Scott’s election is likely to have an impact on Vermont energy policy. He is an opponent of further development of wind power on Vermont’s mountaintops, and that view is likely to shape policy in the Department of Public Service, which weighs in on energy projects. But a larger impact will likely come from the decisive votes in Windham and Grafton rejecting the wind project proposed by Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant. Iberdrola’s effort to bribe voters by promising them annual payments failed, though it probably succeeded in souring Vermonters throughout the state on industrial wind.
Phil Scott was justified in claiming a mandate for fiscal prudence after his decisive win in the race for governor on Tuesday. He is also aware that voters elected a Legislature dominated by Democrats with an agenda that may go beyond his own.
Scott’s job will be complicated by the arrival of the Trump administration in Washington. One of the major issues in state government is the future of Vermont Health Connect, the state’s health coverage website. If Congress follows through on its promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the entire health care landscape will be changed, and Scott and the Legislature will have a major challenge on their hands. It seems certain the new all-payer proposal is already history.
Scott has tapped a pair of knowledgable veterans of the Douglas administration to help in his transition. They are Tim Hayward and Neale Lunderville, who know how things work. But Scott sought to dispel the notion that he was contemplating a rerun of Jim Douglas’s tenure as governor. He has new challenges before him and will have to set new priorities.
Number one will be the issue of what he describes as “affordability” (echoing the language of Jim Douglas). He has promised that the state budget will not grow faster than the state’s economy or workers’ wages. Thus, the Legislature can expect to see a budget from the new Scott administration with an array of cuts.
The economic situation today is not as dire as that facing Douglas or Peter Shumlin; the level of economic growth at present will allow some growth in the budget. But Scott will avoid costly new ventures as he seeks to bring spending into balance with revenue.
Still, the needs facing the state are not going away, and as Scott sets his priorities, it will be important that the budget ax does not cut too deeply in some areas. Child care, housing, addiction treatment, lake cleanup and higher education require attention and continuing support, in part as economic development measures and in part as humanitarian investments.
Health care remains a huge question mark. If tens of thousands of people are thrown off federal programs and if federal subsidies are axed by a Trump administration, Vermont will be back at square one in devising health care solutions. In the years preceding the Obama administration, Vermont had developed several important programs to help Vermonters gain access to health care, including Catamount Health and the Vermont Health Access Program. It remains to be seen if these will have to be reconstituted in some form.
Scott’s election is likely to have an impact on Vermont energy policy. He is an opponent of further development of wind power on Vermont’s mountaintops, and that view is likely to shape policy in the Department of Public Service, which weighs in on energy projects. But a larger impact will likely come from the decisive votes in Windham and Grafton rejecting the wind project proposed by Iberdrola, the Spanish energy giant.
Iberdrola’s effort to bribe voters by promising them annual payments failed, though it probably succeeded in souring Vermonters throughout the state on industrial wind. The giant machines can make a contribution to the energy mix out in open country, but they are less welcome looming over people’s homes in the pristine environment of Vermont’s ridgelines.
Sue Minter, Scott’s Democratic opponent, refused to rule out wind power, but that could not have been the primary issue in her decisive loss. Rather, voters probably saw in Scott a reassuring and familiar face, someone they could rely on to keep a steady hand on the tiller in turbulent times. Minter was bursting with new ideas and ambition and knowledge about policy, but for now it appears Vermonters have had enough of that.
Scott wants to get the budget process in order and to help the economy grow so that increasing prosperity gives the private and public sector the means to address the state’s problems. Legislators will have plenty of ideas for how the public sector can be part of those solutions. They and Scott will have to figure out how to marshal the state’s limited resources to the best effect.
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