Vermont Governor Phil Scott delivered his budget address on Tuesday afternoon, emphasizing familiar themes of fiscal discipline and the need to address Vermont’s demographic changes.
The Republican governor has consistently called for fiscal responsibility to assure that government spending does not exceed Vermonters’ ability to pay. In his fourth budget address, Scott again called for a balanced budget and fiscal discipline. “It’s my belief the state budget should not grow any faster than people’s paychecks. Our goal should be to do our work in ways that help Vermonters keep more of what they earn, making it easier, not harder, for every family to live a secure and stable life.”
Scott provided a quick overview of the budget numbers. “In the upcoming fiscal year, across all funds, our budget totals $6.3 billion, with 4.2 billion of state revenue and 2.1 billion in federal dollars. This is an increase of about 2% over the current year.”
The governor broke down his fiscal plan further in the three key budget areas. His transportation budget does not raise additional taxes or fees. The $276.7 million in state funds leverages $335.6 million in federal funds. Scott said that translates to a 4-percent increase over this year or $25.5 million and is the largest transportation budget since Tropical Storm Irene recovery in 2011.
A 5 percent, or $87 million, increase in spending is projected in the $1.8 billion Education Fund. “Unfortunately, we’re seeing spending, property taxes, as well as inequity, continue to increase while educational opportunities, student performance and the number of kids continue to decrease.”
Scott added that his General Fund budget spends $1.7 billion, an increase of $46 million or 2.8 percent. “Here’s the frustrating part, even with organic revenue growth, we still started building our budget with a $70 million gap. And even with consistent revenue growth, each year we’ve had to make difficult decisions with reductions to agencies, departments, programs and services.”
Scott says the critical factor in the state’s fiscal challenges is demographics. He cited a December report from the Tax Structure Commission finding that Burlington-Chittenden County is the only area of the state that is likely to grow. “Our demographic crisis is without question the greatest challenge we face as a state. Confronting this crisis is the only way we’ll be able to address other critical needs, whether it’s human services, public safety, transportation or climate change and transitioning to a clean energy economy. Addressing this reality is crucial to Vermont’s future. We can fix it. If we work together to face this challenge head on, then our businesses and economy will grow, putting more kids in our schools, broadening our tax base and making our communities stronger and more resilient than ever before.”
There were no disruptions during Governor Scott’s budget speech. Two weeks ago his State of the State was interrupted by climate activists who forced a recess before he could continue his address.