A virtual joint session of the Vermont legislature was held this afternoon to hear Governor Phil Scott’s budget address.
The joint session is usually framed in pomp and ceremony but due to the pandemic it featured only Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray and the Senate Clerk introducing Governor Scott to deliver his fifth budget address.
The Republican began with comments on the inauguration of President Joseph Biden just two weeks after a violent mob attempted to overturn the results of the election. “We cannot pretend it didn’t happen or sweep it under the rug. We must reflect on it and find a path forward that unites us.”
Scott then turned to state government. He outlined areas of fiscal strength that have helped the state weather the pandemic’s economic repercussions and called federal relief funds a critical lifeline. “All of this has allowed me to present a balanced budget to you today totaling $6.83 billion. It doesn’t increase taxes, raise existing fees or cut essential services. This includes $123 million over two years in state capital construction; $680 million in roads, bridges and other transportation projects; $1.99 billion in General Fund spending; and $1.89 billion for Pre-K through 12 education. We’ve also fully funded our retirement obligations this year. To do so we needed $103 million more than last year.”
Governor Scott says his 2021 budget proposal includes $210 million in one-time spending items that he would like to see invested in areas such as broadband, climate change and other areas that will have a lasting impact. “Overall, this budget makes enormous investments in immediate needs and to address long-term challenges so we can put ourselves back on a path to steadily grow our workforce, put more kids in schools, and help every region build a healthy economy. While our fiscal picture looks better than expected we must recognize it’s mostly due to billions of dollars of one-time federal stimulus money. So we need to be smart about how it’s spent. That’s why we must invest in areas that grow our economy or lower costs for the future.”
Governor Scott’s budget includes a $10 million package to enhance outdoor recreation across the state and $10 million for small businesses that do not qualify for federal relief loans and grants. The governor is also proposing increased funding for the Downtown and Village Center Tax Credit and wants a one-time allocation of $25 million to clean up old industrial sites. Twenty million dollars is targeted for weatherization projects and another $20 million for broadband expansion. In addition to increasing the base allocation for the Vermont State Colleges, Governor Scott also called for the system’s restructuring.