Senate leader Tim Ashe to taxpayers: ‘Tell us the program you want to get rid of’

By Guy Page

Can the Vermont Legislature cut its way out of a looming $400 million budget deficit in next year’s budget? Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe thinks not.

“We often hear when we go back to our constituents, people will rightly say, ‘government spends too much,’ Ashe said on VPR’s Vermont Edition Thursday May 7 (35 minute mark). “And we ask the same question — ‘tell us the program you want to get rid of.’ And that’s much harder, because the more you scrutinize the state budget, with the Great Recession and the austerity years, there’s not a lot of fat on the state budget. If you trim here and there, it’s usually very small numbers, not the kind of thing that really digs yourself out of a multi-hundred dollar program.”

“Which is not to say that we will throw in the towel and give up,” Ashe said. He hopes Gov. Phil Scott will become less “rigid” about increasing taxes. He hopes the federal government will let states plug the deficit with federal recovery money ($1.2 billion for Vermont).

But on one point Ashe is absolutely certain: “cuts alone cannot deal with a $427 million deficit.”

Wikimedia Commons/Orca Media

Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, D/P-Burlington

Ashe would limit cuts to programs that “don’t affect people’s basic needs being met, and don’t substantially alter the nature of our state.” When Ashe was first elected during the Great Recession of 2008, Gov. Jim Douglas wanted to cut land trust funding. “I remember thinking, it’s tough times like these that really shine the light on what you value the most. And we were able to prevail.”

“Hopefully it [budget reduction] will be kept to a minimum and around the edges,” Ashe said.

Not all Vermonters share Ashe’s timidity about wielding the fiscal scalpel, of course. A recession looms. 2021 property taxes are estimated to rise $390 on a home valued at $150,000. Now might be a good time to cut non-essential spending. Now might be a good time for Vermonters to take up Ashe on his offer: “tell us the program you want to get rid of.”

Surprised and happy to comply, would-be citizen budget cutters plunging into the state budget may soon find themselves lost in a dense thicket of numbers and line items. For example Gov. Scott’s 1,360 page proposed 2021 budget offers no user-friendly section explaining “here’s what this money is really being spent on.” In fact, the entire budget process seems to ignore the curious layman in an earnest effort to keep the budgetary conveyor belt moving briskly along.

Trying to pull budget cuts out of the entire budget is like trying to hike the Long Trail in one trek. It’s not impossible but the layman is advised to make day hikes instead. Try the annual office/departmental Budget Request. It has individual salary information, recommended increases in payrolls and operations, and funding asks for new projects. Sometimes it even explains the requests. It’s granular. It’s the Rosetta Stone of budget docs.

For example, in the 22 page Executive Office (Governor) budget request you’ll find the governor’s proposed salary/benefits package of $238,000, and $191,000 for his chief of staff (pg. 19). Last year the governor’s office paid $255,000 in a “fee for space charge” under the Rental Property category (pg. 17). Rent for the fifth floor at the Pavilion Office Building? Good question. Granular data like these inform questions, discussion and conclusions on which the specific budget reductions Ashe requests can be proposed. Below are links to budget requests for the Agency of Administration and its departments:

Department of Buildings & General Services
Department of Human Resources
Agency of Administration
Department of Finance & Management
Department of Libraries
Department of Taxes
Executive Office (Governor)
VOSHA Review Board

Of course, there are dozens of departments within state government. But many hands make light work. Motivated citizen budget cutters could seek each out and band together. Former legislators would be invaluable guides. Hurting taxpayers of Vermont, unite! You have nothing to lose but your pains.

Read more of Guy Page’s reports.

Images courtesy of TNR and Wikimedia Commons/Orca Media

25 thoughts on “Senate leader Tim Ashe to taxpayers: ‘Tell us the program you want to get rid of’

  1. Where to start? About 90% of all executive branch programs need to be terminated entirely and government trimmed down to a basic few.

  2. OK. How about the funding for the committee to legalize prostitution that is currently being considered. Each day, as the legislature considers yet another boondoggle, just add it to the list requested by Ashe.

  3. Every person on here, and I’m sure more to come and even more that don’t comment can and do come up with reasonable solutions to our Vermont issues. They are practical and wise.

    Yet a very smart man, who’s been in the senate and wants to be our Lt. Governor can’t come up with any ideas, suggests we can’t change and I will admit is very good with words.

