By Kirk Carapezza
The House approved a budget on Friday that increases state spending by roughly 5 percent. The budget makes investments in such areas as higher education, low-income heating assistance and health care, while limiting how long someone can collect welfare benefits.
Republicans intended to offer an amendment that would have reduced spending growth. Money would have been put into reserves in anticipation of across-the-board federal spending cuts.
But the GOP plan was withdrawn after it was opposed by the House Appropriations Committee on a party-line vote.
“If it goes down in here by a 100-to-50 vote it’s not likely that any of these things in our proposal will ever be taken up,” House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, explained on the House floor shortly after the budget passed, 91-49. “So we thought it was in our best interest to withdraw it.”
Governor Peter Shumlin also opposes the House version of the budget. The governor wants to redirect $17 million from an earned income tax credit program for poor working Vermonters to subsidize child care, instead of raising broad based taxes. For months, the governor has staunchly defended his plan, saying that wealthy Vermonters will leave the state if their taxes go up. Some policy analysts dispute the governor’s claim. They argue that there’s no evidence to support his view.
Earlier in the week, Shumlin reiterated his disagreement with the House’s spending and revenue proposal. “I would go for the highest building that I could find to jump to make sure that I wasn’t here to see that tax package become law,” Shumlin told reporters.
But House Speaker Shap Smith on Friday seemed ready to talk the governor down from the fiscal ledge. Smith argued Shumlin handed House leaders a package that didn’t have any reserves in it and asked too much of the poor. Smith said he sees room for compromise.
“At the end of the day, everything has to be on the table for discussion and I would hope that all of the parties would be willing to come to the table instead of go to the roofs,” Smith said. “I’m not going to foreclose anything, but I have some real concerns about asking lower-income working Vermonters to put more money into the budget when you’re not asking those who make more money to do the same.”
The budget now goes to the Senate, where only a few lawmakers have indicated that they’re willing to consider the governor’s plan to reform Vermont’s earned income tax credit.