'We cannot squander this opportunity': Gov. Scott proposes $7.7B Vermont budget

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Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott proposed a $7.7 billion state budget Tuesday at a time when there are “historic” resources that will enable the state to invest in a host of economic development and infrastructure projects, cut taxes and help prepare the state for the future.

With state coffers filled with the help of federal coronavirus relief funds, Scott urged lawmakers to take advantage of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that helped create a $234 million General Fund surplus and a more than $90 million surplus in the Education Fund.

The proposed budget is more than 4% higher than last year.

Gov. Phil Scott speaks following his second inauguration at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Jan. 11, 2019.
Gov. Phil Scott speaks following his second inauguration at the Statehouse in Montpelier on Jan. 11, 2019.

“It is imperative we use it to achieve economic equity from region to region, not as a band-aid on something we will have to address again next year and not for initiatives that do not make the most of this moment,” Scott said. “We cannot squander this opportunity or let our legacy be defined by future deficits or higher taxes."

Focus on Vermont workforce

Scott pointed out that in the last two years the Vermont workforce has lost 24,000 people, leaving the state with 23,000 open jobs, nearly 7% of the jobs in the state economy.

To help alleviate the shortage, Scott's proposals would provide money for the state’s internship program, help adults enroll in training programs without the expense of a college degree and put people into careers with higher wages like licensed nursing assistants, emergency medical technicians, line workers, and web programmers.

Other programs would encourage nurses to stay in Vermont or recruit them to come here. Scott would invest in the trades like commercial drivers, plumbers and welders, as well as a nursing degree.

“If we don’t focus on the trades, we won’t have people to maintain our hospitals, transport goods, build homes, pave roads or do the work we need to support our communities," Scott said.

He also proposed expanding a program to help recruit and relocate workers and families to Vermont from elsewhere by dedicating $8.5 million over the next three years. Scott said the program has successfully brought people to the state, but it is not living up to its potential.

“It will put the horsepower of modern marketing behind it, so we can welcome more new Vermonters across the state to fill our most needed jobs,” Scott said.

Climate change

He wants to spend $216 million to address climate change and community resiliency by investing in things like electric vehicle infrastructure and incentives, weatherization, hazard mitigation, and system upgrades to ensure we can better manage and store clean energy.

“These initiatives will make us safer and move us closer to our climate goals in a way that diversifies the green economy,” Scott said.

A Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle, at a charging station on Main Street in Burlington.
A Nissan Leaf, an electric vehicle, at a charging station on Main Street in Burlington.

He also asked lawmakers to follow through on your commitment to support proposals with federal COVID-19 relief money for internet connectivity, water, sewer and storm water infrastructure and economic recovery.

Scott's proposals were well received by both Democrats and Republicans in the state Legislature.

“We are grateful to see that there are many areas of agreement between the Governor’s proposed budget and our vision for delivering for Vermont’s working families this session," House Speaker Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint, both Democrats, said in a joint statement.

GOP Senate Minority leader Randy Brock said he and his fellow Republicans look forward to working with the governor and his team to advance their shared goals.

“Gov. Scott’s budget address lays the framework for a fiscally-responsible path built upon a stronger workforce, safe and healthy communities, supporting our younger Vermonters, and improving good governance,” Brock said in a statement.

This article originally appeared on Burlington Free Press: Vermont Gov. Scott proposes $7.7B budget amid 'historic' resources

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