Shumlin: Vt. lacks cash to handle sequester
By Edward Donga
For The Rutland HERALD | February 26,2013
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, left, and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin confer during a panel discussion on education and workforce development at the National Governors Association 2013 Winter Meeting in Washington on Sunday.
WASHINGTON — Gov. Peter Shumlin expressed concern Monday over Vermont’s ability to handle so-called sequestration if Congress does not act to stop the process — which is due to kick in Friday.
In an interview after a White House meeting with President Obama and other governors from across the country, Shumlin declared: “If this artificial roadblock to economic recovery is really left in the road, there is no way the state of Vermont has the cash to mitigate the impacts on our most vulnerable, on our military, on our teachers, on our law enforcement — and on the private sector, who (are) going to realize they don’t have predictability, and they’re going to start pulling back.”
The forthcoming sequester, which involves $85 billion in automatic across-the-board spending cuts this year — split evenly between federal defense and non-defense programs — dominated discussions at the National Governors Association three-day winter meeting, which took place in Washington over the weekend. Just as the governors were leaving town Monday, Congress reconvened after a weeklong recess, with little indication that a deal to head off the sequester will be reached by Friday.
“It’s tough for any of us, of we governors, to prepare because we all know... our budgets all operate on more federal dollars than state dollars,” said Shumlin, a Democrat, in comments on the White House lawn after the meeting with Obama.
During that session, Shumlin said there was bipartisan consensus among the governors that Congress’ refusal to act to avoid the sequester was the biggest threat to job growth and economic prosperity in the individual states.
Shumlin added that he hopes Congress would “come to their senses” and act on the plan the president has proposed to avoid sequestration. White House officials contend the Obama plan, which Shumlin described as “thoughtful and balanced,” would produce almost $1.8 trillion in additional deficit reduction on top of $2.5 trillion in such reductions enacted over the past couple of years.
But congressional Republicans, who accepted the White House’s demands for $600 billion in taxes on the wealthiest Americans as part of the “fiscal cliff” deal at the end of December, are balking at further tax hikes. Obama’s latest plan, as published by the White House, contains an additional $680 billion in new revenue, largely through limiting tax deductions for those in the wealthiest bracket.
In an effort to turn up the heat on congressional Republicans, the White House on Sunday released a state-by-state breakdown of what it sees as the impact if sequestration takes effect. Vermont could see significant cuts to programs ranging from education to defense to health care, according to the report.
For example, approximately 1,000 civilian Department of Defense employees would be furloughed in Vermont at some point this year. The result would be a total reduction in gross pay of about $2.9 million. Military base operation funding in the state would also be cut by $1 million.
Vermont would also see about $1.1 million in cuts to primary and secondary education. The report said the cuts would put the jobs of about 20 teachers and school aides at risk and result in 2,000 fewer students being served.
The report highlighting cuts to education came a day after Shumlin, during a session of the NGA’s Education and Workforce Committee, boasted about his state’s efforts to improve education quality for its students.
“We’re a high-spending state,” Shumlin said. “I think we’re the second highest in the country,” apparently referring to per-pupil spending.
During his testimony to the committee, Shumlin highlighted increased funding for early education and individual plans crafted by and tailored for students — as well as a dual enrollment program for high school students that allows them to start earning college credits in 11th and 12th grade.
“We’re looking at this as the comprehensive answer to job growth,” Shumlin said.
Edward Donga is affiliated with the Boston University Journalism Program.