Posted By Anne on June 23, 2011
Vermont did it! One more time the wheels of our appropriations process arrived at a balanced budget, one that enables the civic life of Vermont, our citizens, our visitors and infrastructure to carry on for another year.
Developing a balanced budget is always intense as there is a massive amount of work to do. Information is gathered from commissioners, secretaries and directors, agency and program staff, advocates, citizens, legislative legal and fiscal staff, legislative committees and more. Each member of the Appropriations Committee is responsible for digging deep into assigned areas of responsibility. This involves not only listening to those who come before the committee, but going out to agencies to meet with yet more staff, see the programs and clients that are served, and to get a feel for the ambience for which they are requesting funding. Members become advocates for “their” budget areas, as they are tasked with recommending and defending before our fellow committee members acceptance or changes from the Administration’s proposal.
This year the committee labored for the third year in a row to divide yet another small pot of money amongst the ever growing needs of Vermonters, while working to overcome a $176 million shortfall. The final legislative budget exceeded the Governor’s target by an additional $1.3 million in reduced spending. This unbelievable task was accomplished while still assuring that the stabilization fund is whole, and at the same time “parking” between $15 and $17 million in reserve funds, in anticipation of next year’s likely budget shortfalls and possible federal funding reductions. This is real “rainy day money” and it will be used for the FY 13 budget.
Throughout deliberations, the Appropriations Committee kept two lists. One was a wish list of cuts to restore. The other was a list of dollars identified as additional savings, found revenues, and some due to the magic worked by our extraordinary JFO (Joint Fiscal Office) staff. In the end, the Legislature was able to restore several million dollars of the cuts proposed by the Administration. The Senate adjusted some of those restorations, and ultimately an agreement was reached with the Administration to accept all the changes. All of this was accomplished within the bottom line balanced budget.
The final unduplicated appropriation for all funds is $4.69 billion, which represents a 3.6% reduction from last year. The General Fund (GF) appropriation is $1.24 billion, a 7.3% increase over last year. Some of that seemingly large percentage growth this year is due to the need to use General Fund money to replace ARRA money, such as $38.6 million to the Education Fund. After comparison of the budgets from FY 2011 to the FY 2012 budget, spending will decrease by 5.7% in FY 2012.