Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott began his fourth two-year term Thursday by urging the state’s lawmakers to help find ways to even the playing field between the state’s most well-off communities and those that are being left behind.
During his 40-minute inaugural address in front of a joint session of the Vermont Legislature, Scott offered no new initiatives, but he continued his push to help the state without imposing additional taxes and fees that he feels would hurt lower- and middle-income families.
He also urged lawmakers to ease what he feels are undue regulatory burdens that are holding up construction of much-needed housing.
To reach those goals, Scott said the state is using once-in-a-lifetime pandemic recovery funds to invest in fundamentals like broadband, water, sewer and storm water systems. The state is also investing in climate change resiliency, housing and economic revitalization.
Lawmakers have the opportunity to give every community the chance to catch up, act on a vision for the future, attract new people and create new jobs.
‘In this moment, we have a chance to transform what is into what can be; and the only way we can do it, is together,’ he said.
After Scott was sworn in to office by Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul Reiber, Scott swore in the state’s statewide officers, state treasurer, secretary of state, auditor of accounts and attorney general.
Scott is a moderate Republican who has won more votes in each of this four elections — he received nearly 70% of the vote in the November — and yet is confronted with veto-proof majorities of Democrats in both the House and Senate.
In broad terms, lawmakers and Scott share the same goals for the state, but over the years they have clashed on details and Scott has vetoed a number of high priority bills including legislation designed to move the state away from the use of fossil fuels to a reform of the state’s development control law.
In a joint statement issued after the address, Democratic Speaker of the House Jill Krowinski and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Baruth said they share the governor’s desire of working together to improve the lives of all Vermonters.
‘This biennium we have the opportunity to move forward legislation that will create greater equity and pathways to opportunities to grow and thrive in our Brave Little State,’ they said. ‘The legislature and the executive branch will continue to work together to increase access to affordable housing, support our working families, tackle our workforce challenges and find effective climate change solutions.’
Scott began his address by thanking now-retired Democratic U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, who left the Senate on Tuesday after 48 years. The audience in the House chamber gave Leahy, who was not present, a standing ovation.
One of Leahy’s many accomplishments was to create a small-state minimum in many federal programs designed to prevent states with larger populations and larger congressional delegations from taking the lion’s share of federal funds.
About half of Vermont lawmakers represent towns of less than a thousand people, Scott said.
‘So, you are up against the same challenge when compared to our biggest cities,’ he said. ‘What better way to honor Senator Leahy’s legacy than to deliver for your small communities the way he has delivered for our small state.’
Scott said the state has spent almost hundreds of millions of dollars to help ease the housing shortage, but more needs to be done to make it easier to build more.
He said the state’s regulatory system was set up at a time when Vermont was growing at a record pace and the development raised legitimate concerns about preserving farmland and small-town character.
‘But now, those regulations are making it more difficult to renovate and modernize housing stock we desperately need,’ he said. ‘Worse yet, some restrict the ability to build homes that fit the needs of more diverse, or lower income families.’
He urged lawmakers interested in addressing the housing shortage to work with his administration.
‘In order to make the most of the hundreds of millions of dollars we’ve invested and build homes as quickly and affordably as we can, we need smart regulations that reflect the realities of today, and we need them this session,’ he said.
In November, Scott said he visited all 14 of the state’s counties in one day, the sixth time he has made the trip in a single day.
‘At every stop and the drive in between, you see, Vermont: independence and community; struggle and resilience; progress and opportunity,’ Scott said, but the journey also highlights the differences he is working to alleviate.
‘This session, if we pay more attention to the individual needs of each community, we can close the gap between regions to give all our towns and villages a brighter future,’ he said.