Vermont Governor Phil Scott has outlined his $6.1 billion budget plan.
Republican Governor Phil Scott began his address by making light of the animosity in Washington, D.C. “I’d like to first express my gratitude to the Speaker for not canceling my budget address.”
After his quip to the Democratic leader he got down to business and emphasized the need increase the number of Vermonters in the labor force. “The budget I present today is balanced and spends within our means, while investing in both our obligations and areas that will give us the highest return. As I’ve said many times, I believe our biggest threat is our declining work force. As our working-age population continues to decline, we simply need more people helping to pay the bill.”
The budget includes using part of the state surplus to pay one-time expenses. “My team, the treasurer and legislators met to share ideas and collaborate on a proposal which will retire a portion of our debt, using $22.2 million from this year’s surplus to pay off a loan currently funding health benefits for retired teachers. Another $2.4 million would be used to put ourselves on a path to pre-fund this liability for the first time in history. These are examples of the work we’ve done to present a budget to you that’s balanced, makes investments to expand our workforce, strengthens our communities and supports economic growth in all corners of the state. Now, I know you have your own priorities for this year’s budget and I look forward to hearing them because we need all ideas on the table to restore our fiscal fundamentals.”
Scott has adamantly opposed any new taxes or fees but he said there is a public health threat that must be addressed. “Between 2017 and 2018, 1.5 million more kids began using e-cigarettes and vape products across the nation. After all the progress made to lower nicotine addiction, this is not only concerning—it’s frustrating. I think you all know it’s not my first instinct to add a tax, but with a growing health risk for our kids, I’m proposing to levy the same tax as we do on tobacco products. Our kids must know the dangers of these behaviors, and we should stop it in its tracks.”
The Vermont House and Senate are controlled by Democrats. Senate Finance Committee Chair Ann Cummings says there have already been some briefings with the administration’s fiscal staff. She feels the governor’s budget speech was more friendly and conciliatory than in the past. “The last few years there were some proposals that were non-starters right off the bat.There’s nothing like that this year. So we’re starting I think at a much more cooperative place.”
Cummings says Scott’s focus on bringing more people to Vermont to enhance the state’s workforce reflects a nationwide struggle. “We have a whole kind of underbelly in Vermont of young people, mostly young men, who come out of high school are not prepared for jobs and kind of just get marginally attached to the job market. And we can and we should put an effort to make sure that everybody here is working to their full potential and able to be a taxpayer and support themselves and a family along with trying to recruit other people in. I like some of the tone I was hearing. He’s talking about making us attractive to young families.”
Audio from the governor’s speech is courtesy of the Statehouse webstream provided by Vermont Public Radio.