When history looks back, part of Gov. Phil Scott’s legacy will be that he oversaw one of the most unique fiscal moments in the modern era. His 2024 proposed budget made significant new investments in top state priorities, including housing, community revitalization, child care, mental health, and other pressing issues facing everyday Vermonters. But is it enough?
The moment drew criticism for needing to use the surplus money to attempt to resolve problems the state — as a whole — has been kicking down the road for years: housing, crisis services, child care, and homelessness.
In the address (which can be found in its entirety on our website), Scott emphasized the need to focus on regional economic equity and investing “in areas of our state that have been left behind.”
According to a release accompanying the transcript of the budget address, “The Governor continues to make historic investments in shared priorities like child care, housing, education, economic development, community infrastructure and more. His proposed budget uses (sizable) state surpluses and revenue growth to make significant investments that will put Vermont in stronger fiscal position, make progress on longstanding challenges, and lift up families and communities across state.”
“This budget is thoughtful, deliberate, disciplined, and carefully built to make the most of the historic resources available to us. It’s focused on investing, not just spending, to get the best results and grow revenue, so we can move families and communities ahead,” he told lawmakers during the address to the General Assembly, as well as fellow Vermonters, on Friday. “The choices we make this session, right or wrong, will have tremendous consequences on our state long into the future. So, let’s make the right decisions, not just the easy ones. Because there are moments in history — rare opportunities — to have a truly historic impact for those we serve.”
Across all funds, this is an $8.4 billion budget: $2.3 billion in the General Fund; $2.1 billion in the Education Fund; and $335 million in the Transportation Fund; a fully funded pension and retirement obligations takes up $444 million; a Capital Bill (which funds State infrastructure) totals $108 million of borrowed money over the next two years, and more.
Naysayers were not buying what the governor was selling. Here are a few mixed reactions to the proposal on the table: From the Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition: “In order to address (the state’s housing) crisis, we need to continue making historic public investments in housing. … Unfortunately, the Governor’s proposed budget fails to address the scale of Vermont’s housing need. … We know that permanent, affordable housing, not motels, is the solution to homelessness. … The proposed $26 million for GA Emergency Housing falls short of the amount needed to keep unhoused Vermonters sheltered. … The Vermont Affordable Housing Coalition calls on Gov. Scott to work with lawmakers to accelerate progress in solving Vermont’s housing crisis.”
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman: “I am happy to see that Governor Scott is making many of the investments that our state desperately needs. This proposed budget is very much in line with ideas and proposals from the general assembly that have been brought forth in previous years but were not supported by the administration. … While the Governor indicated that we should not ask those with less to pay for those with more, I ask: why do we not ask those who can afford to to make the investments that we clearly see will help all Vermonters in the long run, especially those who are most vulnerable? … Had we invested more in affordable housing and support for our houseless population in previous years budgets, this money would not have been necessary to use in this way and would have been available to invest in further advancements for our communities.”
Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids: “This is the year we need to take the courageous step and fully fund a child care system that supports working families, enables our youngest children to thrive, pays early childhood educators adequately, and grows our economy. Partial investments do not truly solve the child care crisis we are facing as a state.”
Others seemed more pleased:
The Vermont Downtown Coalition: “(Gov. Scott’s) support demonstrates Vermont’s commitment to our communities’ economic health and vitality. Supporting the Vermont Downtown Program is a worthy investment by the State of Vermont.
Vermont State Colleges System Chancellor Sophie Zdatny: “We began our work to modernize and transform the system in partnership with the state in 2020. The state’s commitment to permanent, ongoing funding, and their continued investment in our students and in our transformation work will ensure our success.”
Vermont Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, R-Franklin: “(This) proposed budget will make crucial investments in our communities without raising taxes.”
The ground work has been laid. Now we wait and see if politics and partisan prevail, or this administration and the Legislature can truly seize this historic opportunity.
Because this time next year, the tune is going to be a lot different.