Residents spoke at video-conference sites across Vermont on Monday evening, stressing social service needs they said the state should take into account when preparing the next state budget.
Residents weighed in during a second public meeting called to invite citizen input into the budget process, repeatedly advocating for finding ways to meet health care needs, primarily for those with disabilities, as well as funding health service organizations and finding ways to avoid cuts in those same areas.
Residents also expressed their concerns on a wide range of other topics, from public transportation to higher education. Many suggested the state should consider raising taxes. One resident even suggested the state could resolve the problem of disproportionate tax breaks given to wealthy residents if federal legislators won’t address the disparities in Congress.
The state has been working on the fiscal 2014 budget with its various agencies and departments, but this is the first year that residents have had the opportunity to make themselves heard in a formal setting planned ahead by state officials as part of the overall budgeting process. Attendees also filled out surveys at Monday’s meeting, ranking budget priorities in the order they feel are most important.
The survey asks for rankings in nine areas, with one line left blank for “write-in” suggestions. The survey can also be found on the state Department of Finance & Management’s website and emailed back. The address is http://finance.vermont.gov/sites/finance/files/pdf/state%20budget/PublicForumPriortySurvey.pdf
The current budget for fiscal 2013 is $5.13 billion. As officials weighed both revenues and spending, they’ve suggested that Vermont is limited in its options with discretionary spending.
One resident at Monday night’s teleconference, however, suggested officials shouldn’t liken “tough” budget decisions to fiscal belt-tightening. She said the comparison was callous.
The speaker, who attended the Brattleboro video conference site, said residents aren’t caught between deciding whether to buy a new TV or replace an old car to save money. Instead, they’re making choices between buying needed prescription medications and paying rent.
Another participant in the discussion was Traven Leyshon. He took part from the Montpelier video-conference site, raising spreadsheets in the air as he talked about how tax breaks have benefited wealthy residents.
More than 25 people attended the conference at the Montpelier site, and dozens more took part elsewhere around the state.
One of the big issues of the evening was raised by family members of people with disabilities, voicing their concerns over the possibility of cuts to programs serving the disabled. Numerous people with disabilities themselves also spoke about needed services.
Participants Monday night also said only two budget input meetings was not enough.
The citizens’ input will aid Gov. Peter Shumlin in developing the new proposed budget that he’ll present to the Legislature in January.