While leaders of Vermont’s liberal-dominant parties call for new expenditures including universal school meals and subsidized green energy, the governor during his weekly press conference Tuesday warned that the state continues to face concerning population trends that will only worsen the tax burden.
Vermonters getting older
Gov. Phil Scott said over the past two decades the population over age 65 has risen by more than 40,000, while Vermonters between ages 35 and 65 have declined by about 40,000.
Scott called the 35-to-65 bracket “the heart of our workforce” and said they are facing increased costs.
“What that means is the tax burden, which is one of the highest in the nation, is being placed on more people living on fixed incomes,” Scott said. “And there aren’t enough kids in the wings to fill the gap.”
He added that the state lost about 30,000 residents under the age of 18 during that same stretch.
“More than half of our municipalities have seen our grand list, which is the total value of their taxable property, stay the same or shrink,” Scott said. “This has happened while their budgets and school spending has increased, meaning the burden is tougher on the taxpayers still left standing. The bottom line is we need more people, and we are competing with the rest of the country for them.”
One such competing economy is Florida, where fellow Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is overseeing one of the fastest growing economies in the nation.
Speaking on the state budget, the governor stated that it must meet his standards for investments in infastructure improvements, investing in new housing, and tax rellief for him to sign off on it.
“That’s why I’ve been so focused on increased funding for economic development and community revitilization in the budget, and it provides a line in the sand for me,” Scott said.
On the budget issue, the governor let Lindsay Kurrle, the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, do most of the talking.
“The programs that we are seeking to fund will allow municipalities, nonprofits, and small businesses to make the recoveries and investments that they otherwise would not be able to make,” she said. “Think about the childcare center looking to expand, an infrastructure project the town doesn’t have the resources to finance, or the arts organization looking to rebuild their business after two years of being closed.”
She said a lot of these projects “are neer-ready to implement” but need funding to get started.
She said the governor’s original budget proposal back in January was for $100 million in funds specifically geared towards economic development.
“And as we wade through the final days of the session, we’re asking that the budget committees restore the majority of that ask,” she said.
She said that grants requested from these funds would be vetted to ensure that businesses which were harmed by the shutdowns during COVID-19 are beneffiting from the money.
Potential abortion ruling by SCOTUS
On the potential of the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and sending the abortion issue back to each of the 50 states, Scott said “Vermont is prepared for this possibility — a few years ago we passed a law affirming that reproductive decisions are between a patient and their doctor without government interference.”
The governor noted that Proposal 5 would codify the right to an abortion up until the moment of birth and add other “reproductive liberties” into the Vermont Constitution.
“In November Vermonters will have the ability to codify that right in our state Constitution when Prop 5 is on the ballot,” Scott said.
Various polls on abortion rights show a majority of Americans are for legalized abortion, but support drops off sharply as the circumstance changes, with AP/NORC finding 61% believe abortion should be legal during the first trimester, but only 34% in the second trimester and 19% in the third, Forbes.com reported.
COVID-19 update: Cases up/hospital bed use steady
Health Commissioner Mark Levine, who also spoke, said that while reported case activity is high in Vermont, the number of people needing to use hospital beds per each case remains low.
“We know cases are higher in Vermont right now, but our seven day average of percent of staffed in patient beds in use by COVID-19 patients is actually low, at 4%,” he said.
While asking Vermonters to stay update to COVID-19 vaccinations, he noted that elderly populations continue to be those most frequently having serious reactions to the virus.
“A recent snapshot from UVM Medical Center showed that a majority of people who are hospitalized because of COVID-related illness were over 65 and were vaccinated,” Levine said.