By Kirk Carapezza
We’re quickly approaching the crossover point for this legislative session, and Governor Peter Shumlin is not backing down from his spending and revenue proposals.
This week, Shumlin has been meeting with Senate and House leaders behind closed doors. It’s part of an effort to see if there’s any way the Legislature can find some common ground on the state budget.
In and out of committee, Senate and House leaders seem to agree: there are serious challenges ahead as they debate the governor’s plan to fund early childcare and a variety of energy programs.
House Speaker Shap Smith admits many of his colleagues strongly disagree with the governor’s funding schemes – specifically moving $17 million out of the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit to pay for childcare subsidies.
“If we want to move forward with some of these investments I think it’s important for us to try to find some other way that we can pay for them if we don’t like the way the governor has proposed,” Smith said.
When asked whether he’s ready to compromise on his proposals, however, Shumlin won’t identify those areas where there could be some give-and-take – at least not yet.
“Well, you know, if I answered that question I’d be a dumb governor,” Shumlin said on Thursday. Instead, the Governor is insisting that lawmakers approve his budget plan, which doesn’t increase the sales tax, income tax or meals and rooms tax.
“I understand that they’re going to have different ideas, but I would argue: judge us by what we sign at the end of the session,” Shumlin said. “This is tough stuff.”
Tough stuff, but lawmakers say the governor may be forgetting that there’s some diplomacy required to strike a deal. Sen. Richard Westman, R- Lamoille, and the Senate Transportation Committee have been debating a new gas tax proposed by the Shumlin administration to fund the state’s transportation infrastructure.
“Certainly the proposals are not going to look like the way that the governor proposed,” Westman said. “I think it will look very different when the fuel tax piece leaves transportation in the Senate.”
Whether it’s a fuel tax or cutting the Earned Income Tax Credit, Senate and House leaders say it’s time for the governor to either make concessions or introduce new revenue sources.