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Lawmakers seek more control over state budget reductions

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By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Eight Addison County lawmakers last week successfully attached an amendment to the House-passed fiscal year 2010 budget bill that would require the Legislature to give its OK before the state is allowed to close any of its human services district offices.

The amendment, spearheaded by Rep. Michael Fisher, D-Lincoln, was developed in wake of the recent closing of the Vermont Probation and Parole office in Middlebury. That move was one in a series of fiscal year 2009 rescissions recommended in January by the Douglas administration and endorsed by the state’s Joint Fiscal Committee.

Fisher believes that the wholesale elimination of any Vermont Agency of Human Services division or department in a county should have to be authorized by the general assembly, and not by executive order.

“The governor should not be able to do it on his own,” Fisher said, noting that the Middlebury-based division of the Vermont Department of Health is currently being sized up by the administration for substantial cuts. “This is a major decision that should be done by the whole group.”

Joining Fisher in advancing the amendment on April 3 were Reps. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton; Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes; Steve Maier, D-Middlebury; Betty Nuovo, D-Middlebury; David Sharpe, D-Bristol; and Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.

The amendment passed by an 80-63 tally, and now goes to the Senate, where Fisher believes it will have its share of supporters.

Fisher said he is also working on an amendment he hopes to introduce through another House bill that would ensure “a more open and transparent process” of rescission, or making cuts to the already-adopted state budget.

Specifically, Fisher wants to see a process through which those affected by proposed rescissions — including workers, constituents and local officials — have some advance notice before cuts are implemented. That was not the case with the Probation and Parole cuts, according to Fisher, who serves as vice chairman of the House Human Services Committee.

“What I’m saying here is that going forward, if we have proposals (to make cuts), communities need the opportunity to respond,” Fisher said, noting Addison County did not have such an opportunity this past January.

“Addison County has gotten a raw deal,” Fisher said. “I am motivated by watching what has happened to our county.”

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