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Vermont FY 2012 State budget: Austere, sobering

Vermont's newly elected head-of-state, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), said the state's fiscal 2012 budget plan is "austere, sobering" but it must be linked to health care reform if it is to succeed. Most state Republicans appear to support the new governor's budget, saying it emphasizes cuts in human-services instead of burdening working Vermonters by increasing taxes.

In short, Shumlin wants to leverage taxes on health-care providers plus cuts in related programs to erase a $176 million shortfall in the state's ailing general fund.

And just as President Obama's national health care plan was being repealed by the new GOP-majority U.S. Congress last week, Shumlin was touting a single-payer health-care system for Vermont.

"We will work together to pass a bill... that puts Vermont on a solid road to single-payer health care and we must do it before we adjourn this spring," Shumlin told house members during his budget address Jan. 25.

The governor's proposed budget reductions include the following (and reductions in dollars):

•Vermont Health Access will absorb Catamount Health to form a single health-care offering ($5 million reduction).

•Area mental health agencies will see cuts ($4.6 million reduction)

•Cuts across the state corrections infrastructure, ($7.2 million reduction).

•Cuts in state labor, private contractors, health insurance and retirement savings ($12 million reduction)

•Spending freeze on schoolboards and towns to prevent property tax increases ($23 million reduction, specifics and locales to be announced). In the interim, Shumlin will disperse $19 million in U.S. taxpayer funds ("state bailout funds") to give towns a cushion to make the needed cuts.

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