One of the annual features of the Shumlin Era is the battle to close a budget gap*. There are reasons for this: the rising costs of (1) operating a government (mostly health care), (2) operating public schools (mostly health care), and providing social services (mostly health care).
*To be fair, it was also a feature of the Douglas Era, but the dynamic was different: Republican governor versus Democratic legislature.
And then there’s the revenue side. Vermont is suffering from a creaky tax system that doesn’t reflect current economic realities, and is bringing in less and less money over time.
The Legislature is now in the throes of dealing with Budget Gap 2016, which has many of the features of past editions. Cries of doom, unexpected revenue upgrades, patently unworkable/unpopular money-raising ideas from Shumlin’s crack policy staff, and lawmakers trying to find alternatives. This year, we also have a significant difference between administration and Legislature over the size of the budget gap; per VTDigger, House budget writers say the administration omitted more than $9 million in basic government operations from its proposed budget…
…including a pay increase for state workers (estimated at $2 million to $6 million, depending on the results of a fact finder’s report and ongoing contract negotiations), pay increases for child care and direct care workers ($1 million each), and funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program ($4 million).
Shumlin’s modest proposals for new spending have already been killed by the House Appropriations Committee, whose first priority is closing the gap between current obligations and state revenue.
It’s a depressing Rite of Mud Season that has drained the energy of the Democratic caucus, party, and electorate.