by Hilary Niles vtdigger.org(link is external) The fiscal year 2015 state budget reflects a sluggish economic recovery and several pressing budgetary concerns, lawmakers say. The $5.5 billion price tag is about 4.1 percent more than the current year(link is external), which ends June 30. Governor Peter Shumlin’s recommended budget included $14 million from a tax that would have been levied on every health insurance claim; lawmakers rejected that proposal and trimmed new taxes on a handful of products and services to $5.79 million.Legislators scaled back Shumlin’s proposed 2 percent increase in(link is external) reimbursement rates for health care providers who accept Medicaid payments. House budget writers instead proposed a 0.75 percent uptick. The Senate tried to restore the 2 percent rate increase; the House and Senate budget conferees settled on 1.6 percent, effective Jan. 1.Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin proposed a $5.6 billion dollar budget to the joint assembly of the House and Senate in January. Photo by Roger CrowleyThe Medicaid reimbursement issue came as no surprise. Lawmakers increased reimbursement rates by 3 percent(link is external) in fiscal year 2014, and they knew Shumlin wanted to continue the gradual increase in compensation for services that are reimbursed at lower rates than the cost of care. The gap in Medicaid payments contributes to the cost shift and rising insurance prices. Vermonters who buy private health insurance pay the difference in higher premiums.This year the budget addresses funding for retired teachers’ health care. State Treasurer Beth Pearce proposed a plan to pay for the roughly $28 million in annual health care costs. For years, most of the money has been borrowed from the teachers’ retirement fund, which has undermined the stability of the pension plan.Pearce assembled stakeholders in the fall of 2013 to develop a funding solution. They came up with a combination of General Fund appropriations, employee contributions, school district fees ($1,072 annually for each new teacher hire), federal grant allocations and a one-time, low-interest, $28 million General Fund “loan.”The plan is not loved by municipalities and school boards, who say they should not have to shoulder the burden for a benefit they never negotiated. But few lawmakers balked at the impact of the proposal on local property taxes. They were more concerned about $485 million in interest payments that come due in 2024 than they were about incremental increases in the local property tax burden.The plan was approved, including a $28 million interfund loan from the General Fund cash pool. The loan is expected to be paid back by 2023.To help speed along the repayment schedule, lawmakers rejiggered the budget “waterfall” provisions that dictate where end-of-year surplus revenues should flow. Under the new plan, half of all General Fund surpluses will pay down the loan.The other half will be split evenly between Rainy Day Reserves and the Education Fund. The rainy day fund also will be built up by General Fund revenues from a new legacy insurance license,(link is external) created in February.A newly unionized group of home health care providers negotiated a roughly 2.5 percent raise from the state, at a cost of about $2.2 million just a few weeks before the session ended.(link is external) The eleventh-hour contract negotiation took lawmakers by surprise and the tax and budget-writing committees had to go back to the drawing board to find more funds, though Secretary of Administration Jeb Spaulding said legislators should have known the payout was coming.Other budget decisions had more to do with policy goals — especially economic development and health care reforms.economic developmentThe $5 million Vermont Enterprise Investment Fund that Shumlin announced in April originally counted on surplus funds. But April revenues (announced in May) fell far short of expectations and administration officials scrambled to find a way to backstop the new business incentive tool. Revenues from personal income were down $19 million in April; an unexpected estate tax windfall for about the same amount helped to soften the blow.Budget writers appropriated $5 million for the Vermont Enterprise Fund from the estate tax windfall; any excess estate money will go to the Higher Education Trust Fund.The fund gives Shumlin the discretion to provide $4.5 million in cash incentives to a large business located in Vermont that is threatening to leave or close up shop. The fund also includes $500,000 for entrepreneurial lending through the Vermont Economic Development Authority.Other economic development line items include:• $1.5 million for working lands investments;• $50,000 for a new domestic export program to help Vermont businesses sell their products across state lines;• 6 percent increases in funding for regional development and for regional and municipal mapping;• $50,000 additional funding for the Vermont Employee Ownership Center.(link is external)EducationIn an effort to support sound decision-making about education, legislators this spring devoted $3.5 million from a supplemental property tax relief fund to pay for wide-ranging educational data initiatives.Students in Windy Kelley’s fifth grade classroom at Union Elementary School in Montpelier work on computers. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDiggerLawmakers and Agency of Education officials say up-front spending on better data and analysis will help schools improve outcomes and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of education programs.The budget also:• Fully pays for the Education Fund transfer, which includes a $7 million increase.• Instead of growing the General Fund transfer to the Education Fund by just the cost of inflation, a new formula allows additional transfer increases that are based on the sustainable growth of General Fund revenues, which is far from guaranteed in the current fiscal year.