Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Dan Feliciano is calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to be more forthcoming about Vermont’s state budget.
Feliciano called Shumlin a “spending addict.”
“(I)t’s clear to me we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a governor with a spending problem,” Feliciano said at a sparsely attended news conference Thursday.
He also said that he could not propose any spending cuts at this time because state budget data is “not as transparent as you’d like it to be.”
Jim Reardon, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Finance and Management, disagrees.
“Do we put our accounting system out on the website? No, but the information is available,” he said. “I disagree with the assertion that we’re not transparent. That’s just not correct.”
Reardon said statutorily required public budget forums, published data, responses to information requests and four months of budget discussions with the Legislature add up to a transparent process.
He said his office will comply to the fullest extent possible with a public records request filed by Feliciano on Tuesday, inquiring about monetary transfers between funds. Feliciano issued the same records request to Chief Fiscal Officer Steve Klein, who works for the Legislature, and Tanya Morehouse, a chief auditor for the state.
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“I believe there were funds borrowed from different areas and different pots of money,” Feliciano said. If the state is borrowing from reserves or cash flow, he said he wants that information to be readily available, along with plans for how the funds will be paid back.
The Legislature in 2014 approved a 10-year, $28 million loan from the General Fund to help cover the cost of health care for retired teachers.
To close out the fiscal year 2014 books in the black, about $3.5 million was taken from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which is now $5 million. A portion of the shortfall was made up by small revenue increases and a $19 million estate tax windfall in April.
Reardon said no money was taken out of the heftier General Fund Stabilization Reserve Fund, which also stayed whole throughout the recent recession. That level is statutorily set at 5 percent of the previous fiscal year’s expenditures. It’s $66.16 million going into fiscal year 2015.
Feliciano said these transfers should be more clearly articulated. He has spent the past few weeks studying publicly available budget documents, but needs more information before he can propose specific savings.
“Right now, it’s not clear where I can actually make the cuts,” Feliciano said. “Once I get the data back, it will become more clear.”
In the past, Feliciano has identified school choice as a strategy for tamping down the cost of public education. He would also look to cut spending in the Agency of Human Services, whose budget has grown upward of 5 percent per year in recent years.
In addition to imbalances between revenue and spending, as evidenced by the $31 million rescission in August and continued sub-par personal income tax collections, Feliciano said he’s concerned about $3 billion in unfunded liabilities for the retirement system. That figure will have to be listed on the state’s balance sheet once new governmental accounting standards take effect.
But Reardon, who serves as vice chair of the Governmental Accounting Standards Advisory Council, said he doesn’t anticipate that change will affect the state’s AAA bond rating because the liability has been disclosed for years in financial reports.
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