Vermont governor takes heat over cut
MONTPELIER — Legislative leaders are criticizing a decision by the Douglas administration to cut a Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department job.
Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin and Senator Susan Bartlett, who are running for governor, and House Speaker Shap Smith said yesterday that lawmakers told the Agency of Natural Resources to keep the biologist’s job overseeing the state’s community wildlife program because of strong community support. But the administration said the decision to cut it was a budgetary one and the program will continue.
“The administration is thumbing its nose at the constitutional separation of powers and the Legislature; that is simply bad government,’’ said Shumlin, a Democrat. “The governor signed this budget. The administration is to implement the budget and implement it entirely and not pick and choose the things they will and won’t do.’’
David Coriell, a spokesman for Governor Jim Douglas, a Republican, called the accusation “a pretty outrageous claim.’’
“The Legislature kind of wants to have their cake and eat it, too,’’ Coriell said. “They want a balanced budget, but they also want to dictate this position or that position. It’s really the responsibility of the executive to manage state government; it’s not the responsibility of the Legislature to micromanage every aspect of it.’’
The job, which was partially funded by the federal government and paid about $68,000, including benefits, was eliminated as part of the state government budget cuts, said Jonathan Wood, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources. The Community Wildlife Program, which helps municipalities incorporate wildlife habitat and conservation into their town planning, will continue without it, he said.
“We have been providing assistance to towns long before that, and we will continue to provide assistance to towns,’’ said Wood. The job was never intended to be permanent, he said.
The July 10 layoff is now the subject of an employee grievance, Wood said.
The Vermont state employees union is suing the Natural Resources Agency for charging it $462.60 to view the budget and correspondence about the position.
“There is no basis under the Public Records Act to charge for a request to inspect public records,’’ said Abigail Winters, a lawyer for the association.
“There is authority under statute to charge for a request for copies, but that’s only for copies. The policy statement of the Public Records Act is to provide for free and open examination of documents.’’