager with my own budget. I’ve seen first hand the implications of reduced budgets. As a retiree, I am equally concerned about the costs of fuel and healthcare. Vermont is rapidly becoming a state where only the affluent can afford to live or those with an adequate wood lot and an extended family to help them in time of need.


    State Government needs to raise taxes by 800 million to 1.9 billion dollars to cover the growing neeed of people with developemtnal disabilties and the need for state services as a result of the Great Recession. The manage to the money approach must stop! We need to raise taxes now and stop managing to $$ and manage to need!

  4. Stuart Lindberg says:

    Everything in balance. As a working Vermonter raising a family I find my increasing statewide property taxes (and all the other taxes) to be a serious impediment to meeting my families basic needs.
    As a family we simply do without if we cannot afford it. The state should think about doing the same. We do not ask for state aid. We just ask to be left enough of our own hard earned money to take care of our young children and our aging parents.