Gov. Scott takes oath, calls for unity and affordability

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (WCAX) Gov. Phil Scott took the oath of office Thursday, officially marking his second term as governor. He began his address by calling out negativity in national politics and pointing to the good in the state over the past year.

"I truly believe that in Vermont, we can set a standard that others across the nation can aspire to," said Scott, R-Vermont.

He then pivoted, pointing out the state's declining population and its economic ripple effect.

"Our stagnant population is threatening every service we deliver, every program we administer and every investment we hope to make," Scott said.

He made another pitch to keep costs and taxes down.

"If we want people to both move here and stay, we must make it more affordable," Scott said.

The governor also talked about human services initiatives, pitching insurance reforms, a voluntary paid family leave plan, child care and water quality fixes, and continuing to transform the state's education system.

"The truth is not all of them are getting equal opportunities," the governor said.

Education and how to pay for it pitted the governor and lawmakers against each other last session. And Scott admitted they will likely debate again.

"I recognize that change of this magnitude takes time," he said.

On the economic front, the governor also pledged new broadband investments and modernizing Act 250 to help promote growth.

"We can and must do both," Scott said.

He also said his budget will include money for affordable housing and attracting new workers to Vermont.

"Even if you believe Vermont is perfect, it's clear we aren't doing enough to persuade people to move and stay here," the governor said.

He ended by touting his record and calling for lawmakers to commit to setting aside differences and working together to make change.

"It wasn't always easy or comfortable but hard work, good work, is rarely either of those things," Scott said.

How the governor plans to pay for his proposals remains to be seen. We expect to learn more in his budget address Jan. 24.

PROTESTER DISRUPTS INAUGURATION EVENT

A protester briefly interrupted the inauguration events Thursday.

The man threw fake money down from the balcony and shouted that jobs and the economy don't mean squat without clean air and water. He also shouted support for Bill Lee, the former Red Sox pitcher who ran for governor two years ago.

Gov. Scott took the incident in stride. He joked it off and yelled back, "I like Bill Lee, too" and "Go Red Sox!"

After the brief disruption, the protestor was escorted from the building by Capitol Police and the governor moved on.

LEGISLATIVE LEADERS REACT TO SCOTT'S SPEECH

Legislative leaders sat behind the governor listening as he delivered his inaugural address. They offered praise for the governor's call for cooperation.

Our Neal Goswami caught up with leaders in the House and Senate after the speech for their reaction. The speaker and pro tem were happy to see the governor expressing a desire to solve problems together. They had some success at that last year but much of it was overshadowed by vetoes and a near state government shutdown.

Gov. Phil Scott spent plenty of time praising the state and its assets. House Speaker Mitzi Johnson noticed.

"It's really nice to hear an executive for our state singing the praises of our state and talking about the positives and the good things that we have to offer," said Johnson, D-Vt. House Speaker.

Scott also highlighted areas where cooperation with the Legislature worked well during his first term. Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe noticed that, too.

"I certainly appreciated the call for us to try and work together to solve problems wherever possible," said Ashe, D/P-President Pro Tem.

"I appreciate the olive branch of working together and just trying to do things a little differently," Johnson said.

Policy proposals were minimal-- those will come later this month during Scott's budget address. But the governor did say he'd propose health insurance reforms, clean water funding and assistance for buying electric vehicles.

Scott vetoed a mandatory paid family leave program last year but pitched a voluntary program Thursday.

Ashe isn't impressed.

"Most experts believe that you cannot have a successful program if it's voluntary because too few will participate and there won't be enough funds for people to benefit," Ashe said.

Ashe says if paid family leave is mandatory, Vermonters will come to value it. But Johnson says she sees Scott's overture as a positive step.

"The fact that he's come to the table saying providing security for Vermont families is a good thing and we should all be working towards it-- I'll view as a positive step right now," Johnson said.

Now, lawmakers await specific policy proposals from Scott and hope the spirit of cooperation will last.

"I hope very much that his message is one that they will stand by," Ashe said.

That cooperation is sure to be tested as minimum wage, paid family leave and other fiscal issues advance this year.