    2 things to take away.

    The average Vermont can solve our problems. You don’t need to be an attorney or rhode scholar, we need people to run and people need to support them.

    To suggest there is no place to make any cuts, it’s impossible shows this man perhaps would not be a great choice

    Perhaps Meg Hansen has some ideas? Where are the other candidates on this? We need to step away from name recognition, platitudes and popularity in choosing our representatives. If Vermont randomly went through our phone book and chose who would be in office, we’d be much better off, which tells us how good the average Vermonter is and how dismal the average person in Montpelier is.

    • Neil,

      I shared Meg Hansen’s press release responding to Ashe in the comments on this article yesterday.

      This is the link: https://bit.ly/3cuxjFr

      Hansen challenged Sen. Ashe and other D/P legislators want tax hikes: “Tell us — what parts of our household budgets should we scrap to afford your tax increases?”

      Cutting spending costs votes. That’s too politically risky. She criticized Ashe for “abdicating his legislative responsibility by shifting this tough decision-making on to Vermonters.”

      She discussed these issues in detail on The Morning Drive radio show with Kurt and Marcus this morning. Audio clip of that interview will be available tomorrow and posted on our campaign Facebook page:

      https://facebook.com/HansenForVermont/

      Like the page to receive campaign updates and stay connected. Thanks!

      • It’s on facebook, I can’t see it.

        Facebook shadow bans anyone with a wiff of being conservative. I totally support her, she needs to be on this site an others. Facebook is not a friend for anyone running on a Republican ticket, I’ve seen it the last elections cycle, they will total screw you.

        • FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
          May 12, 2020
          Contact: Meg Hansen, info@hansenforvermont.com

          Hansen Challenges Sen. Ashe (and Others) Proposing Tax Hikes: What Parts of Our Household Budgets Should We Scrap?

          Manchester, VT – The COVID-19 related economic shutdown has reduced state revenues by hundreds of millions. Vermonters want lawmakers to cut government spending, instead of raising taxes, to address the budget deficit. But Senate President Pro Tempore Tim Ashe (P/D- Chittenden) and other Democratic and Progressive Party lawmakers favor tax hikes. Ashe (who is also a Lt. Governor candidate) challenged Vermonters, “Tell us the programs you want to get rid of.” On Tuesday, Lt. Governor candidate Meg Hansen responded to him.

          Hansen said, “Unlike our lawmakers, the average Vermonter does not have access to detailed budgeting records or counsel from financial analysts and economists. How are we, the people of Vermont, expected to know which programs have failed to deliver results and thus need to be downsized or cut? How are we expected to determine which areas of governance are plagued with waste or even fraud and corruption? The only reason to abdicate one’s legislative responsibility, by shifting tough decision-making to the people, would be to avoid political risk. Cutting government spending, after all, will cost votes,” Hansen added.

          One in four Vermonters are out of a job. This dire situation is likely to worsen over the coming months. Yet, Ashe added that cuts alone would not fill the budget hole.

          Hansen asked Sen. Ashe (and other legislators proposing tax increases): “ Tell us – what parts of our household budgets should we scrap so that we can afford your tax increases? Should we cut back on food, rent/ mortgage, education programs for our children, health insurance, or retirement savings?”

          Hansen added, “I disagree with Ashe’s claim that there is little fat to trim. The All-Payer Model, run by OneCare Vermont, is morbidly obese. Another billion-dollar undertaking is the state’s network of nonprofits that are paid (some entirely by taxpayer funds) to run programs for the government. There is a lot of duplication in these activities thanks to lacking oversight and accountability.”

          “Tax increases will not allow Vermonters to engage in different forms of productive work, rev up entrepreneurship and creative enterprise, or attract young people and families to our state. The only sustainable and moral way to increase revenues is by deregulating and diversifying the economy. This path of creating financial vitality for Vermont, and prosperity for all Vermonters, will be my top priority as Lt. Governor,” Hansen concluded.

          ###

          Learn more about Meg Hansen and her campaign at hansenforvermont.com and https://www.facebook.com/HansenForVermont.

