Scott presents $6.3B budget to lawmakers

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MONTPELIER — Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott presented the Democratic-controlled Legislature on Tuesday a $6.3 billion spending plan for the next fiscal year, a 2-percent increase over the current year.

During his speech Tuesday to a joint session of the Legislature at the Statehouse, Scott said his budget for the fiscal 2021 budget year that begins July 1 would be accomplished without any new taxes or fees.

The overall theme of the budget is helping the state counter that challenge. Before the speech, Scott's staff said the proposals could be paid for without significant cuts to other programs.

"Our demographic crisis is, without question, the greatest challenge we face as a state," Scott said. "Confronting this crisis is the only way we'll be able to address other critical needs, whether it's human services, public safety, transportation, or climate change and transitioning to a clean economy."

Scott made a variety of proposals designed to encourage people to stay in Vermont and make it easier for businesses to stay.

After the speech, Democratic leaders of the House and Senate said they were eager to hear the details on how the governor's proposals would be implemented.

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House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said the speech "highlights all of the good talking points."

"The disagreement always comes in the details of where that money comes from and who is not getting something and who is paying for what's being offered," Johnson said.

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One of the governor's proposals would provide $1 million in tax incentives to encourage graduates of registered nurse and licensed practical nurse programs to stay in Vermont. Another would exempt military retirement pay from the state income tax.

The governor was given a standing ovation when he said he would continue to advocate for legal immigration as a way to bring more "hardworking people to Vermont to contribute to our economy and grow our workforce." It would include funding to help communities plan for and explore refugee resettlement.

"These efforts not only benefit our state, they also signal we're committed to the values this nation was built on," he said. "That America is still a land of opportunity for all who seek freedom from oppression, security for their families or, in some cases, just a fresh start."

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One source of new revenue initiatives that Scott didn't mention in his speech, but is in a printed budget summary distributed by his staff before the speech, would be $2 million that would be raised by introducing sports betting to Vermont. He would raise another $2 million by introducing the lottery game Keno to the state.

In a briefing for reporters before the governor's speech, state budget chief Adam Greshin said the details on how sports betting would work in Vermont have not yet been worked out.

The National Federation of Independent Business reacted favorably to Scott's budget.

"Business owners are already saddled with a high cost of doing business in our state and an impending huge property tax increase. We're pleased Governor Scott isn't proposing any tax increases," Shawn Shouldice, the state director of NFIB in Vermont, said in an email.

Shouldice added that Scott's opposition to mandatory paid leave legislation "is a relief."


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