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Opinion: Republicratic Values: Cuts to the Poor

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The budget of the majority party makes drastic cuts to social services. It slashes already meager supports to the poor. It demands concessions from government workers and consolidates agencies, which means eliminating jobs. The budgeteers resist the executive's modest efforts to rationalize health care spending and increase the number of people covered by the state.

The U.S. congressional Republicans' 2016 budget resolution — a virtual Xerox of the Dickensian blueprint Paul Ryan has been pushing for years — is driven by...

Oops.

I meant to say the Vermont Democratic leadership's budget proposal — a virtual Xerox of the ones it's been passing for years, only more Dickensian — is driven by a sacred and inviolable credo: Thou Shalt Not Levy Taxes.

Pop quiz: Who said, "Typically we try to raise as little revenue as possible and we try to get to as many reductions as possible"?

Newt Gingrich? Guess again.

That was House Speaker Shap Smith, talking to VTDigger.org in January, after the governor's budget address. You may notice in his statement the absence of such words as "needs," "infrastructure," "services" or "people."

For those having a hard time telling, Smith is a Democrat.

In Washington, the GOP is salivating over Social Security, eager to transform guaranteed payments into stock market investment dividends. Future administrations will change the program's name to Social Insecurity.

The Vermont House Appropriations Committee suggests saving $1.6 million by counting $125 of supplemental security income — SSI, or "disability" — as part of a person's total benefits. That is, they'd shave $125 a month from the income of disabled Vermonters.

While the Washington Republicans sic their dogs on Obamacare (and write a budget assuming it no longer exists), the Vermont legislature balked at the governor's measly 0.7 percent payroll tax to make up the shortfall in doctors' Medicaid reimbursements — costs that now are shifted onto private health care premiums.

The tax would raise more than $41 million, according to the administration. But lawmakers fretted about the burden on businesses having to pay, like — eek! — $3,500 annually on a half-million-dollar payroll.

The House Health Care Committee has proposed a 0.3 percent tax instead, saving those businesses $2,000 — hopefully enough to keep them out of bankruptcy.

The GOP budget has federal employees contributing more to their pensions. And, of course, gigantic cuts to every government function mean gigantic layoffs.

In Vermont, the governor is asking state workers to reopen contract negotiations and give back pay increases. State agencies have been ordered to find up to 325 positions to eliminate. Smith has not made a peep in defense of labor.

After 10 years of cutting, the Democratic leadership is swinging its machetes at everything from adult daycare to energy efficiency. Disgusted by the endlessly bug-infested Vermont Health Connect website, they've got a fix: Give the techies less money!

You know: Do more with less.

Thankfully, revolt is brewing. A letter signed last week by 23 members of the House Working Vermonters Caucus tells the speaker they are "unable to support a budget that includes drastic cuts, reductions in workforce and new revenue of only $35 million." This caucus, as the late Minnesota senator Paul Wellstone put it, represents "the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party."

Of course, there are differences between the national GOP and the Vermont Democrats. The Republican budget is based on a near-religious faith in trickle-down, or supply-side, economics — the idea that the rising tide produced by holding poor people's heads under water will lift all boats. Indeed, the House Republicans' blueprint accounts for the Miracle of the High Tide, to the tune of $147 billion over 10 years, on the plus side of the ledger.

Supply-side is a religion in the spiritual sense as well. "A budget is a moral document; it talks about where your values are," Georgia Republican Rob Woodall, a member of the House Budget Committee, proudly told the New York Times last week.

I do not know a Vermont Democrat who feels it's right to screw poor and middle-class people. They just think it's necessary. Because, as everyone says, Vermonters are taxed too much. This might also qualify as an article of unproven faith.

So some families under the supervision of the state are killing their babies. Isn't it a pity that caseloads at the Department for Children and Families must increase?

Coldest winter in decades? Sorry, gotta cut heating fuel assistance.

It is shameful that the prisons are full of mentally ill people. Alas, the program that reduces their recidivism must go. It's a worthy, worthy goal to reduce the number of Vermont inmates being held in a private facility in Kentucky. But, hey, the feds will fork over $129 a day to house each of their inmates. And selling — er, sending — a few dozen Vermonters downriver will net the state $800,000.

There is just one government function lawmakers of both parties consider so urgent that it transcends financial considerations: Get the bad guys.

The U.S. House GOP wants to bulk up the global war on terrorism by $12 billion this year. Funding for actual wars will flow from a magical "emergency" font — located somewhere off the balance sheet. Senate hawks are putting in for a real appropriation for the Pentagon.

Here in Vermont, the legislature has also been busy socking it to evildoers.

"Revenge porn" — posting someone's naked picture without her consent — will be a sex crime carrying three years' imprisonment.

The failure to prevent child abuse if a person should "reasonably" have anticipated it will be punished with 10 years' incarceration. The mere presence of illicit drugs in the household is considered abuse. Under a later iteration of the same bill, S.9, someone convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine where a child resides faces 30 years.

And let no year pass without administering another lash to the sex offender's back. Act 1, the first signed by Gov. Shumlin this session, requires released sex offenders to inform the registry of a residence change within 24 hours, instead of the current three days. Violators of this supposedly victim-comforting mandate can be sent back to prison for two years.

(This regulation may be moot, since no sex offender is moving anywhere. Residency restrictions make virtually every address "inappropriate" for them, and about 200 inmates of all sorts remain behind bars past their release dates for lack of housing.)

Also, sentencing requires judges. Yet the courts will keep three unfilled seats empty for the foreseeable future. Enforcement means police and prisons, which cost plenty.

So here's a cheery thought: Maybe the state won't have the money to do anything about these laws.

Here's a grim one: If the Dems don't pass a Democratic budget, they won't have the money to do anything but.

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