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Upcoming Public Hearings On Budget Stir Calls For Changes

State of Vermont

The Shumlin Administration will hold two public hearings in coming weeks for Vermonters to weigh in on the state budget, although it has yet to be drafted. 

The hearings took place for the first time last year to give the public a chance to comment on the administration’s budget priorities.

But many of those who lobbied for the legislation that requires the hearings say they don’t work as well as they should.

“It’s a start.  But I would call it a baby step in the direction of really having public participation that’s meaningful,” says Paul Cillo, Executive Director of the Public Assets Institute.

Cillo says the hearings don’t offer an opportunity for meaningful discussion because there aren’t any specific budget ideas offered by the administration.

He says one example was the plan unveiled in the governor’s January budget address to redirect earned income tax credit money. There was no mention of that in the hearings two months earlier.

“I think that’s where the system failed to work because I think if there’s going to be a real dialogue, then there has to be real conversation about the issues that are on the table,” says Cillo.

Budget Director Jim Reardon agrees providing more information would help make the hearings more productive.

Reardon says one piece of information he’ll convey at the coming hearings is that budget needs have to be met without broad-based tax increases.  Reardon also hopes there will be broader representation at this round of hearings.

“Representation at the budget forums was primarily limited to advocacy groups and I didn’t think there was a broader discussion and representation such as economic development and from taxpayers and their ability to be able to afford this budget,” Reardon explains.

Last year the legislature passed a bill that stated the purpose of the budget is to “address the needs of the people of Vermont in a way that advances human dignity and equity.” 

Vermont Worker’s Center Executive Director James Haslam wants a public budget process that involves more discussion and more accountability to meet that goal, “Starting with a needs assessment as the basis for spending that would call for the development of new metrics, along with the accountability of budget decisions to those metrics.” 

He says the process would represent, “A different approach that puts people first as opposed to the way that it currently happens which is really managing to the money.”

Haslam says the result would be a ‘people’s budget’ based on the needs of communities and individuals.

But Administration Secretary Jeb Spaulding says Vermont already has a people’s budget.

“When people say it’s not a people’s budget, it’s not really understanding how much legislators and Senators listen to their constitutions and how accessible they are, how often the Governor goes out and listens to all kinds of groups and their needs and their desires,” says Spaulding.

The two public hearings on the budget will take place on Wed. Oct. 23 and Tues. Nov. 5 at interactive television sites around the state:

Wed. Oct. 23, 5:30 - 7:30 PM  at  sites in Brattleboro, Johnson, Lyndonville, Middlebury, White River Junction, Williston and Montpelier
Tues. Nov. 5, 2:50 PM - 4:45 PM at sites in Bennington, Brattleboro, Johnson, Lyndonville, Middlebury, Rutland, Springfield, St. Albans, White River Junction, Montpelier and Newport.

Steve has been with VPR since 1994, first serving as host of VPR’s public affairs program and then as a reporter, based in Central Vermont. Many VPR listeners recognize Steve for his special reports from Iran, providing a glimpse of this country that is usually hidden from the rest of the world. Prior to working with VPR, Steve served as program director for WNCS for 17 years, and also worked as news director for WCVR in Randolph. A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Steve also worked for stations in Phoenix and Tucson before moving to Vermont in 1972. Steve has been honored multiple times with national and regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for his VPR reporting, including a 2011 win for best documentary for his report, Afghanistan's Other War.
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