During his inaugural address Thursday afternoon, Gov. Phil Scott urged lawmakers to support bipartisan solutions to many of the challenges facing the state of Vermont. Scott said the state's experience needs to stand in contrast to "a national political environment that's brought out the worst in the public process."
At a joint assembly at the Statehouse, Scott delivered an inaugural address that emphasized the "process" of lawmaking more than any specific proposal.
The governor said he wanted to work together with Democratic leaders to develop solutions to the key issues of the session. He said it's an approach that’s been lacking at the national level.
“The good is in our hearts, it’s in our minds and it’s who we’ve always been,” said Scott. “Today, more than ever, it's who America needs us to be. And to meet the challenges ahead, to best serve Vermonters, it's who we have to be.”
Scott said all sides need to be flexible as they work together on programs to properly fund education and to create a long-term clean water fund.
"We must look for common ground instead of highlighting or exploiting our differences, view consensus and compromise not as a weakness, but as a strength,” he said.
The governor said the state faces a number of serious challenges from a demographic trend that shows a marked decline in the number of young people in the state. Scott said it's a challenge that affects virtually every aspect of life in Vermont.
"These trends not only mean fewer in our workforce and schools," Scott said, "but fewer customers at businesses, ratepayers for utilities. ... And fewer to share the costs of state government, with ongoing needs in areas like transportation, building maintenance, public safety and human services."
To help reverse this trend, Scott said he'll propose a new affordable health care program for young people, he'll back the construction of additional affordable housing units and he'll support more money for early education programs.
And he said all of this can be done without raising broad-based taxes.
"Vermonters elected me, and many of you, to ensure we don't ask them to shoulder any more of the tax burden,” said Scott. “They're doing their part. And it's time for us to do ours."
Democratic leaders in the House and Senate greeted the governor’s speech with a mix of gratitude and skepticism.
Both House Speaker Mitzi Johnson and Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe said they appreciated Scott’s call for collaboration, but they seem less sure about some of the specific proposals he’d like to work on with the Democrats.
For instance, Scott said he plans to unveil a voluntary paid family leave program in the coming weeks — but Ashe said a "voluntary opt-in" approach is unlikely to deliver any meaningful benefits.
“Most experts believe that you cannot have a successful program if it’s voluntary, because too few people will participate, and there won’t be enough funds for people to benefit,” Ashe said.
Meanwhile, Johnson voiced concerns about Scott’s approach to water-quality funding. Scott said he plans to deliver a long-term funding plan that relies on existing revenues.
“So it’s possible to do it within existing revenues,” Johnson said. “But it means taking that money away from something else, so I want to know what it’s being taken away from in order to be put towards water.”
Scott will outline the details of his proposals in his budget address on Jan. 24.