Scott says COVID funding a rare opportunity to make lasting change
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Governor Phil Scott Tuesday pitched his state spending plan to Vermont lawmakers. The $6.8 billion plan is remarkably painless and doesn’t dip into state reserves, raise taxes, or cut services. Thanks to a windfall of federal cash, what earlier this year looked like a $400 million shortfall has turned into what Scott calls an opportunity for one-time investments he says will put Vermont on the road to recovery.
“Our commitment to saving lives, limiting spread of the virus and protecting our health care system has also put us in better economic shape than many other states,” Scott said.
includes $123 million over two years in state capital construction; $680 million in roads, bridges, and other transportation projects; $1.99 billion in General Fund spending; and $1.89 billion for Pre-K-12 education.
Through the public health crisis, Vermont’s economy has been on federal life support with billions from Congress. But Scott says we can’t rely on that cash forever the economy will have to stand on its own. He wants to spend $210 million in one-time investments to give our economy long term strength. “Let’s not fall into the trap of using it to create new programs we can’t afford after the federal money is gone,” Scott said.
It includes $20 million in broadband buildout for rural communities, $20 million in weatherization programs, and $25 million in brownfield rehabilitation. There’s also $20 million more in bridge funding for the state colleges while lawmakers search for a long-term funding model. All proposals that a normal budget wouldn’t have room for.
The governor and democrats say this picture could change if more help comes from Congress under the new president. “So, let’s invest the dollars we have to put ourselves in the best possible position to hit the ground running when federal money arrives,” Scott said.
The governor is also pitching ongoing efforts to tackle the state’s demographic problems, exempt child care operations from property taxes, grow downtown tax incentives, and creating a fund to upgrade outdated IT systems.
“We are singing from the same hymn book. We may be on different pages, but we are generally moving in the same direction,” said Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, D-Windham County.
Democrats say they would have liked to see more resources for mental health -- a key issue during the pandemic. They also say there could be more cash coming from Congress, which could change priorities. But with months to go before most Vermonters are vaccinated and businesses can open back up, they agree there’s still a big need for help.
Scott is carving out $10 million more for business grants for businesses left out so far and is hoping for more help from the federal government.
You can watch the full speech below.
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