Gov. Phil Scott emphasizes workforce development, housing in 2022 State of the State address
In his State of the State address Wednesday, Gov. Phil Scott focused more on building the workforce and growing the economy than omicron-fueled case counts. He said that Vermont sits “at the moment we’ve been waiting for” as he prevailed on Democratic leaders in the House and Senate to embrace the spending proposals he’ll unveil in his budget address later this month.
While Scott acknowledged that record-high COVID case counts in recent weeks have made “life incredibly challenging across the country,” he said Tuesday’s speech was instead an opportunity to “focus on the future.”
“Because we have to learn to manage life with this virus and cannot let it derail us from addressing our most fundamental challenges: Our desperate need for more people in our communities and more workers to fill the tens of thousands of jobs available in Vermont today,” Scott said.
The governor's priorities
Addressing those “fundamental challenges,” according to Scott, means using state revenue surpluses and federal funding packages to train workers, build housing stock, boost child care subsidies, and strengthen health care infrastructure.
“I am more optimistic than I have ever been that this future is within our grasp,” he said, speaking to legislators remotely via a video feed from the Pavilion Building in Montpelier. “But we have got to work together, so we do not squander this once-in-a-life time opportunity to truly transform our state.”
Scott said he’ll also be asking lawmakers to leverage the state’s unprecedently flush fiscal situation to cut taxes and expand tax credits.
“I will put forward a balanced and progressive tax relief package with a focus on those who need it, like retirees, middle-income families and young workers,” Scott said.
Scott reserved his primary focus, however, for the issue of workforce development, telegraphing a litany of proposals lawmakers can expect to hear during his budget address on Jan. 18.
Scott said the package will include:
- A statewide internship program, spearheaded at the Department of Labor, that will include subsidies to cover interns’ pay
- A program to get retired Vermonters back to work
- Policies that steer more students into trades and technical training
- A “relocation incentive program” that offers financial enticements for out-of-state workers to move to Vermont
Scott said initiatives geared specifically at increasing the number of workers won’t be enough to reverse the trend of Vermont’s labor force shrinking to its lowest size in nearly 30 years.
“The hardest part of addressing our workforce shortage is that it is so intertwined with other big challenges, from affordability and education to our economy and recovery,” he said. “Each problem makes the others harder to solve, creating a vicious cycle that’s been difficult to break.”
Scott said the supply-demand imbalance in Vermont’s housing market is one of the leading contributors to the high cost of living in the state. And he told lawmakers that he wants to allocate another $180 million – on top of the $190 million housing package the Legislature approved last year – to rehabilitate old units and construct new ones.
“We must recognize housing policy is workforce policy,” Scott said. “If you will work with me … we can show we are fully committed to this cause … because it’s time get serious about putting the benefits of a good home and a good investment within the reach of every Vermonter.”
Scott said he’ll also propose new investments in the community mental health system and the child care financial assistance program.
In her Democratic response to Scott’s address Tuesday, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint outlined a legislative agenda that largely overlapped with the governor’s.
“The core of the Senate’s agenda this session will be about supporting Vermonters and their families,” Balint said. “My top priority will be wisely investing the millions and millions of federal Rescue Plan dollars to improve the lives of Vermont’s working families. I agree with the governor that workforce is a central issue.”
She said the Senate also plans to focus on housing, climate legislation, broadband and child care.
Asked what distinguishes lawmakers’ agenda from the governor’s, Balint said, “There’s a lot of overlap.”
“We are moving in the same direction for sure,” Balint said. “There isn’t a lot of distinction, I think, because we’re all hearing the same things from Vermonters.”
Watch Vermont Democrats' full response to the governor's address:
As the legislative session proceeds, Balint said there will likely be differences on how to accomplish those shared goals. But she said divided government in Vermont’s won’t look like it does in Washington, D.C.
“We can continue to show the nation, and those who seek to undermine our democratic ideals, that our legislative work is done for the people, not for soundbites or ego or petty victories that come from demonizing each other,” Balint said.
Watch Vermont Progressives' full response to the governor's address: