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Vermont Legislative leaders discuss session priorities and respond to Governor’s State of the State speech

Vermont Statehouse  (file photo)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
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Vermont Statehouse (file)

Vermont Governor Phil Scott gave his State of the State address on Wednesday, focused on workforce development and how it is intertwined with other issues the state faces.

Democratic leaders of the Vermont House and Senate say they agree with much of what the Republican outlined, but there are a number of other issues that must be addressed during the legislative session.

Governor Scott said an influx of federal pandemic aid money has strengthened the state and it’s growing stronger. He then focused on a challenge the state has faced for years: a continuing decline in the workforce.

“Statewide we’ve seen our workforce decrease by nearly 30,000 since 2010. The hardest part of addressing our workforce shortage is that it is so intertwined with other big challenges, from affordability and education to our economy and recovery.” Scott added. “Each problem makes the others harder to solve, creating a vicious cycle that’s been difficult to break.”

Following Scott’s speech the leaders of the Vermont legislature responded. Senate Pro Tem Becca Balint, a Democrat who is running for the state’s Congressional seat, says the legislature and administration must prioritize Vermonters’ health and well-being as the pandemic continues.

“I agree with the governor that workforce is a central issue and its one part of a series of interconnected challenges facing all of us. We need real and sizeable investments and much needed policy support in a bunch of areas,” said Balint. “We have to address the housing crisis. We have to continue investing in broadband and child care. We have to protect our climate and our planet. We have to push for more accountability in our criminal justice system. And we have to continue to support our teachers, public employees and make sure their pensions are protected for the future.”

House Speaker Democrat Jill Krowinski pointed to pandemic fatigue and said the Legislature’s mission is to act quickly and thoughtfully to provide relief across the state.

“There is so much to take on and I look forward to tackling the interconnected strategies of housing, child care and workforce and developing and advancing strategies to combat climate change that sets a foundation to building a resilient future while working to ensure the legislation that passes creates greater equity for all Vermonters.” Krowinski continued. “These issues are all intertwined and I have asked House committees to avoid tackling these issues in silos. Instead we’ll look at how these overarching challenges like workforce interact with policy areas both in and across communities and committees.”

The governor did not touch on some priorities that the Legislative leaders outlined including qualified immunity, energy costs and the environment, and resolving the faltering state pension fund.

Speaker Krowinski said they will press for more details from the administration.

“We’re going to be asking tough questions about some of the policies he’s put out and we will move forward in our work when it comes to housing and child care, mental health, climate change, all of those really important factors that impact people’s lives," said the speaker.

Senator Balint added she is disappointed Scott did not mention one of her priorities.

“The Speaker and I and many of our colleagues have been working really really hard to find a way to save the pension system here in Vermont and the governor has not been engaged on this issue. And it was surprising to me that it was not mentioned at all in the speech as it’s something that is incredibly stressful for Vermont state employees and teachers and across the state.” Balint asserted. “We haven’t had engagement from the governor on this issue. And it’s a really big deal here in Vermont. A lot of people are stressed about it and I was surprised it didn’t get even a passing mention.”

The Vermont Legislature is meeting virtually until at least January 18 due to the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

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