Gov. Scott calls for vaping tax, clean water funding, Act 250 exemptions, electric vehicles and more

MONTPELIER — Gov. Phil Scott on Thursday laid out numerous budget priorities for Vermont ranging from a vaping tax and clean water funding to electric vehicles and Act 250 exemptions for developers.

The governor’s third budget address appeared to be better received by legislators than his last two budget addresses, based upon the volume of applause.

In a speech delivered from the House chamber, Scott presented a balanced fiscal year 2020 budget that is up slightly from last year’s proposal of nearly $6 billion. As described by his staff beforehand, the address was aimed at pitching reforms to expand the economy, reverse demographic trends, increase the labor force and turn the state’s education system into the best in the country.

RELATED: Full transcript of Gov. Phil Scott’s third budget address

While the governor struck a mostly optimistic tone, he didn’t say all is rosy in the Green Mountain State. In particular, Scott sounded the alarm about the state’s aging labor force, saying that “every county except Chittenden has seen a decline in the number of people working. Every county, including Chittenden, has fewer people available for work.”

Clean water

Right out of the gate, Scott delivered details on his proposals, starting with water cleanup. He reaffirmed his plan to make Vermont’s water cleaner, including Lake Champlain.

U.S. Department of State

Republican Gov. Phil Scott

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that the 20-year, $2 billion project ahead of us is as much a major infrastructure and jobs program as it is essential environmental policy,” Scott said.

Scott noted that $19 million in federal funds plus $48 million outlined in his budget will be used to fund clean-water-related infrastructure projects.

The clean water proposal includes using $8 million in ongoing revenue from the estate tax to go to the Clean Water Fund.

Next the governor returned to the themes of his first administration, such as the call to make Vermont more affordable.

More affordable housing and ‘no’ to land gains tax

This included funds to revitalize vacant homes and underused downtown areas.

“Another area where we’ve agreed is the need for more housing that’s affordable,” Scott said. “I’m sure you hear it as much as I do from young families trying to find that first affordable home, seniors looking to downsize and even employers trying to recruit workers.”

To help remedy vacant and blighted properties that are hurting property values, he proposed eliminating the land gains tax that was pass in the 1970s to stop rapid housing and development speculation.

Scott said that when a property owner sells within six years of purchasing, there’s the likelihood of a substantial penalty.

“Eliminating this tax will reduce a major barrier to investment in our neighborhoods, create more capacity, and increase grand lists as low-value properties are restored to their full potential,” he noted.

Scott also called for making  properties more efficient.

“Eighty percent of our housing stock is at least 40 years old, and nearly half of that is 80 years old,” he said. “We know the cost to heat these older homes can push them out of reach for some. So, my budget includes $1 million to restore these units if weatherization is part of the project… let’s continue to make these areas attractive places to put down roots by increasing the Downtown and Historic tax credit to $2.6 million.”

Attracting new workers

On the issue of bringing more people to the state, the governor championed the paid family leave plan he announced last week with New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu.

“Our proposal would provide universally accessible and competitively-priced plans for all employers and employees in both states,” he said, adding that his plan would be reliable, easy to set up, and no additional cost to taxpayers.

Education and child care

Continuing with the theme of attracting new residents, Scott proposed a push to make Vermont education “the very best in the country.”

“Combined with our quality of life, good jobs and working to make Vermont more affordable, this could be the most effective economic development tool we could ever ask for. It’s an alignment of assets and priorities to accomplish what most of us have told our constituents we would do: give every family, in every community, the chance to succeed and prosper. It would also enhance our brand.”

The governor’s budget increases funding for Vermont Student Assistance Corporation non-degree grant program by over $1 million. He also proposed $3.2 million more for Vermont State Colleges and $700,000 for University of Vermont to replace declining Medicaid revenue.

“With this funding, the state colleges will stop a planned 3 percent tuition increase on Vermonters for this coming school year. It will also support the creation of an associate degree program, delivered in at least three tech centers throughout the state, where students earn the first year of their degree as a high school senior and the second as a Vermont State College student,” he said.

The governor’s higher-education proposals came just one day after the president of Green Mountain College, a 185-year-old private institution located in Poultney, announced that the liberal arts/environmental studies college would be closing permanently at the end of the current semester due to declining enrollment. Last year, the Catholic-affiliated College of St. Joseph in Rutland announced that it, too, may be forced to close at some point due finances and enrollment challenges.

Scott also affirmed his strong commitment to child care and pre-kindergarten funding, as seen in previous budgets.

“First, I propose we invest an additional $7 million into our child-care system to make it more accessible and affordable for low-income and working families,” he announced. “… If we keep the focus on our kids and the good we can do for them, we can continue to strengthen our system, giving every kid the best possible education and the tools to reach their full potential, from cradle to career.”

