I don’t know if it’s the fact that the election is safely over* or that the new legislative session is just around the corner, but it seems like the Vermont budget is under siege: new requests, new demands on the public purse are flying in from every direction.
*Republican conspiracy theory.
We have the unfunded mandate (in state law) that 80,000 Vermont homes be winterized by the year 2020. The Thermal Efficiency Taskforce is calling for an 11 cent per gallon excise tax on home heating fuels to fund that effort.
We have a special committee about to report on how to address a big financial squeeze in our transportation system. The problem there is dependence on gas tax revenues at a time when fuel efficiency has increased and is likely to keep on doing so. That panel is almost certain to seek new funding sources.
And then there’s a draft report from the Agency of Natural Resources that says Vermont would have to spend $156 million per year to meet clean-water standards. The ANR suggests a few possible sources, but nothing nearly large enough to even approach that figure.
After the jump: the hits just keep on a-comin’.
On top of that is the unknown gap between necessary reconstruction after Tropical Storm Irene, and the amount that FEMA will be willing to pay for state buildings and highway culverts. We still await FEMA’s decisions, but the agency has already made it clear that the amount will be less than the Shumlin Administration had requested.
And let’s not forget the prospect that low-income Vermonters will face sharp increases in healthcare costs under the new insurance exchange. The legislature will face heavy pressure to narrow that gap, if not fill it entirely.
There were also the dueling reports last week about an imbalance in the Department of Mental Health budget: one, from VTDigger, put the shortfall at $20 million. After that report came out, DMH officials changed their tune and said the real gap is around $5.3 million.
I’m sure there are other items on this list. For instance, Secretary of State Jim Condos is calling for changes in election law and campaign finance law, some of which will require new reporting systems.
All of this coming at a time when the Joint Fiscal Office estimates that next year’s budget is out of balance to the tune of $50-70 million.
I don’t really have a conclusion here, I just thought it’d be good to see all of this in one place. This is going to be a really difficult legislative session, even with the Dems’ one-sided majorities.
It’s times like this I’m very happy to be right where I am — a sideline observer of the process, rather than someone who has to figure out what in hell to do.