Friday January 11, 2013

NEAL P. GOSWAMI

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin outlined a second-term agenda focused on improving education from pre-school to college in his second inaugural address delivered Thursday inside the Vermont House chamber.

The speech, and its singular focus, differed greatly from state of the state addresses delivered Wednesday by fellow Northeast Democratic governors that featured a variety of themes, including gun control.

Diverging from tradition and citing a desire to grow jobs and the incomes of Vermonters, nearly all of Shumlin's 38-minute speech was devoted to reforming and improving education. Among the proposals he outlined Thursday is universal early childhood education funded by redirecting $17 million from the state's Earned Income Tax Credit. Shumlin called on state government to offer financial support to communities that create publicly funded preschool programs where they do not currently exist. He promised his budget, to be revealed later this month, will include money for first-year startup costs and reimbursement from the state's education fund. And, he proposed that the state cover a shortfall in funding from the federal government for free and reduced lunch. Free lunch should be available to all low-income students, the governor said.

Additionally, Shumlin is seeking an incentive for young Vermonters to stay in the state after college. Students that graduate with a degree in math, science or technology and stay in Vermont for work should be eligible for reimbursement from the state, over a five-year period, for their final year of tuition. Those who graduate with an associate's degree in those fields should receive reimbursement for their final semester, he said.

Finally, he called for a 3 percent boost in funding for the Vermont State Colleges and the University of Vermont to be used entirely for financial aid and scholarships for Vermont students.

Unlike the governors of Connecticut and New York on Wednesday, Shumlin made no mention Thursday of gun laws. During his first two years in office he has frequently called on the state to lead the nation on several fronts, including health care reform and a green energy policy.

But Shumlin has made clear in recent weeks that gun control is not an issue he is looking to take the lead on. He has rejected calls for new state-level gun control laws in Vermont since the Dec. 14 shooting in Newtown, Conn. that claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six adults inside an elementary school.

Instead, Shumlin has said he will await the recommendations of a group led by Vice President Joe Biden that will outline steps the federal government can take to prevent gun violence. Those recommendations, expected to include a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, will be delivered to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Biden said Thursday.

Shumlin has declined to say whether he would support those restrictions at the federal level.

His approach is in stark contrast with New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, widely viewed as a potential presidential candidate in 2016, and Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy. Both delivered state of the state addresses on Wednesday that included calls for more gun restrictions. Malloy used his address to denounce a plan pitched by the National Rifle Association to have armed guards in all schools. "When it comes to preventing future acts of violence in our schools, let me say this: more guns are not the answer. Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom," he said. "That is not who we are in Connecticut, and it is not who we will allow ourselves to become."

Malloy, too, called on the federal government to create national policy. "As long as weapons continue to travel up and down I-95, what is available for sale in Florida or Virginia can have devastating consequences here in Connecticut," he said.

Cuomo, meanwhile, made a passionate appeal to New York lawmakers "to address the plague and scourge of gun violence." He asked for quick action on stronger gun laws at the state level including "the toughest assault weapon ban in the nation," a ban on high-capacity magazines and a way to keep guns from those that are mentally ill.

"I say to you forget the extremists," Cuomo said. "It's simple. No one hunts with an assault rifle. No one needs 10 bullets to kill a deer."