  4. In this report you state that property taxes are going to increase for 2021. You are probably right stating that? But they are raising them now… They don’t even have to vote a tax rate increase. In reality, they just up that value of your property to get the money they want. My $71,000 house I bought in Jan 2019 got increased to $114,600 and this year it got raised to $162,900. Nothing has changed with my house… The interesting part is my tax rate doesn’t change, the assessed value of my house just goes up. The research data I have with 30 houses sold in the last 90 days, 20 of them sold for less than half of the assessed value. So they aren’t raising the taxes in 2021, they are raising them now….
    I actually think it is illegal also based on this: Property taxes are levied by municipalities for the support of education and municipal services. Vermont does not assess tax on personal property.[262] Property taxes are based on appraisal of the fair market value of real property. And the definition of Fair Market Value is: The fair market value is the price at which the property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller, neither being under any compulsion to buy or to sell and both having reasonable knowledge of relevant facts. United States v. Cartwright, 411 U. S. 546. Based on this law, they are not using Fair Market Value, they use an inflated value just to get more money.

  5. I think we need to reduce the size of the administration in our school systems and allowed teachers to have more input into what they teach.

    We need to increase the number of children in a classroom to cut costs on schools.

    School taxes are 75% of my tax bill no wonder our infrastructure is falling apart there is no money left to repair it.

    We need to show that you are willing to start from the top down to cut taxes on the overburdened taxpayers in the state of Vermont and that means either pay cuts for everyone in government or eliminating positions in government.

    we need to hold the legislative session to a certain time. Because the cost of overrun is astronomical to the taxpayer and it achieves nothing.

    We need to stop educating people in the public sector with taxpayer money.

    anyone that holds a license on their own in the state of Vermont has to do their own upkeep of education at their own expense with their own time.

    I don’t know how much money would be saved if our fire departments are police departments and our school systems enacted this policy but I’m sure the cost would be immense and would return a bunch of money to the taxpayer.

    there are many many ways to save money and the biggest would be to dump this new green deal that achieves nothing absolutely nothing in the state of Vermont.

    I think one of the first things we need to search for when we elect candidates in the state of Vermont is if they have an ounce of common sense because under the current leadership it is proven it does not exist.

    https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10217408233059300&id=1278838583

  6. How about determining the extent of the budget short fall and trimming every program proportionally? Also, the desire to fund a dying state college program is a typical example of why we are and have been in this fiscal mess for the past several years. If it feels good or the vocal minority shouts loudly enough, it’s suffecient incentive to fund a project regardless of worth or need.

  7. Wow, Ashe is asking us what to do, I thought it was their job to follow the Constitution
    and run the finances of the state with things like a balanced budget !!

    So now we have the ” leader ” asking us what to do ? Well all we need to do is to get
    the state back under ” conservative control ” and stop all the liberal foolishness !!

    Montpelier is run by educated fools, wake up people and he wants to be Lt.Governor
    now that’s scary !!

  8. I wonder if any of the people I mentioned “Baruth, Johnson, LaLonde,Pugh White, Balint, Clarkson, Sirotkin, Grad, Mrowicki, Pugh, Townsend, Cina for the top tier, then most of the shepeople dems that follow suit like good servants to the powers” would ask this Q that Ashe did? If so it might indicate they have some gray matter and a sliver of serving the people.

    Regardless, anyone desirous to be elected to Montpelier that is a Flatlander transplant should not be allowed to any VT government position for the first 10 years of being here so they become accustomed to the VT way of life and not try to change it.

    For example, the mentality: Don’t move on property next to a diary farm and a couple years later complain about the odors and try to shut the farmer down. That’s the mentality I see in Montpelier and resultant problems for the state.

  9. 2 senators ONLY in each county and start reducing the size of VT government. Make salaries like NH- $100 per year, reduces people looking for a job in Montpelier. Since when do we need 1200+ new proposed bills each year? Ashe is one of the problems. Would he and any long time people there step aside to let new blood and ideas in?

    Never mind reducing programs, reduce people. New people will and should reduce programs. What comes first the chicken or the egg. In this case Gov people are the chicken. So sick and tired of people like Baruth, Johnson, LaLonde,Pugh White, Balint, Clarkson, Sirotkin, Grad, Mrowicki, Pugh, Townsend, Cina for the top tier, then most of the shepeople dems that follow suit like good servants to the powers

    Start respecting the people that elected “them”. The people are very smart according to “them” when “they” get elected, but become stupid and servants when “they” get elected.

    Get rid of outside money and influence. Hope that “them” get knowledge about matters before a vote to pass stupid bills. Too many stupid people are elected. The headline of this article indicates how stupid such people are. DUH!!!

