Statewide Group Protest Budget Cuts

Rutland Herald

By STEPHANIE M. PETERS STAFF WRITER – Published: March 31, 2009

As the House Appropriations Committee dealt with its version of the state budget Monday, members of the Save Our State Coalition took to sidewalks and front steps across Vermont, urging lawmakers to oppose cuts to health care and human services proposed by the Douglas Administration.

In Rutland, a small group of volunteers from the Vermont Workers’ Center, one of the members of the coalition, gathered with signs, a megaphone and talking points, eager to tout an alternative budget proposal centered on “human rights and needs.”

The three-pronged plan comprises three bills already before the Legislature and aims to maintain services, raise revenue through increasing taxes for the top income brackets and implement universal health care, according to Erika Simard, a health-care organizer with the Vermont Workers’ Center.

“It seems like a more equitable alternative than cutting jobs, children’s services and programs that are necessary for low-income Vermonters,” she said Monday afternoon, as she held aloft a sign emblazoned with hand-drawn green mountains and the words “Save our state.”

Castleton resident Marie Hughes said she doesn’t know what she will do if a budget cut aimed at cutting the Medicare Savings Program passes through.

She worked at General Electric before she was diagnosed with lupus and began suffering seizures in 1989. She was asked to leave GE and go on disability for her own safety; eventually she was forced to go onto Medicare, a move that increased her co-pays. In total, she now takes about 17 prescriptions that run about $17,000 a year — an expense she worries will increasingly fall to her.

“Believe me, I’d rather be out there working and having an insurance policy through my employer,” she said.

In addition to health-care cuts, protesters in Rutland pointed to a list of proposed cuts they oppose, including the elimination of $5 million in incentives for child care providers to offer their services to low income families, the closing of the correctional facility in St. Johnsbury, a reduction in liquor control and a proposal to bill towns when state police respond to calls.

Around the state, other rallies were held in Bennington, St. Albans, St. Johnsbury, Brattleboro, Johnson, Middlebury, Randolph, White River Junction and on steps of Burlington’s City Hall, according to the Vermont Workers’ Center.