MONTPELIER — It was not the usual mandate from a governor at an inaugural.
On Thursday, Phil Scott, the re-elected Republican incumbent, called on lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled Legislature to find common ground with him in seeking out answers to the challenges the state is facing and to inspire a renewed faith in government.
Scott made the comments at the State House after he took the oath of office for his second two-year term. He said Vermont can show the rest of the nation that it is possible to debate difficult issues and still remain civil.
“We must look for common ground instead of highlighting or exploiting our differences, view consensus and compromise not as a weakness, but as a strength,” he said during his 32-minute speech.
Scott laid out some broad policy goals designed to reverse the state’s demographic challenge, which he said has seen Vermont’s school population drop by 30,000 in the last 22 years while, in the last decade, the state’s workforce has shrunk by 15,000.
“Our stagnant population is threatening every service we deliver, every program we administer and every investment we hope to make,” he said.
During his first term as governor, the Republican Party had enough members in the Legislature to support the governor’s vetoes. In the November election though, the party lost ground, giving Democrats at least a theoretical veto-proof majority.
There were several areas toward that progress highlighted in the speech.
The governor said he wanted to work together with Democratic leaders to develop solutions to the key issues of the session.
“The good is in our hearts, it’s in our minds and it’s who we’ve always been,” said Scott. “Today, more than ever, it’s who America needs us to be. And to meet the challenges ahead, to best serve Vermonters, it’s who we have to be.”
Scott said all sides need to be flexible as they work together on programs to properly fund education and to create a long-term clean water fund.
The governor said the challenges affect virtually every aspect of life in Vermont. Both the governor and legislative leaders say they hope to find ways to work together.
“These trends not only mean fewer in our workforce and schools,” Scott said, “but fewer customers at businesses, ratepayers for utilities. ... And fewer to share the costs of state government, with ongoing needs in areas like transportation, building maintenance, public safety and human services.”
To help reverse this trend, Scott said he’ll propose a new affordable health care program for young people, back the construction of additional affordable housing units and support more money for early education programs.
He said all of this can be done without raising broad-based taxes.
“Vermonters elected me, and many of you, to ensure we don’t ask them to shoulder any more of the tax burden,” said Scott. “They’re doing their part. And it’s time for us to do ours.”
After the address, Democratic House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said she welcomed the governor’s call for civility and agreed with him about many of the challenges Vermont is facing.
“The fact that he’s come to the table saying (that) ‘providing security for Vermont families is a good thing and we should all be working toward it’ — I’ll view as a positive step right now,” Johnson said.
Senate President Pro Tem Tim Ashe, a Democrat and progressive, had a similar message.
“I certainly appreciated the call for us to work together to solve problems,” Ashe said. “He did acknowledge areas where we did work well together in the last session.”
While short on specifics, Scott said he wanted to make sure Vermont has the best educational system in the country, and build on the state’s healthy and safe environment.
He said his administration would outline plans to bring more people to Vermont, increase the stock of affordable housing, make health insurance more affordable for young people and improve the state’s child-care system.
During his budget address, scheduled for later this month, Scott said he would propose a long-term funding source for water quality initiatives using existing revenues.
He also proposed updating Vermont’s land-use planning system, known as Act 250. Proponents say the system helped ensure orderly development in the state, but critics call it needlessly restrictive and a drag on economic development.
He said his proposal would encourage growth in Vermont’s struggling downtowns.
Vermont Public Radio and the Associated Press contributed to this report.