MONTPELIER – Gov. Phil Scott delivered his fifth budget address to Vermont lawmakers on Tuesday, pitching what he views as a balanced budget with bold investments in the economy, infrastructure and climate change.
Gov. Scott said the $6.83 billion budget will help pave the way for pandemic recovery in all corners of the state, while also working to address a host of issues Vermont was confronting before COVID-19 was a factor.
“We must support our communities, children, businesses and health care system, care for our neighbors, and lead a recovery that reaches every county,” Gov. Scott said.
He proposed allocating $210 million toward a set of one-time investments in broadband access, climate change, and economic initiatives, as well as $10 million towards projects to boost outdoor recreation. He’s also looking to address lagging tourism with a new marketing fund, and rejuvenate Vermont towns by increasing funding for the downtown and village center tax credit program, which Scott himself helped launch fifteen years ago as a legislator.
“It supports much-needed projects that create new opportunities,” Gov. Scott said. “Like ADA compliance work at Martha’s Kitchen in St. Albans, or doubling the childcare capacity at a center in Craftsbury… and supporting Jenna’s House in Johnson to provide recovery and other services for those impacted by substance abuse and the opioid crisis.”
Gov. Scott’s budget would also expand the Office of Racial Equity. He’s put forward several proposals to address inequity and systemic bias in housing, education, and workforce recruitment.
“This has to be a partnership, built on trust and accountability between lawmakers, law enforcement and their communities, which is why I’m funding initiatives that help us build on years of work by the Vermont State Police, local departments, and advocates,” Gov. Scott said.
There was an emphasis on infrastructure as well – Gov. Scott wants to set aside $680 million for projects to improve Vermont’s roads and bridges, and address other transportation needs.
The longstanding struggle of expanding broadband access was also front-and-center, with Gov. Scott proposing a $20 million package to get high speed internet to more homes and businesses in rural Vermont.
He expressed hope that the federal government will also take up the cause.
“Let’s face it, if it were easy or affordable, we would have done it by now,” Gov. Scott said. “We are going to need the federal government to treat high-speed internet access the same way they did electricity in the Rural Electrification Act of 1936… I believe with the help of our influential congressional delegation, they will follow through.”
The proposed budget would also send an additional $20 million to Vermont state colleges as a one-year bridge, a proposal that came with a warning about the system’s unsustainable trajectory.
“It’s my hope the state college board, in partnership with the legislature, will continue to address the underlying structural issues that we face,” Gov. Scott said. “Because this is a one-year bridge with one-time funding, and we know this level of funding is not sustainable.”
After the governor’s address, Vermont House Speaker Rep. Jill Krowinski said it’s important for the state to be smart and strategic in how Scott’s proposed $210 million for one-time investments is allocated.
“I strongly believe that we need to work together to create a recovery plan that leaves no Vermonter behind, and that includes improving access to broadband, childcare and housing,” Rep. Krowinski said. “I was very happy to hear the governor highlight funding for some of those.”
Both Speaker Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint expressed disappointment that Gov. Scott didn’t set aside time to speak about the state’s mental health system.
“There is a lot of need right now around our mental health system,” Sen. Balint said. “I was surprised that there wasn’t even a nod to perhaps some targeted investment with one-time money or some additional funding to the base in those programs.”