Editor’s note: Lt. Gov. Phil Scott was sworn in Thursday for his second two-year term as lieutenant governor. What follows are his remarks to the Senate.
By PHIL SCOTT
Good morning. First, I’d like to thank Vermonters for the opportunity to serve the state for another two years. It truly is an honor for me to serve as Vermont’s lieutenant governor. To think a Barre-born stock car racer like myself would ever have an opportunity such as this is truly incredible.
I also want to thank my family for their support.
And I’d like to welcome our freshman class. We have five “new faces” in the chamber: Chris Bray, Don Collins, Norm McAllister, John Rodgers and David Zuckerman. None of their faces are truly “new,” but we welcome them back in a new capacity. We do, after all, in true Vermont fashion, like to recycle. And to the rest of you: My sincere congratulations, and welcome back to each and every one of you.
This session offers us an interesting mix of fresh perspective and experience. We have a returning governor, pro tem, Senate secretary and lieutenant governor — these are all things we didn’t have last time around. (This time, we may actually know what we’re doing! Or at least, give that appearance.)
The expectations for elected officials, at all levels, are higher than they’ve ever been. Last week, on a national level, we went right to the edge during the fiscal cliff standoff, which showed us the danger of political brinksmanship — something that I hope we can all remember in this chamber when those seemingly polarizing issues arise. My belief has always been that if you put aside the ego and the rhetoric, and inject a bit of creativity, fairness and common sense, that almost any problem involving money can be solved.
While campaigning, a recurring message I heard, and I’m sure many of you heard, was the anxiety over affordability. The margins are getting smaller. And with the recent 2 percent rise in the Social Security tax, disposable income has shrunk for all of us in the workforce.
Another problem we face is the exodus of our young professionals. According to state census data, our 25-44 age group lost 30 percent of its population in the last decade. That’s 28,000 Vermonters who left our state and took with them their buying power, their innovation and their children. Many of our elementary school classrooms echo with their absence.
We also struggle in this building with a state budget “pie” that seems to get smaller and smaller each year, much like the pies in Mazza’s Store, which, oddly enough, still cost just as much.
The question is, what do we do about it?
I’ve been in business for almost 30 years, and as in any business, there are two sides to the balance sheet: expenses and revenues. We have the same thing here in state government, so we have choices: We can reduce expenses by cutting staff and programs, or we can increase revenues by raising taxes and fees. And, for better or for worse, we’ve already done both. What I continue to hear all over the state is that Vermonters are feeling frustrated, tapped out, and taxed out. The governor has said the same, and I suspect many of you have gotten that same feedback.
But there is another way to hit both sides of that balance sheet at the same time. And that’s by growing our economy. If we can work with businesses, both small and large, to replenish those private-sector jobs, progress and prosperity will come. If we can entice young professionals to move here, our classrooms will fill up again, and so will our vacant storefronts, and so will our state coffers.
But we need more tools to entice people here than just our incredible quality of life.
We’re all familiar with the tourism and marketing survey completed last year that asked Americans what they associate with the word “Vermont.” Along with “beautiful unspoiled mountains,” we need people to think “opportunity.”
Our ability to make this happen can be surprisingly easy, if we put aside the temptation to score political points at the expense of Vermonters, who are counting on us to solve our very real problems.
I’ve talked to a number of you over the last several weeks about coming together around this “theme” of growing Vermont’s economy. I only ask you to please keep this goal in mind as you consider the bills that come through each of your committees. Ask yourselves questions like: What will this bill do to help our economy? Will this bill make it easier for families to live and prosper in Vermont? Does this help or hurt our balance sheet?
Of course, there will always be issues that don’t fit into a neat little box, and whose impact can’t be measured in dollars: whether it’s the most compassionate way to handle end-of-life care, or the best way to integrate migrant workers into our society. These might not be the questions we want to think about, but they are the ones before us. We will each have our own, sometimes very personal and deeply held beliefs about these issues. And we will not always agree. But we have a choice. We can make those inevitable disagreements into divisions, or we can commit to respectful and reasonable debates, not only with each other but with the citizens of Vermont. Never forget that we are just caretakers here in this beautiful building, which belongs to the citizens of Vermont.
Voters on Nov. 6 sent us here with an enormous responsibility resting on our shoulders. But with all of us pulling in the same direction, and treating each other with respect and civility, I think there is a lot of potential for what we can accomplish together in the next two years.
My door is always open. I, along with my chief of staff, Nancy, look forward to working with all of you. Thank you.MORE IN Commentary
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