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Sequestration Cuts Come Into Focus

We’re getting a better idea today of the effects that across-the-board federal spending cuts will have on the state.

In February, it was estimated that Vermont would lose $15 million. While that figure hasn’t changed, Vermont’s legislative Joint Fiscal Office now estimates that the state is poised to lose $9.3 million over the next two fiscal years, most of which will be felt in 2014.

But the long-term jobless will feel the effects as early as next week when they open their unemployment checks to see they’ve been reduced by 10 percent. Meanwhile, furloughs affecting 500 Vermont National Guard members due to the automatic cuts have been delayed until mid- to late June, instead of April.

Jim Reardon, the Commissioner of Finance and Management, recognizes that Vermont is heavily dependent on federal money, but he defends the governor’s decision not to allocate reserves in his budget before the cuts known as sequestration went into effect in March.

“It was an unknown,” Reardon says. “The governor was clear on this particular issue: he’s not going to ask the taxpayer to back-fill these lost federal funds.”

Still, Reardon says sequestration could have a real effect on Vermont’s economy.

The Joint Fiscal Office says the federal cuts will be concentrated in certain departments, including education, health, environmental conservation and labor.

House Speaker Shap Smith says the new estimates didn’t come as a big surprise.

“The breakout allowed us to understand with a little more clarity where the impacts are going to be,” he says. “The challenge that we found with the governor’s budget was that it didn’t have any money in reserve and didn’t put anything away to address the sequestration.”

Last week, the House approved a budget that reduced overall spending from the governor’s proposal while putting $3.8 million in reserves to prepare for federal cuts, largely funded with tax increases.

Kirk is a reporter for the NPR member station in Boston, WGBH, where he covers higher education, connecting the dots between post-secondary education and the economy, national security, jobs and global competitiveness. Kirk has been a reporter with Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis.; a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad. Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway. You can follow Kirk on Twitter @KirkCarapezza.
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