    • Yes, if we model after the # of state employees, NH to VT and equalize to what are neighbors are doing we’d probably reduce our tax bill by 30%.

      $427 million is only 10% of a 5 billion dollar budget. Every company and family has done and will probably have to do again more substantial cuts than this.

      We could easily make these goals.

  10. Sen Ashe; if any one of us was headed for the place that this state govt is headed for do you think for a minute that there is any taxpayer that would ponder this in the way you have ? Of course not. There have been some mighty good suggestions in the responses here, now it is time to get to work.
    You folks put us in this mess, now it is time to use your ingenuity and do the the things needing to be done. If you don’t, the voters will. Trust me. If you need some help, call on Tom Evslin, Tom Pelham, Former Gov Douglas, and others who have been in the fire….. They will help. You owe it to the voters. For over 20 years, this state has manged to get too much government in place that just takes our money. Enough already, get to work!!!!!!!

  11. According to a recent Society for Human Resource Management survey, 52% of small businesses expect to close for good within six months. That’s about 14 million small businesses.

    I suggest Mr. Ashe and his colleagues get busy, not with scalpels but with axes.

  12. Ashe is Senate LEADER, but he is asking us what to do?
    How did he get to be a leader?

    Vermont could save at least $200 million per year by getting out of the energy sector.
    Cancel all energy programs, subsidies, etc.
    Get rid of the boondoggle called Efficiency Vermont.

    Vermont should also get out of the education sector.
    Several hundred million dollars would be saved each year.
    Get rid of any state control and turn all of it local control.
    Not only would that be less costly, but likely would have better outcomes

    Vermont should get out of the healthcare sector.
    Get rid of any state programs and turn all of it to local medical providers.
    Nobody needs an expensive state MIDDLEMAN MEDDLER

  13. The sophistry is strong in this one. So are you saying the only way to reduce the budget is to eliminate a program? There is no waste or fat in Vermonts budget? Should be able to reduce by 5 % with little or no effort, 10% can be found and bring about better service.

    • So they can’t deal with these losses, but the citizens are experiencing 10x this amount, yet we will find a way, we have to!

      Combine our lottery with NH, close some colleges, we are only 600k, a medium city at best, stop funding bloated housing projects that subsidize the wealthy and creat poverty traps, let the public handle preschool and day care close all state programs, look for areas where we can save by hiring private contractors/combine with neighboring states, get an ethics commission (usually saves 1% or 5 million in our case), slash administration in school budgets, model after succesful cities, all funding of non-profits through any tax or fee should be eliminated, all projects funded by state or Feds should have a minimum of 30% in order to be considered, time and a half not allowed for the last ten years of state employees work schedule (saves high wage overtime and cramming done at career end to artificially raise lifetime retirement benefits).

      There are so many ways to save money. Article 16 in our constitution. People need to read it.

      Oh. Other revue sources TAX PORN!
      Raise the fees for lobbyists, substantially!
      Tax any publication that moderates their commentary as a lobbyist.
      Reduce nonprofits by 50%, massive investigation and abuse for hiding lobbyists.
      Tax PAC, they aren’t people, they can’t vote, tax 25-50%

      It would be wonderful to get under the financial hood of Vermont, our engine needs a major overhaul and a supercharger to boot. Vermont’s engine has low compression, a weak battery, clogged fuel filter, bad gas (and expensive), leaking exhaust and needs an oil change too!

      Yeah you could get a team to really get our engine running well and efficiently. It would be fun too.

  14. Well you can eliminate every and all grants, they are an epic waste of money, the only reason they exist is because no other group would try and fund such poor ideas.

  15. Abolish the Green Mountain Care Board. Eliminate Efficiency Vermont. Reduce eligibility for Medicaid. .Across the board cuts for all. Do not raise taxes especially property taxes. Cut spending. This is an economic crisis for everybody. Vermont was in fiscal crisis before the pandemic. Legislators, admit that some of your interference with businesses has caused businesses to close like childcare. Realize that you will not have money to fund everything you want. We ,the people , do not have money. We have to go without. Cut, cut , cut, and blame the virus if you must but some of us know it was legislators irresponsible spending, and ridiculous rules and regulations Stop wasting time and money on unwanted legislation like changing the Constitution. Defund Planned Parenthood.

  16. All the ones required for the state of Vermont to fit within the confines of the State and federal Constitution.

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