• The Vermont Student Assistance Corporation also got a funding increase — 1 percent starting in January, bringing its total appropriation to about $19.5 million. The Vermont State Colleges also will see a 1 percent funding increase over fiscal year 2014.• Some assistance and pilot programs for low-income students(link is external) also made it into the budget bill at the last minute.Health and human servicesHuman services comprises by far the largest portion of the state budget: $3.6 billion all-told. Most of that is covered by nearly $1.3 billion in federal funds and another $1.27 billion in Medicaid Global Commitment Funds. The rest is paid for by a combination of general funds, state health care resources and other smaller sources.Rep. Ann Pugh, D-South Burlington, chair of the House Committee on Human Services. Photo by Roger Crowley/for VTDiggerNext year’s human services budget falls somewhere between Shumlin’s draft and the House’s counterproposal, which would have lowered human services spending by $23 million. It’s about $165 million more than FY14 — a 4.7 percent increase.Included are:• $1.2 million in substance abuse and mental health funding for Reach Up clients;• Child care eligibility updates, plus additional funding for Step Ahead Recognition System (STARS) to rate the quality of child care centers;• Funding for Vermont Psychiatric Care Hospital in Berlin, slated to open in late summer or early fall.More policy-oriented provisions also were written into the budget:• A new legislative Health Care Reform Oversight Committee is created to monitor the economic and financial aspects of pending health care reforms.• Substance abuse programs have a new incentive for documenting their success by establishing performance measures. If they can link program success to savings in other areas — for example, clients avoiding emergency room visits by getting clean — then those savings can be transferred to the substance abuse programs to support expanded services.Other initiatives didn’t get traction this session:• A proposal to transfer ADAP to DVHA took some lawmakers and administration officials by surprise. It was dialed back to merely studying the potential for a move in the future.• Lawmakers hope more sophisticated data collection in the future will help agencies better integrate weatherization and home heating fuel subsidies for low-income households.Affordable housing• Vermont’s rental subsidy program is doubled to $1 million;• $900,000 is allocated for temporary emergency housing;• Emergency Solutions grants for shelters are boosted by $300,000;• Family supportive housing gets $200,000;• The Vermont Housing and Conservation Board sees an 8.1 percent funding increase from the property transfer tax.Other budget provisions• The Transportation Budget will hit a record high $686 million in fiscal year 2015. Most of the transportation infrastructure improvements are federally funded.• The Vermont Center for Geographic Information, a nonprofit corporation, will become part of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development.VERY TOP PHOTO: State senators sit in comfortable seats as they listen to the governor’s budget speech in January in the House chamber. From left, Senators Kitchel, Benning, Pollina, Cummings, Lyons, Snelling, Zuckerman, Ashe, and Baruth. Senator Doyle is just behind the podium. Vermont Business Magazine photo.
LocalNews Mahaut MP donates outboard motors to 2 constituents by: Dominica Vibes News – June 22, 2015 Share Share Share Two fishermen of the Mahaut Constituency have received two outboard motors to assist them earn a living compliments of their Parliamentary Representative, Rayburn Blackmoore.Mark Marcellin of Massacre and Leon Alexander of Mahaut were presented with the motors on Thursday 18 June 2015 during a short ceremony at the Mahaut Market. In presenting the motors, Mr Blackmoore informed that they were purchased at Auto Trade at a cost “over eight thousand dollars each” through the Ministry of Constituency Empowerment.Mr Blackmoore said he believes in helping people to contribute towards mainstream society and that “people themselves must help themselves”.In that regard, the recipients of the outboard motors will be required to sign a contract with the St Paul’s Fisherfolk Cooperative “to create what you call a revolving fund so that they can identify persons within the fishing community who can be assisted”.Mark Marcellin and Leon Alexander will therefore be required to make a monthly contribution of one hundred and fifty dollars ($150) for about two years to the St Paul’s Fisherfolk Cooperative.“I am going to set up a contract with certain conditions during that two-year period of time, you cannot sell, you cannot lend, you cannot credit anybody and if you default, the Cooperative will have the authority to repossess that outboard motor. I hope you appreciate that,” Mr Blackmoore indicated.Mr Blackmoore advised the fishermen that the motors are for fishing fish and not to engage in any illegal activity.“Let me say to you again, to fish for fish, not for people, not traffic human beings and to traffic drugs. In life, people do not like to hear the truth but I want to die speaking the truth and speaking my mind. So you are fishermen and not fisher of man or of men,” Mr Blackmoore warned. Nathalie Sampson of Mahaut Senior Citizens Home, who received a fourteen thousand dollars cheque from Mr Blackmoore at that ceremony, requested that the contract for the fishermen include monthly fish donation to the Home.“I also want him to put one line or one paragraph in that contract that at least twenty pounds of fish is donated to the Mahaut Senior Citizens Home on a monthly basis,” Mrs Sampson said. She said this is essential because it is not easy to provide for the elderly citizens as most of the residents are not in a position to make a financial contribution to the home.“So most of the expenses for the home have to come from our pockets and we do it with great joy because as children of God, we know whatever we give in one hand we will receive hundred fold,” Mrs Sampson stated. 84 Views no discussions Tweet Sharing is caring!