Republicans react to Shumlin’s budget address

by Angela Chagnon & Rob Roper Wednesday January 26 2011

Montpelier — Immediately following Governor Shumlin’s speech, Republicans held a quick press conference addressing some of their concerns with the budget proposals.

Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton), Rep. Howard Crawford (R-Burke) and Rep. Tom Koch (R-Barre Town) made the formal presentation, pointing out that there were some good things in the Governor’s budget proposal, but there were still some major concerns that need to be addressed.

Turner was quick to point out that Shumlin was not dealt the difficult fiscal hand he’s playing now. As Senate President Pro Tem, who led the charge to override Governor Jim Douglas veto override in 2008, Shumlin and the Democratic supermajorities in the legislature were the dealers.

Challenges for Change was a failure in that it did not realize the savings necessary in education. Perhaps the most powerful lesson offered was by Tom Koch, who pointed out the failure of Catamount Health, which Shumlin recommended be folded into VHAP. “When Catamount Health was in front of the legislature and being proposed and voted upon, Republicans, including myself, stood up and pointed out that it was likely to be unsustainable…. It has proven, in fact, to be unsustainable and basically a failure. The lesson from that as we look at health care reform for the entire system we need to be very careful that we get the facts right… and that we don’t make a mistake as we made in Catamount that we create a system that is unsustainable and we have a $5 billion mistake on our hands.” (See video below)

Other members of the opposition voiced concerns as well.

Rep. Patti Komline (R-Dorset) said that she was “very concerned” over Shumlin’s proposal to raise taxes on hospitals and dentists, in effect balancing the budget “on the backs of healthcare providers.”  She also expressed concern about rolling Catamount into VHAP, worrying that the move would shortchange doctors since VHAP has a lower reimbursement rate than Catamount.

Sen. Randy Brock (R-Franklin), who sits on the Senate Finance Committee and served a term as Vermont State Auditor, doesn’t think rolling Catamount into VHAP is a good idea either.  ”VHAP pays providers at a lower rate, creating a worse cost shift.”

As for the 4.6% reduction the Governor proposed in Human Services spending, Brock stated, “This comes after 5% of increases over the last few years.  It’s really not a cut at all.”

Brock emphasized the need to deal with education spending. ”Education appears to have been given immunity,” he observed.

“The provider tax is a concern,” he said, pointing out that it will raise costs.  ”Anyone with health insurance or who goes to a dentist will pay for that.”

Brock also addressed Shumlin’s corrections proposals.  Although Brock supports moving offenders to prisons in other locations to relieve overcrowding, “Nobody wants thieves, drug dealers or burglars to be released.”

Single payer healthcare is “a bad idea,” Brock asserted.  ”There are too many questions.  Visualizing savings from this is a pipe dream. Governor Shumlin said that Vermonters use frugality and common sense.  Vermonters need to do so when they look at his budget.”