Scott: Fiscal discipline and smart investments
My budget prevents state spending from growing faster than wages, while making smart investments for our future. To ensure spending increases no longer outpace income growth, we established a growth rate calculation — a six-year average of wage growth in Vermont — and moved away from the practice that relied on anticipated growth in revenues, which have proven to be inaccurate.
As a matter of principle, I do not believe the cost of state government — or the service areas we regulate — should grow faster than the paychecks of the Vermonters footing the bill. It's not bold to spend more than Vermonters can afford. That's why I'm proud that for the second year in a row, my budget is balanced without raising any taxes or fees.
Government systems — and thus previous state budgets — have been designed to grow at around 5 percent a year. My budget grows at less than half that rate, puts us on a stronger fiscal footing and prioritizes investments in growing the economy and making Vermont more affordable. This includes proposals aimed at making it easier to create jobs and expand small businesses.
Importantly, it strengthens our labor force through training, retention and recruitment. It helps those looking for work find new and better-paying employment. It creates a wider path into the workforce for college graduates and for those who want to go into the trades, and we'll help those recovering from addiction find and keep a job. It also invests in a data-driven campaign to recruit more families to Vermont.
To advance our commitment to the vulnerable, I've invested in a new forensic psychiatric facility and to put mental health outreach workers in targeted areas throughout the state. To reduce costly and debilitating health problems, my budget pilots two preventative programs: a school-based dental program and universal home visits for newborns and their moms.
Our work to address climate change can also strengthen our economy. That's why I proposed expanding infrastructure for electric vehicles and helping homeowners replace old, high-emission wood stoves with modern, efficient ones. While upholding our commitment to fully fund our clean water programs, I've also launched an innovation-driven approach to our water quality challenges, which we believe could produce better outcomes and create new private-sector jobs.
I've also proposed to make college tuition free for members of Vermont's National Guard, eliminate the tax on military pensions and phase in an income tax exemption on Social Security for low and moderate-income households. And we'll build on last year's work with the Legislature to make housing more affordable with investments to revitalize our downtowns, and help home buyers purchase and renovate homes.
One major challenge in making Vermont more affordable is the ever-rising cost of our K-12 education system. Despite decades of declining student enrollment (on average, we've seen three fewer students in our system each day), statewide tax rates increase year after year.
We want every child, in every community, to have the best education possible. But we must be honest about whether our kids are seeing the full benefit of every dollar of the $1.6 billion we spend on the current system.
That's why my administration provided the Legislature with 18 ideas to address these challenges. Conversations in the Legislature to date have focused on changing how we fund education. There could be benefits to that, but we must have the courage to focus on reforming our K-12 system. Because it doesn't matter which pocket the money comes out of if we're not addressing the costs of an inefficient system. System reform ensures we improve options for our children and make the system more affordable for taxpayers.
With fiscal discipline and smart investments, we will get the best results. We can restore the economic foundation of every county and every community, create more good paying jobs, make Vermont more affordable, and protect the most vulnerable.
Phil Scott is governor of Vermont.
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