Gov. Peter Shumlin delivered his sixth and final budget proposal to the Legislature Thursday afternoon. The plan calls for a 3 percent increase in spending and raises roughly $30 million in new taxes.
Shumlin proudly told lawmakers that this is his first budget that's not balanced by the use of money available for only one year. Instead, he says state spending will be based on ongoing revenue.
"[It] increases General Fund spending by a modest 3.1 percent, which is matched by an identical projected increase in our revenues,” Shumlin said.
In the past year, roughly 20,000 Vermonters signed up for the expanded Medicaid program and the state didn't have the money to cover the new costs.
To address this issue, Shumlin proposed expanding an existing health care provider tax to include independent doctors and all dentists. Hospitals and physicians employed by the hospitals already pay this tax.
“But while we've been eager to expand Medicaid to families that have been making horrid, horrid choices without it,” Shumlin says, “we've refused to summon the courage to pay for it."
The Agency of Human Services accounts for a lot of the new spending. The governor proposed a $10 million package to hire 35 new workers at the Department for Children and Families. The plan also adds several new positions in the Defender General's office and the State's Attorney's office.
Shumlin also called for an additional opiate treatment hub that would be located in the northwestern part of the state. It would serve an additional 400 people.
Administration Secretary Justin Johnson says a 3 percent budget increase means that many departments will be leveled funded next year, including the University of Vermont and the Vermont State Colleges.
Some parts of the proposed budget are controversial. Johnson says the state wants to save almost $5 million by changing Medicaid eligibility rules for pregnant women. He says they can still get coverage through the state's health care exchange, but they'll have to pay for it.
“It doesn't throw anyone off insurance because they still have access to the subsidies,” Johnson says.
Johnson also wants to streamline the process for the state to involuntarily medicate a person struggling with a severe mental illness. The state seeks this authority through the courts. And Johnson says the savings here would be roughly $5 million.
“So that the person wasn't in need of the highest level of protection and care because they're not medicated, and it's very expensive,” Johnson says.
Shumlin also proposed increasing assessments on mutual fund companies to help balance the budget. This plan would raise roughly $12 million.
The House and Senate Appropriations committees will now review the governor's budget plan.