Ashe: ‘tell us the program you want to get rid of”

Senate Pro Tem doubts budget cuts can eliminate $400 million deficit, but asks constituents for suggestions

By Guy Page

May 12, 2020 – Can the Vermont Legislature cut its way out of a looming $400 million budget deficit in next year’s budget? Senate 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. 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.”

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 Governor 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 info. Recommended increases in payrolls and operations. 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. 

Photo Tim Ashe Facebook page

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Categories: Legislation

11 replies »

  1. Abolish the Green Mountain Care Board Eliminate Efficiency Vermont. Defund Planned Parenthood, Across the board cuts for all Reduce eligibility for Medicaid. End the All Payer Experiment.

  2. If my math is correct that $400 million dollar deficit is approximately 7% of the budget. I find it hard to believe we can’t find 7% in cuts. Covid-19 has has shown us that a lot of jobs were deemed “Non-Essential”. How about we have each agency head earn their paycheck? How about we tell each of those agency heads we are cutting your budget 7%. Then it is their job to find where to cut non-essential items from their respective budgets.

    I read somewhere the Governor had implemented a hiring freeze. That’s a good start. There’s an old saying “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging”. In this case when your in a financial hole, stop spending.


    Dana Colson for Lt. Governor

  3. Paul Costello’s Vermont Council for Rural Development would be a great place to start. There is a million dollars to be had right there that is being spent on one unnecessary project after another.

    Suspend the pay to move to Vermont program.

    Maybe set a goal to get 30% more years out of all state vehicles, trucks and equipment????

    Neighbor works is a name I’ve seen in west rutland. They do home loans, energy audits and a few other non mandatory services. For example they are doing a 3,800 dollar program to replace wood stoves with EPA 2020 compliant stoves.

    I’m a maple sugarer. I have seen multiple organizations that offer money for reverse osmosis machines. No no no. If you want an RO….. buy an RO!

    Same with a Tesla Battery. Buy it! With your money!

    The net metering program is another sham that drives up costs for everybody else.

    Cut the motor vehicle inspection procedures to brakes, balljoints, tie rod ends, tires and lights. These are strictly safety related items. The rest of it drives up costs chasing gremlins.

  4. Lets save some money by eliminating all state employee (including administrative) pay raises for this year. “We are all in this together”!

  5. . Scrap the VT unemployment insurance program that employers have to contribute to. Replace it with a volunteer program where the employee can buy the insurance if they chose. This would free up a great deal of money for employers to work with and maybe hire more employees.

  6. Reduce the “Income sensitivity” cut off from $100,000 to $60,000 then pull back the curtain to look at the tax payers “net worth”, if it is over $300,000, no state payment for their property taxes. Many wealthy folks are recipients of $6,000 property tax payments because they don’t show any income on their tax return.

  7. Correction to Comment #6, should read “VT Workers Compensation Insurance Program” not VT unemployment insurance program.

  8. How about getting rid of the program that entices Flatlanders to run for political office ?

      • There’s got to be some kind of enticement there that real Vermonters aren’t privy to, otherwise there would be more equity between the number of real Vermonters and Flatlanders in the make up of the House and Senate. There’s got to be something there, money power, prestige, the need to see far away, exotic places like Montpelier? (big fish/little pond?) Get a copy of the State “Face Book”. 2/3 of the elected officials in this biography of them, if you will, were not born here, educated here, or otherwise had their formative years influenced by our culture. Imagine if the House and Senate in D.C was made up of a majority of people who just moved here ? Yup, if they’ve taken their oath, they’re Americans, so was Henry Kissinger and General John Shalikashvili, both great Americans, but unable to run for POTUS, and why is that ?????

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