Act 250

A fair reevaluation of Act 250, the state’s land use and development law, also received priority status in Thursday’s address. The governor’s approach is not to create more regulations, but to revisit existing ones that could streamline the process for new development.

“Let’s modernize regulation to support growth in our local economic centers, expand broadband access and take action on climate change to strengthen our environment and economy,” he said. “Last term, we agreed on the need to evaluate Act 250. These regulations were put in place when we were growing too fast. Over time, they’ve become complex, and in some cases, redundant with other regulations.”

In particular, he suggested that some communities could be exempted from Act 250 for meeting planning and environmental goals.

“Let’s give communities the opportunity to raise the bar when it comes to planning and environmental protection. And when they meet these new standards, let’s reward them and encourage growth by exempting them from Act 250,” he said.

Addictions: Vaping tax proposed

While the opioid crisis did not loom large in this year’s budget address, Scott expressed his personal concern over vaping and e-cigarettes. Over the past year, an estimated 1.5 million kids began using e-cigarettes and vape products nationally. Use of such products doubled in Vermont.

“We all know the serious and harmful impact of our opioid crisis and with your help, we’ll continue to address it. Today, I’d like to address another threat to public health: Between 2017 and 2018, 1.5 million more kids began using e-cigarettes and vape products across the nation.

“The surgeon general has declared this an epidemic,” Scott said. “After all the progress made to lower nicotine addiction, this is not only concerning, it’s frustrating. I think you all know it’s not my first instinct to add a tax, but with a growing health risk for our kids, I’m proposing to levy the same tax as we do on tobacco products. Let’s learn from the past, let’s not make the same mistakes with e-cigarettes or anything else. Our kids must know the dangers of these behaviors, and we should stop it in its tracks.”

The idea of a vaping tax got sustained applause from Democrats and Progressives in the chamber.

Electric vehicles and ‘no’ to a carbon tax

Scott emphasized that a stronger state economy is assured by building a cleaner economy. He called for transitioning to electric vehicles across the state to save millions of dollars. In 2015, according to the governor, approximately $830 million was spent on gasoline sales in state.

“If this travel had all been powered by electricity, the cost would’ve been significantly less, saving drivers more than $500 million,” he said.

A part of the cleaner economy is the Scott “Comprehensive Energy Plan,” which recognizes that more electric vehicles are essential to meeting the state’s lofty climate and energy goals.

“We need 10 percent — about 50,000 — of the cars and trucks on our roads to be electric by 2025, and 25 percent by 2030,” Scott stressed. I” don’t believe we can meet those goals unless we help people make this transition. Today, we only have about 1,000 EVs on the road — less than one percent of new passenger vehicle registrations. We all know transportation costs are high for rural Vermonters—that’s one of the reasons I will not support a carbon tax.”

Scott added that he agrees with the Vermont Climate Action Commission report that recommends an incentive to make electric vehicles more affordable.

“So, I’m proposing $1.5 million in rebates to help more people purchase or lease new or used EVs,” he said. “And to lead by example, I’m asking for your support in using $500,000 to invest in more EVs and EV infrastructure for the state fleet.”

Cyber security and expanded broadband 

Ironically, Scott returned to the internet broadband and cyber-security issues that were spearheaded by his 2018 Democrat opponent Christine Hallquist. About 75 percent of Vermont has high-speed broadband access.

“I’m proposing to make bonding available for municipal broadband in areas that need it. To expand service, I’m proposing to invest $1 million for connectivity, and let’s eliminate the sunset on 248(a )— it’s worked to speed up telecom projects and we must continue to make progress. My team has been working closely on a partnership with Microsoft to expand broadband access and computer science education to communities with the greatest needs. This partnership will come with an investment in Vermont to support expanding broadband and to help kids and families in our communities learn more of the digital skills they need,” he said.

Scott then called for a one-time investment of $2.3 million to strengthen the state’s cyber firewall and upgrade critical IT infrastructure.

Call for unity

To close out the budget address, Scott emphasized the need for House, Senate and the governor’s office to work together to improve the state and solve its financial and social problems.

“We can be the example,” he said in summarizing his budget plans and style of governing. “We can reject hate and anger, partisanship and division. We can recognize Vermonters call for balance, for civility and for us to work together. And we can commit to solving the problems ahead of us and helping the people who sent us here to do so. If we do, we will make a difference in the lives of Vermonters, and our actions will prove that the best work still comes when we’re guided by our core beliefs in freedom and unity.”

At one point near the conclusion of the speech, a heckler in the assembly interrupted Scott, but was escorted out by the sergeant at arms. It was unclear to many in attendance what the protester actually said. But Scott responded to the heckler’s garbled shouting with a quip about maintaining “civility” in the Statehouse. Legislators on both sides of the aisle responded with thunderous applause.

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at lvinvt@gmx.com.

