posted at 9:31 am Mon Mar 22nd, 2010 by (WherezIt_Staff)
Meeting Our Fiscal Challenge
Along with nearly every other state in the union, Vermont's revenues continue to drop due to the effects of the recession.
Since 2008, we have cut over $160 million from the state budget, which included eliminating some 500 state jobs. For this coming fiscal year, we are staring at a $150 million deficit with a continued dramatic decline in state revenues. In fact, our revenues for this year will be reduced to a level not seen since 2006 - but our expenditures are measured in 2011 dollars. Combine this drop with the scheduled end of ARRA funding and an increase in the number of Vermonters who need assistance, and we have an incredibly daunting financial dilemma.
The Governor's budget proposal includes cuts that could have severe effects on Vermont senior citizens, children, individuals with disabilities and their families. We have heard repeated concerns about many of these proposals, including cumulative effects for some families. There are valid concerns that some of these proposals will actually result in higher long-term costs.
Undermining the supports that enable seniors to live at home, for example, will simply result in more use of nursing homes. Not only will this mean a loss of independence for seniors but will actually cost the state more.
In the face of this dilemma, we have made significant progress to date. The Legislature has worked with the Governor's staff to develop a plan to save $38 million through reforms to improve both efficiency and outcomes of state government. Teachers have contributed another $15 million through an agreement on changes to their retirement system, which the House passed. State employees have contributed about $10 million to the solution by voting themselves a 3% reduction in pay. These changes have a huge impact on solving the budget deficit.
This year has been a delicate balance. The goal is to share the burden of the recession throughout our society, create a balanced budget that meets the financial challenges of our state and create new ways of offering services while respecting the needs of Vermonters.
Creating Jobs for Vermonters
The most critical issue to address the recession and rising unemployment is increasing job opportunities - jobs worth having - and stimulating successful economic development. We are targeting three areas:
Broadband. High-quality information infrastructure is essential for all Vermonters in a connected world. We are investing millions of dollars in new and faster connections for homes and business districts.
Workforce Training. By investing money in targeted skills-building programs, we help Vermonters get good jobs, and we provide businesses with access to qualified and productive future employees.
Access to Capital. In addition to state and federal tax credit programs for stimulating small business, we support programs to develop critical business skills for entrepreneurial Vermonters; and capital (loans and grants) for start-up businesses.
Supporting Our Army Guard
Over 1,500 Vermonters are being deployed to Afghanistan, following their training in Indianapolis and Louisiana. Their mission has changed since last year and they will be experiencing more direct combat than anticipated. The Legislature passed a resolution honoring the Vermont National Guard and will continue to monitor their deployment and the preparations the Guard is making for their return late this coming fall. We also passed the Military Parents' Rights Act, which protects the parental rights of military members when they are absent from their children's lives due to orders. It is important to the Legislature that deployed Guard members be able to focus on completing their mission and returning safely to their families. If you have a loved one deployed overseas and need financial or resource assistance, please call the Vermont Veteran and Family Outreach 24-hour hotline: (888) 607-8773.
Help for Roads, Bridges & Rail
After four straight years of declining revenues, the transportation system is finally seeing a turnaround. Thanks to stimulus funding, Vermont will see an increase of $126 million over the next two years - a needed investment to upgrade Vermont's deteriorating roads and bridges which will also stimulate economic development and jobs. During the 2010 season Vermonters can expect to see a 32% increase in road paving from the previous year, which is projected by VTrans to create 200-300 new jobs.
Vermont's rail system recently received a $50 million ARRA grant to upgrade tracks along Amtrak's Vermonter route. This overdue investment in our deteriorating rail infrastructure will result in significant upgrades to allow trains to move faster (reducing travel times) and to increase load weights for freight on bridges.
Eliminating Mandatory OT
Mandatory overtime is a practice that may never affect you - unless you're in the hospital and expect your nurse to give you the best care possible.
Mandatory overtime allows hospitals to demand that a nurse stay and work another shift of overtime - many times without giving him or her an opportunity to make alternative care arrangements for children, parents or spouses. Mandatory overtime demands that a nurse be prepared every single day to work longer than expected.
A worker's mental acuity diminishes precipitously after 12 hours. Mistakes happen under these circumstances, and when they do, patients can get injured or die. Banning mandatory overtime will improve patient care. It will not ban voluntary overtime, and be assured that in case of an emergency, this law would not ban hospitals calling for "all hands on deck."
An Improved Environment
Electronic waste, or "e-waste," is the fastest-growing portion of the Vermont waste stream, and improper disposal puts the environment at risk. The House adopted a bill on e-waste which will ensure the proper disposal of products including computers, monitors, televisions, printers, and other obsolete electronic products. S. 77 ensures that producers will become responsible for the cost of disposal by requiring the manufacturers of electronic devices to register in the state and pay a fee according to their share of market. This fee will fund free and convenient collection sites for e-waste throughout Vermont. This is a great bill for both consumers and our environment.
Cell Phones While Driving
The House is committed to making our highways safer. It is clear that our youth are already more likely to use cell phones and to cause auto crashes - which are the leading cause of death among teens. In Vermont, costs associated with highway crashes reach $234 million in Medicaid, emergency services, law enforcement, and other services. While supporting the Senate's recent ban on texting while driving, the House will again pursue a bill that restricts cell phones to hands-free only by adults, prohibits cell phones and hand-held electronic devices for junior operators, imposes a nighttime curfew for junior operators, bans texting, and mandates seatbelt use as a comprehensive and responsible approach to saving lives on our highways.
The vote held by the Vermont Senate on Wednesday, February 24 denied Vermont Yankee Power Station legislative approval for continued operations after its scheduled closure in 2012. This was another significant step in Vermont's energy future that has ramifications for us all.
The recent revelation of Entergy's denial, under oath, of the existence of underground pipes, coupled with the continuing leakage of radioactive tritium, pushed this vote forward.
The Legislature has been very clear about the need for accurate information and honesty within the regulatory process. The Senate's vote expressed their concerns that Vermont Yankee would not operate reliably and to the financial benefit of Vermonters.
Vital questions remain to be answered by Entergy. These include discovering and fixing the source of the ongoing tritium leak, which the Vermont Department of Public Health has been monitoring daily. Also, the Legislature will want to ensure that all decommissioning costs are borne by the plant owners and are not passed on to Vermont taxpayers. Finally, the Legislature will work to ensure that alternative energy sources are identified and actively pursued.
All of these decisions have yet to be settled. Negotiations between Entergy/Enexus and the power companies have not progressed far beyond the initial "last best offer" from Enexus, which would increase the price of power by 50% while reducing the amount of power for sale to Vermont by over 50%.
The Legislature is aware that shuttering Vermont Yankee will result in the loss of jobs and tax revenue. But it is also trying to secure guarantees that Entergy will fulfill their contractual duty to fund the decommissioning fund. This fund is seriously underfunded now and would prove to be a far larger economic burden than any lost tax revenue.
Waterbury, VT 05676 (Set as Local)