Gov. Peter Shumlin today vowed in his annual Budget Speech to continue his Administration's work to grow jobs and economic opportunity.
"Every spending proposal I have pursued as Governor has been designed to promote economic development and prosperity for Vermont. This budget is no different," Gov. Shumlin said in the speech to state lawmakers. "It keeps our promise to invest in our infrastructure and in our people, and it relies on a unified, coordinated strategy for economic growth, targeting every sector of our economy and every one of our communities."
The Governor highlighted the good things happening across the state in recent years. The state's unemployment rate is the fifth lowest in America, and more than 11,000 jobs have been added since 2011, with 2000 in the manufacturing and professional services sector in the last year alone.
Although state general fund revenues have continued to climb in the last three years, Vermont, like other states, is coping with reduced federal funding. The Governor said that his budget proposal once again balances the books, closing the $71 million spending gap without increases to sales, income, or rooms and meals taxes on Vermonters. He added that his budget also significantly reduces the state's reliance on one-time funds that increased in the years following the start of the recent recession, using only $30 million in such funds this year, about half as much as last year.
As set forth in the Budget Book submitted today by the Agency of Administration, this year's budget proposals include:
Homelessness and Poverty Prevention:
$4.3 million to support the Governor's anti-poverty initiatives including:
A doubling of the Vermont Rental Subsidy Program to $1 million in total.
An increase of $300,000 to the Emergency Solutions Grant, which helps support emergency shelters. These programs were facing a loss of $200,000 due to federal sequestration cuts. The additional $100,000 will increase seasonal capacity.
An increase of $200,000 in Family Supportive Housing, which provides case management and aid to homeless families as they find housing.
Increases for child care providers, including an $800,000 boost to providers of the highest quality care in the state, as well as an increase of $740,000 to families qualifying for assistance with child care as a result of an update of the federal poverty level.
An additional $650,000 for substance abuse and mental health treatment services for Reach Up recipients, the top recommendation of the legislatively-directed Reach Up Policy Workgroup. When matched, the total funding will be $1,226,197.
Drug Addiction Treatment and Prevention:
More than $10 million to support the Governor's opiate treatment initiatives, including:
$8 million in ongoing funding for the Care Alliance for Opioid Addiction.
$200,000 in the FY 2014 Governor's Budget Adjustment Recommendations to eliminate the opiate treatment wait list throughout Vermont. $760,000 to expand rapid intervention based on the successful Chittenden County model. This program will provide objective, evidence-based assessments to help our state's attorneys and our courts determine who may qualify for immediate treatment and services, and then hire the necessary personnel to monitor their recovery.
Funding to allow the Hungry Heart movie campaign to be shown to students throughout Vermont, in an effort to prevent addiction.
Human Services and Healthcare Innovative Funding:
A 2% increase, starting January 1, 2015, in Medicaid reimbursement rates, to recognize inflation and to minimize cost shifts to private payers.
Provides funds for caseload pressures in human service programs. For example, the budget includes approximately $10.5 million in additional funding for Developmental Services.
Includes an increase in the Health Care Claims Assessment of 0.8% to cover the ongoing costs of the Vermont Health Exchange. The proposed Medicaid reimbursement inflationary increase will alleviate pressure on premiums.
Includes funding for the opening of the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin and continues the implementation of community-based mental health programs.
Education and Workforce Development:
Fully funds the statutory General Fund transfer to the Education Fund and the actuarial recommendations for state employees' and teachers' pension plans.
Includes $2.5 million to implement a phased-in plan, being developed in conjunction with the State Treasurer, to pay for, in partnership with teachers and school districts, retired teachers' health insurance. The plan contemplates using $8 to $10 million of the $11.8 million in the Supplemental Property Tax Relief Fund for a phase-in to avoid an increase in property taxes.
Maintains funding for the Next Generation workforce development programs and the Vermont Job Training Program, increases funds for Regional Development Corporations and the Small Business Development Center, includes base funding for the Working Lands Enterprise Initiative with a 5% increase over last year, provides a 9% increase for the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, and includes a $500,000 increase for our Downtown Tax Credit Program, which will leverage an additional $7.5 million for downtown and village center projects.
Increases Higher Education funding by 2%, effective January 1, 2015.
Includes record level transportation investments of $686 million in FY 2015, an increase of $33 million (5%), and includes $250 million of state funds, $407 million of federal funds, and $3 million of local funds. This includes $140 million for repairs to our aging bridges and $116 million for paving. These critical investments are anticipated to address the needs of over 100 bridges, perform preventive maintenance on dozens more structures, and improve more than 300 miles of pavement.
The transportation budget also continues the vision of boosting tourism and mobility along the western corridor rail line. FY 2015's appropriation of $19 million will extend 10 miles of improved rail lines and additional improvements to the corridor and brings us to within 12 miles and 13 rail crossings of delivering passenger rail service between Rutland and Burlington.
Mindful of our continuing energy challenges and our need to drive down our carbon usage, my transportation budget proposal invests nearly $32 million in public transit including expanding car- and van-pooling, boosting the intercity bus network and developing electric vehicle charging stations for the regional "Green Highway." It also invests nearly $8 million in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.
Consistent with the recommendation of the Capital Debt Affordability Advisory Committee, the overall two year $159.9 million debt authorization will not change this year. Utilizing available funds from bond premiums previously authorized but now unissued debt, and sale of property, additional capital spending of $6.7 million will be used to complete the new Montpelier biomass heat plant, support clean water and lake clean-up projects, and plan a new combined Natural Resources and Agriculture lab.
There has never been a time when our Department of Buildings and General Services has been asked to undertake as many large scale projects as in the last three years. The move of the Agency of Natural Resources to the National Life Building in Montpelier is complete.
The new Agency of Education headquarters in Barre will be ready this spring, as will the new Capitol District Biomass Heat Plant.
The new Health Department Lab in Colchester is scheduled for occupancy in October.
Completion of the Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin is projected for this summer.
The major rehabilitation of the Waterbury State Office Complex is now well underway.
An exciting downtown revitalization project in St. Albans, involving a new office building for our state employees, is moving ahead.
We will also commit about $16 million in major maintenance for our existing buildings in this two-year cycle.