Editor’s note: This commentary is by Ferron Wambold, of Cambridge. She is the Republican nominee for the Lamoille-3 House district.
While we were one of the most fiscally secure states, our state is already looking at a $196 million deficit due to COVID-19. Gov. Phil Scott has proposed using $138 million of reserve funds to fill the gap.
Also, while working remotely and unable to ask for general public opinion, Vermont legislators voted for S.340, which opens up the funds from other agencies to be used to fill gaps in budgets. In other words, the state is looking at robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Now we find ourselves already in an extended session due to COVID, and lawmakers have promised to come back to readjust the budget quarterly. Do you know that it costs $60,000 per day to run the extended session? That is what it cost in 2018 to extend the legislative session, according to an article published by the Burlington Free Press on May 29, 2018. Admittedly, that number may be different due to the remote work — we don’t know yet since it’s unknown if we have been paying per diem to our lawmakers.
While lawmakers have said that they need to extend the session due to COVID and budgeting, they’ve also been working on bills that were proposed prior to the COVID pandemic, as well as using this time to add new ones to the list. According to the Vermont General Assembly website, at the time of this writing, 34 bills have been introduced in both the Senate and House since legislators returned to work on March 24.
So they’re working on the budget. Do you know what is in the budget? New drapes and carpeting repairs at $45,000 for the governor’s ceremonial office and vestibule, among other rooms, according to H.955. In fiscal year 2021 they’ve approved $75,000 for those same rooms. Again, we’re looking at a deficit and this is how the money is going to be spent. Can we not live without these drapes and carpet? You can find more on the budget by reading H.953 and H.951.
What’s shameful is that they’re asking nonprofits and other programs to look at cutting budgets. These are programs that serve the most vulnerable low income victims of crimes. People who already need more help are looking at getting less, but don’t worry folks, the State House will have lovely new drapes and curtains.
While legislators are doing a good job in this uncertain time, there are a lot of things going on behind the citizens’ backs. We’re unable to speak up against the things they’re doing. Some accountability and frugality is what’s needed in our budget deficit. We need to quit robbing Peter to pay Paul, because I think we can all see the writing on the wall. We’re looking at higher taxes to refill these gaps while lawmakers bicker about how they’re going to use money designated for COVID to backfill their deficits, while ensuring that they still get paid during an extended season.