On Wednesday the General Assembly will hold a day long preview of the upcoming legislative session. VTDigger has more:
The legislative session doesn’t start until Jan. 7, but lawmakers have been streaming into the Vermont Statehouse over the last few weeks in anticipation of the second half of the biennium. At the behest of House Speaker Shap Smith, every committee will meet before the new year and on Nov. 20, the General Assembly will hold a daylong legislative briefing for a preview of the session. The purpose of the preseason quarterbacking, Smith says, is to better coordinate the priorities of the 15 committees in the House with his own agenda for the session… Budget-writers face a $55 million to $70 million gap again, and this time there aren’t enough one-time monies to paper over the difference. In addition, the $12 million rainy day fund, which has been carried over for future spending in prior years, will be consumed by higher-than-expected costs for human services programs when the state balances its books for the current year as part of the mid-year correction, also known as budget adjustment. The trend line from the Joint Fiscal Office, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research arm, shows a gap of $50 million-plus for the next five years. In addition, federal supports for programs, including the low-income heating assistance program and food stamps, are diminishing. Smith says the sequestration cuts will go into effect in January, and the state expects to see more reductions in federal spending on human services programs… Smith says the federal government is “abandoning its role in helping out people in need,” but the state can’t afford to “backfill” funding for human services programs. The same assertion has been oft-repeated by Shumlin administration officials, including Jim Reardon, the commissioner of the Department of Finance and Management, and Jeb Spaulding, the secretary of the Agency of Administration. “We have done it for LIHEAP, and it’s putting pressure on our budget, and I don’t think we have the capacity to take on what the federal government originally had as an obligation,” Smith said.