Public sounds off on proposed state budget

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BENNINGTON — Representatives of an array of area nonprofits pressed for continued or increased state funding Monday night at a public hearing on Gov. Phil Scott's $6.3 billion proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

During the one-hour event, held at Bennington College's Center for the Advancement of Public Action, members of the county's legislative delegation — Rep. Mary Morrissey, Rep. Timothy Corcoran, Sen. Dick Sears and Sen. Brian Campion — listened as a procession of advocates, one by one, spoke of the critical roles their organizations play in the community.

Several speakers appeared on behalf of Sunrise Family Resource Center, which provides childcare and a variety of other services to Bennington County families. Sunrise is one of 15 nonprofit parent child centers across the state.

Parent child centers are seeking to increase their base state funding by $4 million, which would bring annual state support for the organizations close to around $7.5 million. "We also request $1.5 million in one-time funding to continue to catch up on deferred administrative and maintenance expenses that have been delayed as we have dealt with underfunding for decades," said Denise Main, executive director of Sunrise, which serves more than 1,000 families in the county each year.

"I'm really urging you to invest today in these children, in these families, in these communities," said Cynthia Thomayer, a fiscal manager for Sunrise, "because you're going to see a difference in the years to come."

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Leitha Cipriano, executive director of the Bennington-based Center for Restorative Justice, asked lawmakers to support additional funding for after-school programming in next year's budget. Last year, the center launched "The Lounge," an expanded after-school program that serves teenagers in grades 7 through 12.

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In his State of the State address this year, Scott called for state leaders to "begin creating a universal after-school network that ensures every child has access to enrichment opportunities outside of current classroom time." A bill that would establish a task force "to consider and make recommendations on the framework for, the costs of, and related long-term funding sources" for such an initiative is being considered by the Senate.

Multiple speakers at the event Monday expressed support for H.744 and S.318, bills that would task the legislature with hiring a consultant to assist it in exploring financing options for public, educational and government access television in Vermont.

CAT-TV "has made it possible for people like me to capture and preserve our local history," said Jackie Marro, a volunteer producer for the station. "Having our local public access station is good for our town. Unfortunately, the traditional funding sources" for public, educational and government access television "are disappearing and it is crucial to examine alternatives to preserve this asset," she said.

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Scott's budget proposal represents an approximate 2 percent increase in spending over the current year. The state's next fiscal year starts July 1.

Sears, at the conclusion of the hearing, thanked attendees for their testimony. Every year, funding requests to the Senate Committee on Appropriations, of which Sears is a member, far exceed what it is able to allocate, he said.

"It's a challenge," Sears said. "Unfortunately, we can't print money."

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