Scott outlines his top priorities for Vermont in State of the State
MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) - Vermont Gov. Phil Scott on Wednesday laid out his vision for Vermont in a State of the State address that prescribed a path to recovery from the pandemic and beyond.
Speaking from Montpelier’s Pavillion Auditorium to a remote joint assembly of the Legislature, Scott outlined his legislative agenda. “I can report to you today that the state of the state is strong,” Scott said.
Scott highlighted cooperation with the Legislature last year, investing $600 million in pandemic relief cash into housing, broadband, climate change, and economic recovery.
While addressing the pandemic and the latest surge caused by the omicron variant remains a priority, he says the state also needs to tackle other pressing issues.
Topping the list is the health of the state’s workforce. Vermont has lost 30,000 workers since 2010. “It’s clear that while the pandemic didn’t create this problem, it has made it much, much worse,” Scott said.
He says that workforce shortage ripples through the economy and impacts affordability, education, child care, and infrastructure. To tackle the labor problem, Scott wants to place a bigger focus on internships, retired Vermonters, and career technical education, encouraging people to become carpenters, plumbers, and health care professionals and growing the state’s housing stock through an infusion of $100 million this session. “Without it, workers we have can’t afford to move up and the workers we want can’t afford to move in. We must recognize housing policy is workforce policy,” Scott said.
The governor will also ask lawmakers to support a tax relief package focused on retirees, middle-income families, and young workers. Scott says the government needs to keep spending in line, but he has some spending initiatives of his own, including:
- A $285 million investment in academic and extracurricular programs for kids.
- Expanding Vermont’s mobile crisis pilot and suicide prevention.
- Act 250 land use regulation reform.
- Tax credits for downtown.
- Growing the worker relocation program.
The governor says he and lawmakers can work together to make Vermonters healthier, grow education, make Vermont more affordable, and create more jobs, but he stresses everyone needs to put election-year politics aside. “Friends, this is all within our grasp. We just need to reach out together and take hold,” he said.
We’ll learn more about his plans to pay for these programs during his budget address in the coming weeks.
Democrats control both chambers of the Legislature. In their response to the governor’s speech, leaders of the House and Senate said they agree with the governor that the workforce is one important aspect of an interconnected web of problems Vermont faces.
They say they can find common ground with the administration on spending remaining pandemic relief funding on housing, infrastructure and workforce development.
But they also say the pandemic is continuing to take a toll on businesses and on families.
Vermont Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint calls this legislative session an all-hands-on-deck moment.
“The investments we make now must address the immediate needs created by the pandemic and its fallout but also create opportunities for Vermonters to thrive coming out of the emergency,” Balint said.
But Balint says that some of the disagreements may emerge when lawmakers and the administration work out the details this session-- Act 250 reform and ending qualified immunity for law enforcement.
And they say the governor did not address the state’s $3 billion pension deficit, which they say he needs to be at the table in addressing.
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