The Statehouse floor was a bustle with legislators, press members and Vermonters ready to hear Gov. Phil Scott (R-Vt.) discuss the state of the state on Thursday, Jan. 9. And the governor obliged, discussing Vermont’s “demographic crisis,” affordability and climate measures.
He also focused on collaboration, encouraging legislators to listen to each other and work together even through differing opinions.
“I have enormous faith in our ability to achieve meaningful results and my administration is ready to work with each of you in order to do so,” Scott said. “Unfortunately, time is not on our side. Because while good things are happening and progress is being made, too many of our counties, communities and families remain at a critical crossroad.”
Scott shared his “biggest concern” about the state of the state: It’s declining population. Today, there are about 55,000 fewer people under the age of 45 in Vermont and 44,000 more over the age of 65 than in 2000. He noted that four out of the five towns with the greatest growth in recent years are in Chittenden County. And over the past 12 years, only three counties have added workers, while the 11 others have lost about 18,000.
“Because of all of this, across the state, we’re feeling the negative impacts in everything from our homes, schools and colleges to our hospitals and nursing homes,” Scott said. “If we don’t break this cycle, our institutions, including state and local government, won’t be able to afford what they currently do, or what they would like to do in the future.”
The governor proposed investments in training, internship and apprenticeship programs alongside efforts to help Vermonters in recovery and with other barriers to employment. His budget will also include incentives for young adults and working-age families to move to or remain in-state. Part of this includes pursuing universal after-school programs for students, which would provide enriching opportunities for all students and support working parents by reducing the “financial burden” of afterschool care, he said. Scott is hopeful that the universal after-school programs could be established without raising property tax rates.
As for affordability, Scott said he would continue to work on “targeted tax relief” in his budget. “We need to help people in all parts of the state move up the economic ladder,” he said, adding, “the best way to do this is to level the economic playing field and make Vermont more affordable for all families and every business.”
Scott shared a commitment to continue addressing affordable housing needs in the state. He said his budget will include a package to “revitalize existing homes and build more of them” to help with the economic imbalance between regions. Plus, Scott said, modernizing Act 250 – a state land use law – would help with Vermont’s goal to concentrate development so that people could live closer to where they work.
But on the subject of the environment, Scott said he would not support measures that would make the cost of living more expensive for those living on tight incomes.
“I hear from Vermonters across the state … who struggle to fill their gas tanks and heat their homes,” Scott said. “I simply cannot support proposals that will make things more expensive for them.”
Rather, he’d like the state to continue focusing on incentives, such as those to make electric vehicle purchases more affordable. Scott added that expanding battery and renewable energy storage. He reminded legislators and attendees of the state’s 20-year, $1 billion commitment to clean water projects.
The governor’s address got off to a rocky start when demonstrators interrupted with concerns about the environment.
“Listen to the people; everyone must tell the truth about the climate emergency,” they said.
“I’m here because I’m afraid I’m going to die,” one demonstrator added.
The demonstration continued for several minutes until the governor requested the group stop.
“Now is the time for you to listen to us,” he said.
The demonstrators continued until Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman called a recess.
A large portion of the governor’s speech concerned his continued budgetary support of mental health care provisions and aid for the state’s Brattleboro Retreat – a private care center for addiction and mental health care.
“Age and size don’t make [the retreat] immune to the same demographic challenges others around the state are facing,” Scott said. “This healthcare provider is simply too critical for us to let fail, especially without an alternative … I’ve directed my administration to work with you to do everything we can responsibly do to help the Retreat.”
The governor thanked Vermonters for their hard work and contributions to the state. Among those guests he thanked personally were two South Burlington residents. Those residents were Kyle Clark, creator of BETA Technology, a company working on electric aircraft, and Marjorie Meyer of the University of Vermont Medical Center, who is a leader in treating opiate dependent women during pregnancy. These Vermonters, he said, show him “in the face of incredible adversity, we’re all capable of great things.”
“I’m grateful for this opportunity to address our biggest challenges, report on some of our progress and outline a few of my proposals,” Scott said. “There’s always much more happening than can be covered in one speech, or even two. And I look forward to all our discussions in the days and weeks ahead.