Vermont governor proposes 1-time projects in virus budget

Associated Press
Published: 1/26/2021 9:52:38 PM
Modified: 1/26/2021 9:52:37 PM

MONTPELIER — Vermont Gov. Phil Scott asked the Legislature on Tuesday to approve about $210 million in one-time spending for a variety of projects aimed at strengthening the economy and creating better-paying jobs.

The request for the one-time spending came as Scott asked the Legislature to approve a state budget of about $4.6 billion in total state spending or, when including federal support for state programs, about $6.8 billion. The increase in base state spending is almost 3.4%.

The state’s fiscal outlook is significantly brighter than economists projected several months ago when they made initial calculations about how the COVID-19 pandemic had reduced state revenues.

Just last week, officials learned the revenue forecast was upgraded significantly, although it is still short of projections for where the state would be now that were made a year ago before the pandemic hit.

Nevertheless, the unexpected good news means there is money for the one-time projects that Scott hopes will help set the state up for the future.

“While our fiscal picture looks better than expected we must recognize that is mostly due to billions of dollars of one-time federal stimulus money,” Scott said in his address to the Legislature, which was delivered remotely. “This isn’t ongoing revenue, meaning it won’t be here next year, so we need to be smart about how it’s spent.”

The total budget is balanced, it doesn’t increase taxes, raise fees or cut essential services, he said.

Among the projects that would be spent with one-time money include $19.9 million for broadband expansion, $10 million to $14 million for outdoor recreation, $20 million for affordable housing, and $25 million for helping make Vermont homes energy-efficient.

The governor’s proposed budget also proposes funding to pave 360 miles of roads and money to help complete the Lamoille Valley Rail Trail, a 93-mile recreation trail between Swanton and St. Johnsbury.

Scott wants to add $500,000 to expand a program that brings new people to Vermont. In two years the program has helped bring 550 new people to Vermont.

“Due to our success managing the pandemic, our state is even more attractive to people looking to escape big cities, for a safe and healthy place to live,” Scott said.

He is proposing an additional $20 million for the Vermont State Colleges, giving the system $139 million in state and federal funds in two years. He also called on the state college board to address what he calls structural issues faced by the system.

“Because this is a one-year bridge, with one-time money, and we know this level of funding is not sustainable,” Scott said.

Scott said he would have more proposals in the days to come. The pandemic has presented the state with new and immediate challenges.

“It’s exposed and deepened older problems we’ve grappled with for decades,” he said. “And it’s presented us with a rare opportunity — giving us more of the resources we need to make meaningful progress on both.”

He said there is an opportunity this year to fund projects that have been stalled for years, improving communities, services, outcomes and state government, laying the foundation for an economic resurgence without having to ask taxpayers to pay more.

“However, if we don’t learn from past mistakes, and choose to use one-time money to create ongoing obligations that we can’t afford in the future, we’ll be forced to increase the burden on working Vermonters, slowing our recovery and missing an incredible opportunity,” he said.

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