Images courtesy of U.S. Army National Guard/Michelle Gonzalez/CC BY 2.0 and U.S. Department of State
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14 thoughts on “Gov. Scott calls for vaping tax, clean water funding, Act 250 exemptions, electric vehicles and more

  1. I think VT should succeed from the US, establish a new nation, declare war on the US and get Federal Aid (like other countries that are at war with us) and therefore eliminate all taxes, Congress is good at this.

    Hopeful wishing, and a little humor.

  2. Lets see if I understand this we must embrace Act 250 goals to the point they are fully realized before we can be exempted from them.
    If we were indeed growing too fast 50 years ago when Act 250 was put in place, it sure seems like that problem has been solved.

    Sounds like a refresher course in free market Capitalism might be in order for those who are leading us to a higher level of decline.

  3. Raising taxes in a state that has more government per capita than most other states,in a state that has a very high % of retired folks, in a state that has driven out business and industry because of left wing causes and effects, in a state where there is never enough money, FOR ANYTHING, is just plain wrong. It is time get out the paring knives, and figure out ways to make do with what we have. My wife and I are not going to open our savings to pay taxes to Vermont or any other state. These idiots are working three shifts a day to figure out how they can confiscate what little we have now. It’s all about control, and telling us ultimatly what time to get up in the morning. We ain’t buying it, so how do we get this message to the idiots in charge? It is sure time they heard it!!!!

    • By the sound of this quote the cancer of the left is about to kill the entire host.

      Speaking to reporters at a Statehouse press conference, GOP leaders also signaled an eagerness to collaborate with Democrats, after the last two legislative sessions saw prolonged and bitter budget showdowns between members of both parties.

      “We have an opportunity here to join forces with our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to address real problems Vermonters face every day and not be continuously labeled as ‘The Party of No,’” said Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

      “In fact, we would like to take what has traditionally been the concept of a Vermont Republican as somebody who says ‘No, because,’ and move it into the area of ‘Yes, if,’” he said.

      https://vtdigger.org/2019/01/25/republicans-praise-scotts-budget-look-ditch-label-party-no/?utm_source=VTDigger+Subscribers+and+Donors&utm_campaign=6f58f4adc3-Weekly+Update&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dc3c5486db-6f58f4adc3-405533965

      • I am sorry, but if these people want to be Democrats, it is still a free country, for now at least.
        Some of us have principles, and foundations that will not be moved.

        I am afraid some have lost track of the big picture, or maybe they never really had it.

        • Seems like many are just pawns of the government, growing government and getting more pay as a government employee, in essence all working for the same team (government) with different labels.

          It does explain the willingness to work together, against the tax payer.

        • “I am sorry, but if these people want to be Democrats, it is still a free country, for now at least.”

          If someone wants to be a democrat ,fine however one would hope they would chose to do so within that party and not in a supposed conservative party,thus the term RINO.
          Two different sides to the same corrupt coin.

  4. Save money with electric vehicles? How dumb is that! First of all, they all cost FAR more than gasoline powered vehicles. Second, each electric vehicle uses MORE electricity to recharge than a house uses in a day! Vermont does not have the spare electricity to recharge hundreds, not to mention thousands, or electric cars.

    Last, most of Vermont’s power is still generated by using fossil fuels. It takes one pound of coal to generate one KWH of electricity, and electric cars use about 60-90 KWH to recharge. This means that every time you recharge your electric car, you are consuming 60-90 pounds of coal or other fossil fuels!

    Electric cars save NO ONE, NO MONEY and NO FOSSIL fuels. They are NOT green and they are NOT going to save the planet or anything else.

    • It will give money to rich friends to get discounts on their Tesla, a luxury car. Don’t think they want to promote alternative technology, if they did they would open up regulations for vehicles and we have a drastic improvement of affordable electric and gas (that gets 50-80 mpg) for less than $8,000.

      This is Tesla money give away. They are nice cars, not knocking them, I am knocking the hand outs for people to buy luxury cars.

  5. Land Gains tax was and still is the most effective tool from rampant development. Dare I say this is one of the most important laws and taxing that stops rampant speculation. It’s one of the few taxes I’ve been behind for years. It has an exemption, where is land is sold for a primary residence there is no tax due what so ever.

    Removing this tax would be great for speculators, really great. This tax has done more than Act 250 ever hoped to do with rampant development, it’s a very, very good tax.

    Could we modify it in cases where it might be impeding business development, yes.

    We are spending astronomical amounts of money on “affordable housing” that is nothing more than state subsidized building of luxury level properties for developers with close ties to Montpelier.

    • Neil, the land gains tax punishes a buyer who takes a risk and succeeds. This tax removes interested buyers from pursuing a property that someone may need to sell. Investors are not villains, particularly when one is needed to establish value. We agree on most things here 🙂

  6. Sounds like conservative positions to me, Not,along with the leftist positions he has already taken.

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