It seems as though the Shumlin Administration’s cowardly pre-Thanksgiving newsdump was successful: our political media dutifully reported the topline — $17 million in cuts, including $6.7 million to be implemented without legislative approval.
But nobody, at least not yet, has reported any of the details. And there are some noteworthy details. Some entire agencies seem to be getting off scot-free, while others are taking it in the shorts.
Well, one in particular. And if you guessed “Agency of Human Services,” you’d be a cynical observer of Vermont politics.
And you’d be correct.
Human Services is expected to provide almost two-thirds of the total rescissions — more than $10 million.
It must be noted that Human Services is the single biggest agency, so it could be expected to take a hit. But it’s not anywhere near that big. This seems to be a rerun of past Administration efforts to cut human-services spending; I’m reminded in particular of its ill-fated effort to slash the Earned Income Tax Credit. This time, instead of calling for specific (and politically unpopular) cuts, the Administration is dumping the mess into AHS Interim Secretary Harry Chen’s lap.
Gee. Supposedly Shumlin thinks Chen is doing a bang-up job, and would love to have him stay in the post. This is a damn funny way of showing his appreciation.
Most other state agencies come in for some cuts, but nothing close to AHS scale. And there are a couple of agencies that seem to have avoided the budget ax altogether.
Number-one on that list is the Agency of Transportation. It’s one of the bigger state agencies, and it won’t be getting any smaller; it’s being held harmless.
At the same time, the Governor’s hit list gets awfully picayune in spots. The Vermont Humanities Council is being docked $9,000. The Lieutenant Governor’s office is getting nicked by $2,900. And the Vermont Symphony Orchestra is in line to lose $2,000.
I find it hard to believe that Human Services can slash $10 million but Transportation can’t spare a dime. I also find it hard to believe that a process so fine-grained that it could find two grand in savings from classical music couldn’t identify any cuts at all in concrete and asphalt.
My own budgetary chops are pretty limited, so I can’t assess each and every cut. These are a few highlights, obvious even to the untrained eye. It is to be hoped that someone in the media is taking a closer look at the rescission list. There’s definitely some funny stuff going on.
One final note. It’s been widely reported that there’s a potential conflict between Administration and Legislature over the former’s claim that it can cut $6.7 million without lawmakers’ approval. What hasn’t been reported is that the Administration wants the other cuts — the ones requiring legislative approval — to go into effect before the new session begins.
This seems like a pretty devious way to undermine the legislature’s budget-writing authority. It’s yet another potential flashpoint between the two branches of government. And yet another sign that the Governor has already stopped his post-election “listening and learning.” He’s back to taking pre-emptive action and trying to box the legislature into a corner.