Public Assets Institute > Blog > Will the budget do the job? That’s the question

Will the budget do the job? That’s the question

Next Tuesday, Vermonters get their first chance to weigh in on the fiscal 2016 state budget, which the governor will present in January and the Legislature will review and revise during the session. Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding and Finance and Management Commissioner Jim Reardon are hosting two public forums this month:

  • Oct. 14, 2:00-4:00 p.m.
  • Oct. 28, 6:00-8:00 p.m.

The forums will be conducted through Vermont Interactive Technologies. The Oct. 28th session will be devoted to funding the Agency of Human Services. The first session will cover the rest of state government. Details about the meetings and VIT sites are available here.

These forums are new. In the interest of greater transparency and democratic participation, the Legislature voted in 2012 to require the executive branch to invite input from Vermonters as the annual budget was being prepared each fall. In the past, the public didn’t get a chance to weigh in until after the budget had been presented to the Legislature. As a practical matter, that’s too late to have much of an effect. But these forums won’t have much effect either, unless people participate.

The tragic deaths of two children earlier this year exposed the problems caused by understaffing and underfunding in the Department for Children and Families. It’s clear from a report issued last month that these problems had been building for years. These budget forums offer the opportunity for Vermonters to ask whether the administration is proposing adequate staffing and resources to deliver the services people expect and deserve.

Gov. Jim Douglas, as he reduced the number of state employees in response to the Great Recession, said Vermont still had to protect “those with the greatest need—children and vulnerable elders, working poor Vermonters, those with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, and the indigent.” Now with hindsight, we can see that the cuts eroded our ability to protect those with the greatest need. And even though staffing has increased since the depths of the recession, it’s still not adequate.

The Shumlin administration recently directed state agencies and departments to prepare for budget cuts that could be as much as 5 percent in fiscal 2016. Those budget plans are due today, so by the time of next week’s first forum, Secretary Spaulding and Commissioner Reardon should know the consequences of the proposed cuts.

Based on recent public comments from the administration, we can expect to hear next week that cuts are necessary to balance the budget—as if that’s the only criterion Vermonters should consider. The more important question is whether the budget is adequate to the job. Will it, according to statute, “address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity?” Will it, for example, provide enough staffing and resources to protect “children and vulnerable elders, working poor Vermonters, those with developmental disabilities and mental health challenges, and the indigent?”

Posted by Jack Hoffman on October 10, 2014 at 2:31 pm

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