Vt. lawmakers to consider governor’s IT upgrade proposal

Published: Jan. 28, 2021 at 4:01 PM EST
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - In his budget address this week, Governor Phil Scott pitched $53 million toward a new fund aimed at updating the state’s antiquated IT systems. Calvin Cutler examines the need, and how the state plans to grapple with the mounting costs of its outdated systems.

This spring’s tsunami of unemployment claims which jammed up the Vermont Department of Labor’s mainframe is still fresh on the minds of many lawmakers.

In a secure room in Montpelier, the department’s computer runs on outdated COBOL software that only a handful of people in Vermont know how to work with. On the wall hangs the first UI claim processed from June 9th, 1970.

For decades, the department has had to physically back up its data and claimant information on magnetic tapes. Officials say they switched over to digitally backing up files three years ago. But even with small upgrades, the outdated computer and others like it plague state government.

“It takes more people to maintain, we’re not able to improve our processes on the backside because our systems are so old,” said Secretary of Digital Services John Quinn.

In his budget proposal, Governor Scott said the new IT fund is aimed at saving taxpayers time and money in the long run. In the past, the Legislature has been lukewarm in funding large computer infrastructure projects. Lawmakers say Scott’s plan is a step in the right direction, but there are questions on how to fund it every year and provide oversight. “For me, I think about capital budgeting that we do at the local level for municipalities and school districts for projects. And it’s become expected as part of our budgets,” said Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover.

While Scott’s plan puts $53 million in this year, it would have to be up to the Legislature to come up with a long-term funding model, because officials say these types of projects can run into the hundreds of millions.

Governor Scott says Vermont can’t take on these costs alone. “Many other states have the same legacy systems and everyone knows they need to be upgraded. We hope that in future appropriations from Congress we’ll be able to accomplish that as well,” he said.

As many of the state’s IT systems approach a half-century, Quinn stresses deferred maintenance has a direct impact on every Vermonter. “It directly impacts how fast we can get checks to people, how quickly we can get people’s registration to them, and we’ve seen more than ever during this pandemic, people are relying on this stuff,” he said.

Lawmakers will begin consideration of Scott’s proposal this week.

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