BENNINGTON >> In his final State of the State address, Gov. Peter Shumlin mentioned several proposals that caught the attention of Bennington's legislators, among them a move to smaller-scale solar projects, a plan to give $250 to every child born in Vermont for a college fund, and limiting painkiller prescriptions to 10 pills for minor procedures.
"I believe we should continue to build renewables on a Vermont scale, rejecting mega-solar projects that gobble up hundreds of acres and require Vermonters to pay for costly grid upgrades," said Shumlin. "We must also reject anti-renewable extremists who would shut down renewables through moratoriums and other job-killing tactics. Instead let's give an economic advantage for locating solar on rooftops, Brownfields, landfills, and other already developed lands where we currently have transmission capacity. Homegrown, not corporate grown, is Vermont's energy future."
In Bennington, and many other places in the state, large solar project proposals encouraged by state financial incentives have wrankled residents. In Bennington specifically, two – legally speaking – solar arrays proposed for the Apple Hill neighborhood will take up 27 acres if built.
State Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, said Shumlin's statements indicate a desire to move away from large projects on undeveloped land.
"It indicates a real change, and to me, a real positive one on the solar projects," he said.
State Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, said that he, too, was interested in the governor's remarks on solar. Campion sits on the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, which expects to hear testimony this session from the Solar Citing Task Force, a group that gathered information on solar project citing over the summer.
Shumlin also said he plans to look into divesting the state pension funds from the coal industry and ExxonMobil.
"We started at the trough of the Great Recession, unsure whether we'd be able to build back. Soon after, Irene struck. We were down and we got knocked down again. But we stood back up. We added 17,600 new jobs in the last five years and have grown per capita incomes at or above the national rate every year I have been governor and that has never happened in Vermont's history," said Shumlin, in his speech which was broadcast on Bennington's Catamount Access Television.
Shumlin touted expanding health coverage to 19,000 Vermonters, expanding the agriculture industry, and creating jobs.
"In a race to the bottom where states cannibalize each other for jobs, Vermont has succeeded by being smart, not big," Shumlin said. "Two years ago, we added to our job creation arsenal the Vermont Enterprise Fund, and in my budget I will ask you to enhance and extend it because of our job-creating successes."
State Rep. Rachael Fields, D-Bennington 2-1, said she was pleased to hear the governor support paid sick day legislation. She was also glad to hear that he wants to expands, statewide, efforts made by Chittenden County State's Attorney T.J. Donovan to address the large number of people with their driver's licenses suspended over traffic tickets. Fields said it can trap low-income people into an economic hole they find hard to rise out of.
Shumlin said the state must do more to give low-income Vermonter's access to a college education, which he said these days is a prerequisite to a decent-paying job.
"That's why I signed a bill last year to help families start saving for college from the day their children are born. Now we must fund it. My budget will ensure every child born in Vermont will receive a $250 contribution to get a savings plan started, and for low-income Vermonters we will double that to $500," he said.
State Rep. Tim Corcoran II, D-Bennington 2-1, said he is interested in seeing how such a proposal will be funded. State Rep. Kiah Morris, D-Bennington 2-2 echoed this, adding that she understands there may be some private investment involved, but is also curious about the details.
Shumlin blamed the Federal Drug Administration's approval of Oxycontin, and the subsequent over-prescribing of it, for the state, and nation's, current opioid woes. He said he will call for a bill that limits doctors to prescribing no more than 10 opioid painkillers per patient for minor procedures.
Sears and Corcoran said they wanted to know more about this.
Shumlin also said he hopes to expand treatment options for people seeking help from addictions. The state has already promoted the use of medications that block the effects of opioids, with one helping people to get over cravings and begin recovery, and the other to reverse overdoses.