Times Argus: Vermont Vigils Protest Budget Cut

Article published Feb 3, 2009

By LISA RATHKE The Associated Press
MONTPELIER — Several hundred Vermonters turned out for candlelight vigils across the state Monday to protest state budget cuts that some fear will hit hardest for children, the elderly, the poor and others who rely on state services.

Holding signs and candles, about 100 protesters lined the slushy sidewalk outside of the governor’s office in Montpelier, some chanting “Save our state.”

They accused the governor of balancing the budget on the backs of Vermonters in need and signed postcards and a letter asking him to consider new revenue sources like tax increases for the rich.

“Jim Douglas should be ashamed of himself that in the richest country in the world during a once-in-a-lifetime economic crisis that he is choosing to cut funding programs that may be life or death for some yet refuses to consider any taxes of those earning millions of dollars of year,” organizer Peter Sterling of the Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security Education Fund told the crowd.

Douglas’ deputy chief of staff, Denisse Casey, said it was unrealistic to suggest that raising taxes on a certain group of Vermonters would solve the budget shortfall and put the state on a sustainable track for the future.

“Gov. Douglas does not believe that it’s acceptable to simply look around for someone else to push these problems on to,” she said. “We need to accept them. We need to work together to solve them so that we’re not facing these issues year after year.”

Similar vigils took place at 13 sites around the state, drawing about 100 protesters in Brattleboro, 120 in Burlington, 65 in Middlebury and 70 in Rutland, organizers said.

Dale Hackett, 54, of Barre, an advocate associated with the Vermont Center for Independent Living, said he didn’t think the administration was considering the effects the cuts would have on people’s lives.

“They aren’t giving fair time to let people say how this is going to impact them,” he said.

He pointed to the proposed elimination of VPharm, a program long promoted by the governor that fills in the gaps in the federal Medicare program that provides prescription drugs to the elderly.

Others worried about the governor’s proposed 660 job cuts, human services or not.

“I know that this is not about the budget. It’s about the governor dismantling government, part of his Republican agenda,” said Reenie DeGeus, of Calais, 51, who was laid off as a research chief at the Agriculture Agency, after 21 years with the state.

Cutting the jobs was not the way to balance the budget, said Bonnie Kynoch, an administrative secretary for the defender general’s office. The trickle-down effect would only worsen the economy, she said.

She attended the vigil not for herself, but for others who stand to lose their jobs, like those she hears from at union meetings.

“To go to those meetings and listen to people crying about losing their jobs and what they’re going to do — I just can’t take it … What are these people going to do? If I lost my job I would lose my house, I could lose everything.”