Standing ovation after standing ovation; all in gratitude for the quick recovery after Tropical Storm Irene.
It's a state no Vermonter ever could have predicted. Before addressing the future of Vermont, Gov. Peter Shumlin took his time to reflect on the past year.
"In the wake of a deep recession, spring storms and a tropical storm that devastated our infrastructure and exacted an unimaginable toll on the lives of thousands of Vermonters," said Shumlin, D-Vermont.
The governor recognized town officials for their leadership and acknowledged loved ones lost, including Mike Garofano and his son, Mike Jr., who were swept away while checking on Rutland's water supply system. The governor honored the Garofano family in the chamber.
He also spoke to lessons for moving forward.
"We must apply those lessons to maintaining and rebuilding Vermont's aging transportation infrastructure from this point forward. We will build faster smarter and more economically," Shumlin said.
The governor used Irene's progress as a vehicle for his own priorities including some we heard last year, like expanding high-speed internet and cellphone service, investing in renewable energy and reforming health care to name a few. He addressed the state of the state with the catchphrase of the storm: "Vermont's response to Irene perfectly illustrates the strong state of our state."
And even issued license plates that match. The "I am Vermont strong" license plate will help with Irene disaster relief. It will cost $25; $18 of that will go to the Irene fund, another $2 goes to the Vermont Foodbank and the state will keep the rest. The Legislature must pass a bill authorizing the special plate. If that happens quickly, the state will make it available Feb. 1 at DMV offices statewide. The special plate can only be used on the front of the car until June 2014.
Governor Shumlin also touted success on the job front, saying Vermont's new jobs grew by 62 percent in 2011, more than any other state. And in true political fashion-- facing a $46 million budget hole-- it ended with a promise: "I remain determined not to increase broad based taxes on Vermonters as we begin to see signs of modest economic growth."
Overall, most Republicans said they were pleased with the speech, some even said he sounded like a Republican. They did of course have some concerns, in particular that the governor won't deliver on the promise not to increase broadbased taxes, especially after the Legislature approved removing $27 million from the education fund last year.
"One of the things that I think important when you listen to Governor Shumlin is watch what he does, not listen to what he says. He did the same thing last year and then proposed raising taxes by 3 percent on dental care," said Sen. Randy Brock, R-Franklin County, who is also a Republican candidate for governor.
"We are very concerned about what it's going to cost and if the outcome is an employee withholding tax. In my mind that's a broadbase tax," said Rep. Don Turner, R-House Minority Leader.
With Irene dominating the speech, this State of the State had far fewer future priorities for the state and a wealth of gratitude. Which begs the million dollar question, what would we have heard today had Irene never happened?
The governor gave a small preview into next week's budget address, saying he will announce an investment in education and dual enrollment, address the state office complex and the Vermont State Hospital and address the growing prescription drug problem in Vermont.
Occupy Vermont listened intently to the governor's speech. Members of the movement dressed in green and claimed to represent the 99 percent-- not the top 1 percent of wage earners. Occupiers used hand gestures to express whether they agreed with what the governor was saying.
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