Vermont governor signs multibillion-dollar state budget

Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 11:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 7:23 PM EDT
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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Governor Phil Scott has given a seal of approval to a $7.3 billion state budget that relies heavily on half a billion dollars from the American Rescue Plan.

It includes historic investments in areas including child care, climate change mitigation, housing, mental health, state IT systems, and technical programs. There’s also some $90 million in to keep the state college system afloat.

Leading up to the end of the legislative session, the Republican governor and Democratic leaders in the legislature disagreed on the timeline for spending some of the funds, but they were able to come to an agreement, avoiding a budget veto or other significant conflicts.

There is still another $400 million in funding to spend next session and the governor is continuing to push for infrastructure, but Democrats say the entire picture could change depending on President Biden’s infrastructure package in Congress.

Lawmakers also passed $150 million in broadband funding to connect rural areas of the state.

While both lawmakers and the governor are calling the investment in broadband historic, they say still more will be needed to reach “the last mile,” a moving target that has plagued the state for years.

The pandemic and the need for remote video-conferencing pushed the broadband issue to the top of the agenda, especially that many workers are now pushing for more telework. In response, lawmakers are using a chunk of those federal funds toward creating “communication union districts,” local entities that can apply for grants and loans instead of relying on commercial providers. A new Community Broadband Board would oversee how the districts spend the cash.

Some lawmakers and critics say that the final bill still does nothing to address the issue of affordability to get Vermonters online in the short term.

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