Gov. Phil Scott opened his annual budget address Thursday by taking a jab at the current state of politics in Washington.
“Before we begin,” he said, “I’d like to first express my gratitude to the speaker for not cancelling my budget address” — a reference to the cancellation of President Trump’s State of the Union address by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi until the government shutdown ends.
Once he began laying out the details of his $6.1 billion budget plan, Scott returned to a familar theme – -affordability and Vermont’s declining labor force.
“It starts with making sure we maintain the things that set us apart, the health and safety of our communities and our commitment to protecting our neighbors in need,” he said.
Scott is proposing to invest $7 million in new money into the state’s child care system “to make it more accessible and affordable for low-income and working families,” he said.
And, he said, an additional $3.2 million investment in higher education “will stop a planned three percent tuition increase on Vermonters for this coming school year,” he said.
Known on the campaign trail and during his first term for rejecting calls for new taxes or fees, Scott wants to use new revenue from enhanced sales taxes on internet transactions, taxes on e-cigarettes and financial industry fees to fund some of these initiatives.
He said taxing e-cigarettes will reduce the number of Vermont teens using products such as Juul.
“Our kids must know the dangers of these behaviors and we should stop it in its tracks,” he said.
Scott wants to continue investing in school security in the wake of a foiled school shoointg last year, proposing an additional $1.5 million for improvements.
“We’ll also make capital investments to ensure more schools are E-9-1-1 compliant,” he said.
The governor also vowed to continue Vermont’s fight against the ongoing opioid crisis, calling for a $2 million investment to the family services division to help children born into addiction.
Other initiatives the governor is interested in include increasing the use of electric vehicles in Vermont by dedicating $1.5 million for rebates.
Scott also proposed investing a $1 million to expand broadband connectivity.
“We have to acknowledge, it’s not just about access we need to increase speeds,” he said.
Toward the end of Scott’s address, the governor was briefly interrupted by a woman who was escorted from the chamber after apparently booing during applause.
Scott quickly rallied lawmakers and guests, “Let me go back to the civility part.”