While taking questions from reporters during his weekly press conference on Tuesday, Gov. Phil Scott suggested that an abundance of federal funds in Vermont means “we’re not going to increase taxes now” — which could have implications for bills that require ongoing revenue sources.
One such bill making its way through the Statehouse is the universal school breakfast program. S.100, which passed the Senate, would require all Vermont schools to provide free breakfasts. It also establishes a Task Force on Universal School Lunch to seek ways to expand coverage by 2026-27. The Joint Fiscal Office estimates the annual cost of the program at between $6 million and $10 million, which would burden the Education Fund.
However, Scott’s statement about taxes could mean the bill won’t have the support necessary for passage.
“In this time of unprecedented budget surpluses, this is the last resort,” he said. “I mean, we’re not going to increase taxes now, that makes no sense to me at all — not at this point. … I think most Vermonters would not understand that at all.”
“Again, we’ve had two years of budget surpluses, and we’re in upgrade for the allocation for next year in terms of the money that we are going to spend, and a budget surplus in the [education] fund,” he said.
Keeping eye on COVID
Also during the press conference, Vermont Epidemiologist Dr. Patsy Kelso responded to concerns about higher Covid-19 case counts in the state. Vermont has the second highest case rates in the nation, as the new BA.2 variant spreads across New England.
Kelso said cases are being monitored, but keeping track of who is getting sick enough to go to the hospital is a better metric.
“The number of at-home tests that are reported to the department has picked up — two weeks ago it was 247 positive, last week 421, and this week 516,” she said. “So it reflects what I think we are seeing through other data, which is that COVID is still around, the risk is not zero, and yet while we are seeing perhaps an uptick in cases we’re not seeing the same thing with hospitalizations.”
Kelso added she is “hopeful” the state won’t see a dramatic surge “and won’t see an increase in hospitalizations to the point that it strains the health care system.”
Scott noted that the uncertainty and panic surrounding COVID originally has moderated as time has gone by and people have access to vaccines.
“Right now I think cases in the U.S. are flat. I don’t see the need [for another COVID shot], I’m pretty well protected for right now,” he said. “And if I did happen to get COVID, it’s fairly mild from what I’ve seen thus far. So I probably will wait a bit.”
He also said businesses need to continue to recover from the lockdowns, and noted his proposed $100 million package “to help support our communities, spur growth, and make sure that employers who were harmed during the pandemic can stay on their feet and support their employees.”
Can Scott define what a woman is?
Taking a cue from a question that puzzled nominee for the Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson on the second day of her confirmation hearings, reporter Guy Page of the Vermont Daily Chronicle put the same question to Gov. Phil Scott.
“How would you answer the question ‘What is a woman?'”
Taken by surprise, Scott answered: “Are you saying that during these times not everyone wants to designate as a male or a female? … Well I think anyone who’s on the Vermont Commission on Women, I just assume that they refer to them as she or her, so I think we’re OK there. But maybe that needs some consideration in the future. I just don’t know. I haven’t contemplated that.”