By Governor Phil Scott
On my first day in office, I issued an executive order defining the top goals of my Administration: Growing the economy, making Vermont more affordable, and protecting the most vulnerable. We are laser-focused on these priorities and they guide us in everything we do.
That’s why we’ve concentrated on government modernization and efficiency, rethinking and revitalizing our approach to economic development, transitioning to a cradle-to-career education system that is the best in the nation, strengthening our response to the opioid epidemic, and making sure state spending isn’t growing faster than wages or the economy.
With this approach, and the help of the legislature in the session that recently ended, we succeeded in investing more in economic growth, including marketing Vermont as a place to do business, expanding small business development centers, and establishing tax credits that will support our growing aerospace sector and the forest products economy as well as the creation of new co-working and “maker” spaces that nurture small, innovative startup businesses.
To begin addressing the need for housing that working families can afford, we passed a $35 million housing bond that will create hundreds of new homes throughout the state, employ 1,000 workers, generate $50 million in wages in the construction phase and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional economic value over the next 20 years. We also made commonsense changes to support housing developments and downtown growth by simplifying permitting and increasing tax incentives for development – proven tools for expanding infrastructure and spurring growth.
I believe our education system can be one of our strongest tools for attracting more working families who want to raise their children in the nation’s safest and healthiest state. That’s why I proposed significantly increasing access to childcare, pre-school programs and higher education by redeploying ongoing savings in a K-12 system that sees declining student enrollment year-after-year. It’s also why I fought so hard to save up to $26 million each year from the transition to new health insurance plans for teachers, without asking them to pay more or reducing services to our children.
Ultimately, we increased funding for the Child Care Financial Assistance Program by $2.5 million, and the Vermont State College system by $3 million to help stabilize tuition, and established a full-time focus on career and technical education at the Agency of Education.
To strengthen our response to the opioid epidemic, I created the Opioid Coordination Council, appointed a director of drug policy and prevention, and convened Vermont’s first statewide convention focused on growing the workforce to support opioid and substance misuse treatment.
We also took important steps toward modernizing state government with the creation of the Agency of Digital Services, which merges dozens of IT management functions that were previously spread across state government, and making government more efficient through our Program to Improve Vermont Outcomes Together (PIVOT) initiative, which has asked frontline state employees for ways to make our systems more efficient and easier to use.
Acting quickly and decisively, we upheld long-standing values with the passage of S.79, An act relating to freedom from compulsory collection of personal information. This legislation proactively protects our Constitutional rights, and defends the state against federal overreach by clearly prohibiting state agencies from sharing personal information for the purposes of creating a federal registry based on personal characteristics.
Perhaps most importantly, we achieved all of this without asking you to pay more.
For the first time in many years, state spending isn’t growing faster than our ability to pay for it. And, not a single piece of legislation that I signed created or raised taxes or fees. That means state government is doing its part to help families keep more of what they earn, and we did this while protecting essential services and the frontline workers who deliver them.
The path was sometimes challenging. For example, it took a veto to ensure that – for the first time in recent memory – the state budget didn’t raise any taxes or fees, including property taxes rates. We could have taken the easy path, but I believe Vermonters elected me to improve state government and the state’s economic trajectory. And we’re getting there, but there’s much more work to do.
Overall, this legislative session resulted in real progress and an important shift in our thinking – we have built a foundation for stronger growth. When I think about the opportunities ahead of us, I’m more committed than ever to rolling up my sleeves and building a stronger, more affordable and more prosperous Vermont.